Big Sky conference season has finally arrived! After two months of interesting basketball, we have finally gotten to the really good stuff - conference play, which, of course, means everything in a conference like the Big Sky. For the opening night of games, let's just take a look at the six winners, and see how they won.
- Eastern Washington - In the marquee game of opening day, Eastern Washington used a 2nd half comeback to erase a late eight point deficit to beat Weber State at home (if I was talking about the teams that lost, I'd say Weber had a very impressive showing). Two days after I declared Tyler Harvey was the POY favorite (which is obvious, not a case of me going out on a limb), he was sensational. He scored 39 points, including hitting seven threes. With EWU trailing 75-71 late, he hit a big three (with an inch of space), and then Parker Kelly hit one on the next possessions, giving the Eagles a lead they didn't relinquish. They would have liked a more comfortable home win, but to battle back and beat the defending champions is a good start, especially considering if required contributions from guys like freshman Bodgan Bliznyuk, who had eight rebounds in 18 minutes.
But the star was Harvey, who is at times unguardable with his range and quick release.
- North Dakota - If North Dakota is going to compete for a conference tournament spot, this is the type of game they have to win - road games against the lower part of the conference. They did that here, surprisingly by not allowing MSU to get any easy baskets, as the Bobcats were just 7/27 on two-point shots. UND has struggled with interior defense and plays very guard-heavy lineups, so the way they won is a surprise in that respect. They also got a nice opener from transfer Carson Shanks, who is eligible now that we have reached the second semester. He scored an efficient 12 points, and could provide some frontcourt scoring that they have lacked.
- Idaho - ISU's zone defense has left them susceptible the past couple years to good outside shooting teams, and the Vandals were just that on Thursday. Idaho shot 12/23 from downtown, getting 32 points from Connor Hill. Another way that ISU can hurt you is on the offensive glass with rebounding machine Jeffrey Solarin, but big men Bira Seck and Ty Egbert made sure that wasn't an issue - Seck had 9 defensive rebounds in 21 minutes, while Egbert had 7 in 20. Idaho is playing good basketball right now.
- Portland State - It wasn't easy, but the Vikings held on for a 71-68 home win over Southern Utah, which shows two things - PSU might be falling closer to the third tier in the Big Sky than solidifying themselves in the second tier, and that the Thunderbirds relative non-conference success is carrying over to Big Sky play. The Vikings did not shoot the ball well, but their ability to get to the line coupled with SUU's generosity in sending teams there gave PSU 39 FT attempts, of which they made 28. Braxton Tucker did have a nice day for the Viks, scoring 16 points and snagging 6 rebounds,
- Montana - Martin Breunig and Jordan Gregory were excellent in his first conference game, but the real story was the defense for Montana, which had struggled in non-conference play. Northern Colorado is a good offensive team, but the Bears scored just 0.81 PPP on Thursday, and scored 33 points in the final 30 minutes of the game. Tevin Svihovec a nightmare game, scoring three points on 0/5 FG, and the Bears shot 37% for the game. It's only one game, but Montana has to be just as happy about how they won, finally getting a great defensive performance which has eluded them lately.
- Sacramento State - The Hornets got a very nice 78-73 win over Northern Arizona, made especially impressive because they scored 1.24 PPP against a solid NAU defense. They only took 13 threes, but made nine of them. Dylan Garrity was a driving force, as he had 26 points on just nine field goal attempts. They struggled keeping NAU off the offensive glass, and that is an issue, but they can score with anyone. Cody Demps (13), Eric Stuteville (16), and Zach Mills (12) all got in on the scoring action, which is important for them behind Garrity and Mikh McKinney.
Anything else you noticed?
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