The Eagles could surprise people in March, but they have to beat Montana first…

The mildly hot takes of The Easterner’s Sports Editor

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The Eagles could surprise people in March, but they have to beat Montana first…

EWU junior guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr.

EWU junior guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr.

EWU junior guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr.

EWU junior guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr.

By Drew Lawson, Sports Editor

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Drew Lawson is the Sports Editor for The Easterner. The overtly hyperbolic opinion expressed in this article is his own, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Easterner’s editorial board.

With eight games to go in the regular season, the EWU men’s basketball team has mostly enjoyed the success that was expected of the Eagles when they were picked to finish first in the Big Sky Conference in the preseason media poll. There was the big win over mid-major power Belmont in November. There was the 7-4 nonconference stretch, the best EWU has experienced since it last made the NCAA Tournament in 2015. In late January into early February, EWU won six games in a row, including impressive overtime victories over Southern Utah and Northern Colorado. 

EWU is filled with talent. The Eagles have the BSC’s top scoring offense. Senior Mason Peatling, junior guard Jacob Davison and sophomore guard/forward Kim Aiken Jr. are all in the top 10 in scoring average. Freshman guard Ellis Magnuson distributes the ball with high levels of success. Sophomore forward Tanner Groves, redshirt freshman guard Casson Rouse and junior guard Jack Perry fill their roles effectively, and head coach Shantay Legans has made the BSC Championship in both of his seasons at the helm.

“This appears to be EWU’s best team in the three years I’ve been in Cheney.” -Drew Lawson, Sports Editor

This appears to be EWU’s best team in the three years I’ve been in Cheney. It also appears to be EWU’s best since the 2015 tournament team. With all the parity in college basketball this year, I wouldn’t be shocked if EWU made the tournament and gave a No. 2 or No. 3 seed a serious scare in the Round of 64. 

EWU certainly has the confidence and knowledge that it’s perfectly capable of winning the BSC Tournament and earning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. That much is clear to me after having spent a decent amount of time around the team this season.

But there’s a roadblock that’s been standing in EWU’s way for a number of years.

What about those pesky Griz two states to the right? 

EWU was swept by Montana in the two games between the longtime rivals this regular season. Most recently, UM took care of the Eagles 92-82 in Missoula on Feb. 6. Last year and the year before, it was the Griz who ended EWU’s tourney hopes in the BSC Championship. 

Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner
EWU junior guard Jacob Davison attempts a free throw that would give him 1,000 points for his career. Davison scored 21 points in EWU’s 74-71 loss to Idaho Thursday.

In 2019 and 2018, I wasn’t overly surprised that UM was able to take care of EWU when it counted most. UM was more experienced, talented and appeared (from my couch) to play better as a team. 

But what’s up this year? 

The argument could certainly be made that it’s not a talent gap. UM is talented, there’s no question. But so are the Eagles. 

UM’s Sayeed Pridgett is a bonafide star and a top candidate for BSC MVP, but Davison outscored him in Missoula with a standout 34-point performance. UM’s Kendal Manuel impressively scored 13 second half points in that same game to stave off EWU’s comeback attempt, but Peatling is arguably the best post player in the league and now holds the conference’s scoring record after his 54-point output on Dec. 13 against Multnomah. UM’s Timmy Falls is a pest and fills his role excellently, but Aiken can shut anyone down defensively (except a cheerleader … too soon?) and has a bevy of skills offensively. 

No, as a former above-average YMCA basketball player turned unathletic sports writer, I have a hard time believing that EWU has struggled with UM this year because of a talent disparity. 

I wonder if the issue is a mental block. It’s certainly tough when your rival strikes down your tournament hopes two years in a row. It grows tougher when they come into your home court and blow you out in an arena where you otherwise haven’t lost this year, as was the case when UM beat EWU 90-63 at Reese Court on Jan. 9. 

“I think that this Eagle team is more than capable of overcoming whatever hurdles-mental or otherwise-UM has consistently placed in their way.” -Drew Lawson, Sports Editor

As this is the best team I’ve seen at EWU in my short time living the Cheney dream, I think that this Eagle team is more than capable of overcoming whatever hurdles-mental or otherwise-UM has consistently placed in their way. EWU has shown mental toughness this year while overcoming double-digit deficits in three home BSC games already. 

It’s no guarantee that EWU will see UM again this season, as the only way that could happen is the two teams facing off in the BSC Tournament. 

But to me, the aforementioned unathletic sports writer who loves a good storyline in sports, a rematch in the tournament almost feels destined to happen. 

And EWU will have to find a way to finally leap the UM hurdle.