Big Sky Tournament: Eastern Washington cruises past Southern Utah, earns championship rematch with rival Montana
BOISE – Eastern Washington got what it wanted Friday, and its 77-61 dispatching of Southern Utah in the Big Sky Tournament semifinals was only part of the equation.
No. 3 seed EWU earned a championship game rematch Saturday with Big Sky champion Montana, a longtime nemesis that denied the Eagles an NCAA Tournament berth a year ago.
EWU junior post Mason Peatling, who scored a game-high 20 points against Southern Utah and 28 against Montana State in the quarterfinals, has been working toward returning the favor.
He and the second-year head coach Shantay Legans still wince when thinking of the 11-point halftime lead EWU squandered to the Grizzlies in a 82-65 loss in Reno, Nevada, last year.
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Peatling said of the rematch.
EWU beat Montana 78-71 in Cheney and was edged 75-74 in Missoula this season.
“I dreamed about this matchup,” Legans said. “We want to play Montana. When they beat us last year, it left a bad taste in our mouth for a long time.”
Montana (25-8) blitzed No. 4 seed Weber State 78-49 on Friday in the earlier semifinal at CenturyLink Arena.
EWU followed that rout by hitting 8 of 10 3-pointers against No. 7 seed Southern Utah (16-16).
Cody Benzel hit his first two 3-pointers to sparked the Eagles’ torrid shooting. EWU jumped out to a 39-18 lead after Kim Aiken (15 points, 11 rebounds) connected from long range.
The Eagles, who split with Southern Utah during the regular season, held the athletic Thunderbirds to 35 percent shooting and manufactured 26 points from their turnovers.
“Our team came out and played well defensively, and that really propelled us,” Legans said.
For a stretch, though, Southern Utah was efficient, going on a 30-13 run to cut the Eagles’ lead to 52-48 after Boise State transfer Cameron Oluyitan (19 points) hit a jumper midway though the second half.
Eagles Ty Gibson and Jack Perry answered with 3-pointers, and Southern Utah didn’t get any closer.
EWU point guard Tyler Kidd had 15 points and four assists, and teammate Jesse Hunt had nine points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
“Hunt and Peatling are good players, and (EWU) is tough to stop when they get going,” Southern Utah forward Jacob Calloway said.
Hunt, an All-Big Sky second-team selection along with Peatling, didn’t get to play in last year’s Big Sky Tournament title game because of injury.
“I wish I could have been out there with my guys,” Hunt said. “So to be in this position again, I’m super excited and ready to go.”
EWU is playing in its third Big Sky Tournament championship game in five years, each against Montana. The Eagles beat the Grizzlies in Missoula in 2015 to earn the program’s second NCAA Tournament berth.
Montana, the prohibitive Big Sky preseason favorite, returns the bulk of its roster from a year ago, including standout guards Ahmaad Rorie, Sayeed Pridgett and Michael Oguine, who combine to average 43 points a game.
Rorie, a transfer from Oregon who prepped at Seattle’s Lincoln High, had 28 points against Weber State on Friday.