Eastern men claim Big Sky crown
Last updated 3/2/2023 at 10:45pm
Northern Colorado led just once, 5-2 in the opening moments of their Big Sky Conference basketball game against Eastern Washington.
After that it was all Eagles as they kept the Bears trailing by double-digits and not only collected an 89-77 win but clinched at least a share of the conference regular season title, Feb. 18 at Reese Court.
The championship is Eastern’s fourth since joining the conference in 1987. The Eagles won the regular season Big Sky title in 2003-04, 2014-15 and 2019-20. The 2014-15 team shared the distinction with Montana.
Coupled with a 72-55 victory over Northern Arizona two nights earlier, Eastern (15-0 BSC, 20-7 overall) won its 17th consecutive game and remained a perfect 15-0 heading into their final three games of the regular season, two on the road this week.
In front of a loud crowd of 2,754, the largest of the season, Angelo Allegri put up a team-leading 22 points. Coupled with 19 from Ethan Price, Eastern quickly erased that UNC lead. Steele Venters added 14 and Casey Jones 11 to complete the contingent of Eagles in double figures.
It was Venters who keyed a breakout 14-2 run by the 11:50 mark of the first half with three consecutive 3-point baskets. And Jones amped up the crowd following a missed free throw with an offensive rebound and a slam dunk that was also part of the burst.
Eastern led 51-33 at halftime and never let UNC (5-11, 10-18) get closer than within 12 points.
With Alegri’s 15 points topping Eastern’s scoring, Deon Stroud’s 12 and Jones with 11, the Eagles had a 34-22 halftime lead against NAU Thursday.
The Lumberjacks closed to within four with 13:45 to play before baskets from Cedric Coward, Tyrese Davis and Dane Erikstrup increased the margin to 10 and the Eagles were never threatened again.
“Our offense is a kind of ‘pick your poison’ kind of deal and our guys did a really good job of reading (the defense),” said head coach David Riley.
Another solid aspect of Eastern’s previous two games has been a significant edge in rebounding. They had a 40-23 margin Thursday and 44-27 Saturday.
The Eagles will hit the road for games at Weber State (Feb. 23; 6 p.m.) and Idaho State (Feb. 25; 6 p.m.) before returning to Reese Court to host second-place Montana State on Monday, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m.