Saturday night was another wild night in the Big Sky, so let's get to the storylines.
Eastern Washington and Sacramento State Lose
On Thursday, all of the bottom three teams won their games, so the only logical way to follow that up was to have the league's top two teams lose!
Sacramento State's loss to Idaho was fairly predictable, given that the game was in Moscow, and Idaho almost beat the Hornets earlier this year, and almost beat EWU twice. The Hornets actually led the game by three with 8:28 left, but the Vandals outsocred them 21-7 the rest of the way. Sac State never got on track offensively, shooting just 5/23 from downtown and attempting only 8 free throws. Meanwhile, Idaho was a scorching 23/34 on two-pointers, making up for the fact that they didn't hit from deep and struggled at the foul line. The loss moves the Hornets into a tie with Montana at 10-3, while Idaho is 6-6 and back to looking like a team that is a tournament darkhorse.
Eastern Washington's loss to Portland State was a little more confounding, even accounting for the fact that Venky Jois missed the game. The Eagles got off to a hot start, leading 24-12 over midway through the first half, but a big run early in the second half for PSU gave them the lead and eventually the win. The Eagles can be so reliant on the three-point shot (especially when Jois isn't playing), and that did them in here, as they were 7/25 from deep (Tyler Harvey was just 2/12). The Vikings got big performances by guys like Braxton Tucker and DaShaun Wiggins, moving the Vikings to 6-7, and a spot where they should probably feel comfortable in the Big Sky race. EWU got a reprieve due to the Sac State loss, but a 2-game cushion would have been awfully nice for a team that has struggled with depth and injuries.
The Second Tier is Solidified
For a while, Northern Colorado looked like they could crash the party of the top four teams, but that seems unlikely today. They lost a heartbreaker in triple OT to Montana, though there was a little bit of controversy with the final call of the game. The Bears never led in regulation (and trailed by as many as 15), but then led by 3 with 12 seconds left in double OT, before Montana got three attempts to tie it, as Brandon Gfeller hit the game-tying shot at the buzzer to send it to triple OT.
It's a tough homestand for the Bears, who came into it at 7-4 with an eye on third place, and leave at 7-6. Against Montana, they did some things well though, battling back from a big deficit, and holding the Grizzlies to 1.08 PPP. The Grizzlies will surely take it as well - Greeley is always a tough place to go into and get a win, and their win coupled with Sac State's loss puts them back into the Big Sky picture at 10-3.
Northern Arizona struggled in a loss to Idaho State Thursday, but they bounced back and added to Weber State's misery, handing the Wildcats another home loss. It was not a very pretty game - NAU led 24-15 at the half, but the Jacks will take a big road win. Kris Yanku and Quinton Upshur led the way 37 points in the 61-54 win, which moves the Jacks to 8-4 in the Big Sky.With four home games left, a run for a top 3 spot is certainly not out of the question.
Weber State and Southern Utah Will Battle For Final Tourney Spot
We can almost stick a fork in North Dakota, after a 80-78 home loss to Montana State drops them to 4-9 in the Big Sky. With their remaining schedule, their tourney hopes appear to be slim. (Meanwhile, let's sit back and gives congrats to the Bobcats... who entered a roadtrip at 1-10 and played just as hard as if they were competing for a conference title, winning both games. Great job by them,)
We talked briefly about 5-8 Weber State, but not the worst part - starting guard Jeremy Senglin has a broken jaw and will miss four weeks. They struggled to generate offense even with him, and they showed how big of a struggle things will be when they scored just 0.84 PPP on Saturday. Joel Bolomboy was a star (23 and 15), but the Wildcats need Richaud Gittens to step up, and he struggled badly on Saturday night. We might see Hayden Hunter in the lineup at some point, as the freshman has showed some ability to create shots for others, but it's not clear he's ready to contribute in that big of a role.
For the first time, their spot in the tournament appears tenuous in part because Southern Utah was able to go and get another road win, beating Idaho State 71-67 to move to 4-9. The TBirds were 13/23 from downtown, and their shooting continues to put them in ballgames even when they struggle in other areas. They are a game behind Weber State, but they hold the tiebreaker since they beat them twice. They have four home games left (two road), but those four are against EWU, Idaho, Sac State, and Portland State... not exactly an easy slate.
SOMEONE will have to claim the final tournament spot, but at this point, it's hard to say who. We have to give Weber State the edge, simply because they have 5 wins, but they look capable of losing to anyone. SUU and North Dakota are right behind at 4 wins, but they don't have particularly easy schedules or trustworthy resumes. At this point, it looks like 7 wins will probably get you into the tournament, and you may even have a chance with 6. It's pretty ugly at the bottom.
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