I joked on twitter on Thursday night that the best bet in the Big Sky is that the lower seeded team is usually going to win, if only to ensure that the Big Sky race in the middle stays tight. While that happened a little bit, some clarity is finally starting to emerge in the Big Sky.
I thought about ranking the games in order of their impact on the Big Sky picture, but that would have been an exercise in futility. Every game was loaded with importance on this night. So let's go through each game.
Looking at the Lumberjacks closing schedule, this was a must-win game, and they delivered. ISU kept the game tight for 30 minutes, but NAU really made the plays on both ends of the court down the stretch to pull away and win it fairly easily. ISU was solid offensively in the first half, but the Lumberjacks really locked down defensively down the stretch.
The Jacks also got a big game from Gabe Rogers, who led the team with 24 points. He has now scored 22+ points in 9 of his last 11, and is averaging 24 PPG over that stretch. The Bengals tried to go to a box and one to slow him down in the second half, but they got nice plays in the second half from Stallon Saldivar and DeWayne Russell. The win moves NAU to 8-9, which is a common record for Big Sky teams right now.
Montana State 62, Southern Utah 61
It was at this point that I more fully realized that I don't really know anything. MSU had lost five straight games... so of course they went on the road and got a nice comeback win over a suddenly reeling Southern Utah club. SUU led for 39 minutes, but it was a late Antonio Biglow layup that put MSU ahead 62-61, and neither team would score again. It went down to the last second... MSU took the ball out of bounds with 4.4 seconds left, but they threw it away. Damon Heuir picked up the ball... but passed up a chance to take a (difficult) shot. His pass went out of bounds, and time expired.
It was an ugly, choppy game at times, but Brad Huse will take it. MSU shot 36% and made 4/16 threes, but won the game by outrebounding SUU 39-28 (which is hard to do) and taking care of the ball, with just eight turnovers compared to 14 for the Thunderbirds. Jackson Stevenett had 19 for SUU, but Heuir had just 7 points and five assists. Paul Egwuonwu was the player of the game, with 14 points and 13 rebounds off the bench for MSU.
Both teams now sit at 8-9.
Northern Colorado 88, Eastern Washington 80 (OT)
This was a fun one to watch, because it was a game of runs back and forth. Both teams looked poised to take control of various times throughout the game, but neither could get over the hump. The biggest play of the game came with about a minute left in regulation... with EWU clinging to a 72-69 lead, Tate Unruh drained a 30 footer to tie the game. It showed Unruh's confidence... the shot clock was not running down, and the play didn't appear to be designed for that, but Unruh knew he could make the shot, and he did. Big time shot.
In the extra frame, UNC took control early and didn't look back. The end result was an 88-80 win, keeping UNC's season alive while almost effectively ending Eastern Washington's, barring a miracle and some luck in the final three games. There were some big performances on both sides in this one. UNC was led by Derrick Barden (28 points, 10 rebounds) and Tate Unruh (21 points, 7 rebounds), while EWU got big games from Martin Seiferth (11 points, 21 rebounds) and freshman Tyler Harvey (22 points). I am not sure that Tyler Harvey is the answer at PG (I think he might be a little better suited to play off the ball), but he has been a great find in the second half of the year.
Northern Colorado improves to 8-10 in the Big Sky, while Eastern Washington falls to 6-11.
Weber State 70, Sacramento State 55
The Hornets did what they could, but the talent gap was just too large in this game. Weber State hit 11/19 from downtown and pounded Sac State on the glass. Those things combined with the Hornets shooting 39.6% to give the Wildcats a relatively easy road win. Davion Berry led the way for WSU with 22 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. Weber moves to 15-2 and keeps the pressure on Montana, while Sac State falls to 7-10 and has to get a win on Saturday.
North Dakota 74, Portland State 66
Finally, a Big Sky team has a chance to separate themselves a little and does it! With the win, UND moves to 10-8 in the Big Sky, which should basically clinch them a spot into the conference tournament, and gets them very close to locking in the number three seed. The loss ends any remote chance that PSU had of making the tournament. Troy Huff (18 points, 4 steals), Aaron Anderson (16 points), and Jamal Webb (11 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) were all big for UND, who held PSU to 40% shooting in a gym where the Vikings have been pretty good offensively.
Here is how things look in the middle:
3. North Dakota (10-8)
4. Montana State / Southern Utah / Northern Arizona (8-9)
7. Northern Colorado (8-10)
8. Sacramento State (7-10)
9. Eastern Washington (6-11)
Yep, Saturday is going to be a pretty big day as well!!
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