His long hair and headband are easy to spot, but Eastern Washington guard Jack Perry still has a way of getting lost by defenders.
Their eyes are often kept on the Big Sky Conference’s most productive trio of guard Jacob Davison (17.9 points per game), and forwards Mason Peatling (15.8 ppg) and Kim Aiken Jr. (15 ppg), resulting in wide-open looks for the 6-foot-2 Aussie.
Perry, the son of Australian professional, club and FIBA coach Darren Perry, is a pass-first facilitator known to take the open jump shot, rarely forcing an attempt in the flow of EWU’s guard-heavy, deep-shooting offense.
Third-year EWU head coach Shantay Legans has asked Perry to be more assertive in his shot selection, and his recent numbers suggest he has heeded the request.
Perry drilled five second-half 3-pointers in a 77-66 win at Northern Arizona on Monday, keeping EWU (15-6, 8-2 Big Sky) atop the conference as it heads to Missoula on Thursday to face fellow preseason conference favorite and back-to-back defending champ Montana (12-10, 8-3).
Montana, which is a half-game back of EWU in the conference standings, handled the Eagles 90-63 in Cheney last month, one of the most lopsided outcomes in the rivalry.
EWU has since manufactured a six-game winning streak, and Perry’s timely stroke has been a big part of the surge.
Perry has hit 11 of 23 3s in that stretch, including the go-ahead bucket with 16 seconds left to beat Idaho 78-75 in Moscow.
“(Davison, Peatling and Aiken) do a great job of scoring the ball and getting rebounds,” said Perry, who averages 5.4 points per game. “They draw so much attention from other teams, and I’ll get some open shots because of it.”
Perry, who has a shared role in the backcourt this season with the emergence of freshman guards Ellis Magnuson and Casson Rouse, is a steady presence for the high-scoring Eagles (82 ppg).
He has 31 assists and nine turnovers in his injury-shortened season, missing five games due to an ankle injury. Perry is also shooting 47.5 % (29 for 61) from the floor.
Twenty-one of Perry’s 29 field goals are 3-pointers, similar to his sophomore season, in which 33 of his 44 made shots were 3s.
As a true freshman two seasons ago, Perry started 27 games and shot 43% from behind the arc (56 for 130). He also hit a pair of clutch, late-game 3s in wins over Portland State and Northern Arizona.
Legans, who was a first-year head coach starting the freshman Perry, is seeing more of that confidence.
“He’s a smart player who has done some big things for us over the years,” Legans said.
“I’d like to think I’m more of a team guy,” Perry said. “I don’t have the big scoring numbers, but I’ll play defense and do what it takes to win.”
Peatling has been around Perry’s heady play even longer.
Perry and Peatling, who are both from Melbourne, Australia, along with freshman Tyler Robertson, were club teammates coached by Perry’s father.
“He’s a shooter who is going to pick his spots,” Peatling said of Perry. “He’s the son of a coach, so he plays smart.”
Peatling, who recently earned back-to-back Big Sky Player of the Week distinctions, came to EWU a season before Perry, following in the footsteps of former Aussies who thrived at EWU, including Venky Jois, Felix Von Hofe, Michael Wearne, Geremy McKay and Jesse Hunt.
Legans, then an EWU assistant, recruited Perry first before noticing Peatling, who has since blossomed into an All-Big Sky forward.
Once Peatling got to EWU, he was able to relay his experience to Perry, who joined the team the following year after playing for the 17U Australian national team.
Perry, who admittedly isn’t the fastest or most athletic guard on the floor, has since exceeded Peatling’s expectations as a Division I basketball player in America.
“The way he plays, it’s just an underrated way of playing the game,” Peatling said of Perry. “It’s not flashy and for show. I probably underestimated him going into college.”
First place on the line in Missoula
EWU enters the second half of Big Sky play in first place, just ahead of Montana, but the Grizzlies can reclaim first with a win over the Eagles on Thursday at Dahlberg Arena.
The Eagles have more than enough motivation to beat their rival in Missoula and extend their conference lead.
The Grizzlies have beaten the Eagles in the last two Big Sky Tournament title games. EWU hasn’t beaten Montana on the road since Jan. 27, 2017.
Montana edged the Eagles 75-74 last year in Missoula.
Perry said the loss to Montana was a turning point in the season for EWU, which will be playing its third road game in six days.
“They were just tougher than us that night, in all areas,” Perry said. “We’ve taken that to heart. We knew that wasn’t our best performance.”
“Our game plan was a little off, Montana was hungrier than us,” Peatling said. “And those first four games in Big Sky we weren’t playing great, so we needed to turn things around.”
Montana, which has lost two of its past three games, is led by guards Sayeed Pridgett (19.1 ppg, 3.6 assists per game) and Kendal Manuel (15 ppg).
True freshman forward Derrick Carter-Hollinger had 20 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in the January win against EWU, which shot 38% from the field in the loss.
“We are playing good basketball right now, but at the same time Montana is a champion,” Legans said. “I can promise you they are looking forward to this game, and they can’t wait to play us. They want to show how tough and good they are. We just have to go out and play our style of game, and defend and rebound like we have.”
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