First, just a quick note on the two games that went more or less according to what would be expected. Connor Hill went 8/9 from downtown as Idaho overwhelmed Portland State for the 87-76 home win. The Vandals are now 5-6 and in good shape.
The other was Montana getting a tight road win over North Dakota. It's always tough to win in Grand Forks, and so Montana having to grind out a close win is not a surprise. The Grizzlies are solidly in third at 9-3, while UND is 4-8, but only a game out of the conference tournament final spot.
The rest of the games featured Eastern Washington beating Sacramento State in a bit of a different style of game than expected, and then the bottom three teams all winning!
We expected a high scoring game between the Eagles and Hornets, but that's not what happened. The first surprise was that Tyler Harvey was unable to play, as he was reported to be "probable" earlier in the day. Without him, the Eagles led a defensive battle, eventually going up 58-42 with 7:01 to play, with the game looking well in hand. The Hornets have trailed late several times this year (as I've documented in the past), but this time, they weren't quite able to overcome. They went on a 19-6 run over those last seven minutes, but the Eagles were able to hang on for dear life, and move to 10-1 and take the Big Sky lead.
In the first meeting, the Hornets got everything inside the paint, shooting 24/36 there. This time, they were just 14/36 from two-point range, and the Eagles blocked 13 shots, including 5 from reserve forward Garrett Moon. The Eagles didn't play particularly well offensively - they turned it over an uncharacteristic 17 times, and couldn't get anything inside - but were saved by shooting 12/23 from downtown. Still, without their best player, the Eagles will take it.
[Sidenote: Here is the comment that Jim Hayford had about Harvey after the game, and it seems like the right strategy]
“He probably could have gone tonight, but when you are in the Big Sky you need to be your best in the Big Sky Tournament. I don’t want this injury to get aggravated, so it is something he has taken with him the whole month. He is like, ‘hey coach I am playing Saturday’. So we will see how he responds after yesterday’s practice, but I am going to err on the side of patience with such a special player. When we really need him is if we are fortunate enough to play those three games in March.”Hopefully he will be back soon, especially because Sir Washington is done for the year after suffering a knee injury. We wish him a speedy and full recovery.
One of the shockers was seeing Southern Utah go into Ogden and beat Weber State, a sentence that would have been unthinkable before the season. The Wildcats were ice cold offensively, as the TBirds held them to 0.82 PPP. The Wildcats were 11/32 inside the arc, and 5/26 behind it. Joel Bolomboy was held to just two points. They played more than well enough defensively to win, but the answers on offense are few and far between.
Southern Utah's win at least keeps their hopes alive for the Big Sky tournament... At 3-8, they are 1.5 games out of the final spot. At the very least, it's another positive experience for a young team - their first road Big Sky conference win in over two calendar years. The odds are still long for this year, but they are building a team that will be deep and experienced next season.
The other shocker in terms of a team going on the road and winning was Montana State going into Greeley and beating Northern Colorado, 90-87. The Bears are always tough to beat at home, and this year, the Bobcats have had trouble beating anyone, anywhere. The MSU got off to a great start, and led by as many as 19 (37-18) late in the first half. UNC crawled back to cut the lead to 40-34 at the break, but the Bobcats just never let their foot off the gas pedal.
Mike Dison led the way with 23 points (on 10/15 FG), while Stephen Holm had 18, and Marcus Colbert had 13. Five other guys had at least six points. As a team, the Bobcats were 22/38 inside the arc, shot 24 free throws, and dominated the offensive glass (in fairness, UNC grabbed plenty of offensive boards themselves).
It's a missed opportunity for the Bears... anytime you score 87 points on 1.24 PPP at home, you should win that game. The fact that it came against the last place Bobcats will make it even harder to swallow. In the big picture, it doesn't really change anything... We already knew MSU was a tough team to play because they play hard, and have nothing to lose. The Bears are still 7-5, and I don't think they'll be in danger of missing the Big Sky tournament. But if they drop a couple more games like this, it could have implications later on.
Last, Idaho State let out all of their offensive frustrations on Northern Arizona, getting an 80-66 home win over the third place Jacks. ISU was led by Chris Hansen, who was 2/10 on two point shots, and still somehow finished with 24 points. As a team, the Bengals took smart shots, took care of the basketball, and made the looks they did get.
The Lumberjacks were just 8/29 from downtown, as Aaseem Dixon and Quinton Upshur combined to shoot 5/19 from deep. Kris Yanku had 7 turnovers. They usually need two of those three guys to be on their game (when all three are, they can beat anyone), and in this one, they all struggled a bit. NAU is still solidly in fourth at 7-4, but it's still a tough game to drop.
However, we have to be happy for the Bengals and Bill Evans, who get some good feelings after what has been a long season.
Anything else I missed?
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