Avenging an early-season upset loss is one thing.
Doing it convincingly to clinch a Big Sky Conference title is another.
Eastern Washington handled last-place Idaho State 100-75 on Thursday at Reese Court, earning at least a share of the league crown.
The Eagles (22-8, 15-4) got an assist from Northern Colorado, which beat Montana 71-64 on Thursday in Missoula, dropping the Grizzlies (18-12, 14-5) into a tie for second with the Bears (21-9, 14-5).
If EWU beats Weber State (12-18, 8-11) on Saturday in Cheney, it wins the outright title and secures the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big Sky Conference Tournament in Boise.
The Eagles, who won their fourth Big Sky title in program history, lived up to their billing as the league’s preseason favorite.
But they want it all for themselves and to cut down a net Saturday.
“This is a great accomplishment, it’s a shout-out to these young men because they work so hard for it,” EWU third-year head coach Shantay Legans said. “Excited to maybe see them cut down some nets and get a ring for the season.”
The Eagles’ 100-point outburst against the Bengals was its first of the season against a NCAA Division I foe.
They had enough motivation to light up the scoreboard, an effort led by guards Jacob Davison (23 points), Casson Rouse (21 points) and trusty senior forward Mason Peatling (16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists).
Idaho State (7-21, 4-15) clipped EWU 75-69 in Pocatello in December. The Bengals, led by first-year head coach and Central Valley graduate Ryan Looney, started out 3-1 in conference play but later went on a 12-game losing streak.
“That (loss at Idaho State) brought a lot of frustration to us because that was one of our worst nights of the season,” Peatling said. “So our coaching staff and team was motivated play a tough game against them. We have a lot of respect for them, they beat us, and were all revved up for the game tonight.”
Davison scored 12 of EWU’s first 19 points, relentlessly attacking the rim and scoring from the outside.
Idaho State never led, but shot 53% from the field in the first half to get on the heels of the Eagles, who led 46-41 at halftime.
When Bengals guard Jared Stutzman opened the second half with a 3-pointer to make it a 46-44 contest, the high-scoring Eagles switched gears, going on a 34-9 run fueled by defense and freshman Rouse.
Idaho State coughed up nine turnovers in the second half. EWU had six total turnovers.
“The game plan was to get stops,” Rouse said. “And off those stops, looking to push the tempo, and finding open lanes to the hoop. We’re a good defensive team, so if we push it, we know we can get to the rim.
Junior guard Jack Perry hit three 3-pointers in the second half, his third giving the Eagles a 32-point cushion down the stretch.
Idaho State was led by forward Malik Porter, who scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half. Tarik Cool, one of eight junior-college transfers on the Bengals’ roster, scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half.
EWU shot 57% from the field and hopes to finish in that neighborhood again Saturday when struggling Weber State, typically one of the league’s better teams, faces the Eagles in a regular-season finale.
The Wildcats fell to EWU 79-77 in Ogden, Utah, in December
“Now we have to handle our business on Saturday and get the outright championship,” Legans said.
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