Through two games in the Big Sky Tournament, the favorites have advanced on the backs of their stars.
The first game of the day was an entertaining, back and forth affair between Eastern Washington and Idaho. Points came in flurries, with the Eagles eventually prevailing 91-83 to move on.
They were led by Tyler Harvey, who was simply sensational, tying a Big Sky tournament record with 42 points. He was 13/20 from the field, and hit eight threes in the victory. It wasn't a case of Idaho losing track of him either... Harvey hit stepback jumpers with guys in his face. He was essentially unguardable at times, and it was a lot of fun to watch. Mikh McKinney was a rightful MVP winner, but Harvey showed that at his best, he was the toughest guy to guard.
At times, it looked like EWU wasn't going to get enough from everyone else to get the win (other than Harvey, the Eagles were 5/20 from downtown), but they got just enough plays down the stretch. Venky Jois got a lot of defensive attention, but he eventually finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Ognjen Miljkovic made enough shots to be dangerous, and finished with 13. Bogdan Bliznyuk made some plays down the stretch. They got just enough from everyone else.
Idaho was almost not going to be denied, as they put on an offensive clinic of their own. The star was Connor Hill, who finished with 23 points and looked like a senior doing everything he could to prolong his career. At times, it looked like his range was unlimited. Perrion Callandret played perhaps the best game of his career, and gives them hope that they will have a great backcourt next year (along with Sekou Wiggs). Ark Mkrtchyan did his thing, as always. In the end, they just couldn't get the stops they needed. They were a fun team to watch, with a lot of offensive talent and the ability to raise their game against good opponents, but they just never found that elite level defensively.
The Eagles opponent in the semifinals will be Sacramento State, who held off a pesky Portland State team to get the 70-60 win.
Portland State took care of the ball, and they were patient against the Sacramento State zone, but they just couldn't find enough good shots, as they were just 22/61 from the field. The Hornets were very disciplined in the zone, always staying in position and never overpursuing.
On the other end, the Hornets were powered by their starts. Dylan Garrity had 22 points and was 8/8 inside the arc, Mikh McKinney had 24 points, and Cody Demps finished with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. The trio combined for 55 of the Hornets 70 points, showing why they are arguably the best trio in the Big Sky.
For the Vikings, Gary Winston was excellent, as the senior finished with 26 points, but the Vikings had no balance in this game. Tiegbe Bamba and DaShaun Wiggins both had their moments, but nobody else was able to get anything done against the Hornets zone. In the end, Sac State won this game with their defense, which is not a phrase we would expect to write about them this year.
The Eagles won an entertaining affair, while the Hornets slowly strangled the Vikings into submission. In the end, both styles get you into the Big Sky semifinals. The Eagles win will get a few more headlines because it was more visually appealing, but the Hornets arguably looked better in their victory.
We'll get a matchup that many expected to see in the title game for much of the season. It will be an even matchup, as both teams split in the regular season. It will come down to the stars - Harvey and Jois on one side, McKinney and Garrity on the other. We are all in for a real treat!
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