Feb. 27, 2007
Montana State didn't do the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team any favors when the season opened back on Dec. 28. They didn't do EWU any favors Tuesday (Feb. 27), either.
The hard-luck Eagles lost a bit of history and in the process made a bit of history as well when Idaho State knocked off Montana State 67-58 to give the Bengals the sixth and final berth in this week's Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Bobcats, who opened the season with an 82-79 victory at EWU on a three-pointer at the buzzer, missed all 13 of their three-point attempts in the first half when they fell behind 31-15.
"A lot of the reason we aren't in has to do with Montana State," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "It's unfortunate and tough. Idaho State was obviously dialed in and ready to go. Montana State was 0-of-13 shooting three-pointers in the first half and you would never expect that from them. That was the difference."
The MSU loss ended EWU's season and keeps the Eagles from their 10th-straight Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Eagles finished the year 15-14 overall for the school's eighth season of .500 of better in the last 10 years.
Eastern finished 8-8 in the league and becomes the first school since the league expanded in 1970-71 (it has had at least eight teams ever since), to have a .500 record and not place in the top six. Started in 1998 when EWU knocked off Montana on the final day of the regular season, Eastern's nine-year streak is the fifth-longest in Big Sky history. The only streaks longer were owned by Weber State (24), Montana (21), Idaho (16) and Nevada (11). Montana's ended in 1998 when EWU's started.
Besides its loss to Montana State on Dec. 28, Eastern also dropped home games to Northern Arizona and Portland State. The loss to the Vikings on Feb. 10 was Eastern's lone setback in its last five games.
"We were able to win four of our last five, but unfortunately, the one we couldn't afford to lose was Portland State," said Burns. "That was our only hiccup down the stretch. We were probably playing our best basketball of the season in the last few weeks."
"It's hard for us," he added. "When we saw the schedule, we thought it would come down to the stretch when we played eight of 10 games on the road. We went 4-6, but 5-5 would have put us in the tournament and 6-4 would have us in second place right now. That was a tough stretch."
Montana defeated Idaho State 72-71 in overtime Monday to keep alive Eastern's hopes. Idaho State missed a shot at the end of regulation that could have won it, then allowed Montana's Andrew Strait to sink a game-winning layin with three seconds to play in overtime.
Interestingly, Strait is from the Central Washington town of Yakima (West Valley HS) and is a former AAU teammate of Eastern's Rodney Stuckey. Last Thursday (Feb. 22), EWU's Marcus Hinton beat the Bengals with a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left in that game that started ISU's three-game losing streak.
Eastern actually finished in a three-way tie for fifth with MSU. Eastern, however, lost the tiebreaker because of a 1-3 record in head-to-head play versus the other two schools. The Bobcats received the No. 5 seed because of a 3-1 record against EWU and ISU, and Idaho State received the sixth and final berth with splits in games versus the Bobcats and Eagles.
"We were 8-8 in a very tough league," added Burns. "This is the toughest the Big Sky has been since I've been here. We had three home games that we lost under difficult, almost bizarre, circumstances."
The top six teams in the nine-team league advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The quarterfinals take place on March 3 and are hosted by the No. 3 seed (Montana at home versus ISU) and the No. 4 seed (Portland State at home vs. MSU). The winners of those two games advance to the semifinals, as well as the top two teams in the regular season standings (Weber State and Northern Arizona), who receive byes to the semifinals on March 6. The semifinals, as well as the nationally-televised championship game the next night, will be hosted by regular season champion Weber State.
Eastern Just The Fifth BSC School to Make Nine-Straight Tournament Appearances: Eastern is just the fifth school in league history to make nine-straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern started the streak back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.
Weber State had its string of 24-straight appearances stopped in 2005-06, and Montana had a string of 21-straight from 1978-98. The other streaks were 16 by Idaho (1981-96) and 11 by Nevada (1982-92). Two years ago, Eastern equaled the streak of eight by Northern Arizona (1997-04).
Interestingly, Montana's 77-69 victory over the Lumberjacks on Feb. 28, 2005, extended Eastern's streak and ended NAU's. Eastern's streak started in 1998 with an end-of-year victory at Montana. That "winner advance, loser eliminated" game ended Montana's 21-year streak.
Eastern is now 7-9 in 10 appearances in the league tournament. Eastern ended its season with losses to Montana in both 2005 and 2006, but the year before won the title with a 71-59 championship game victory over Northern Arizona.
Here is a list of Eastern's appearances in the Big Sky Tournament.
2006 - Semifinal (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #2 Montana - L, 71-73 (ot)
2006 - Quarterfinal (Cheney, Wash.) - #3 seed vs. #6 Portland State - W, 81-75
2005 - Quarterfinal (Missoula, Mont.) - #6 seed vs. #3 Montana - L, 48-58
2004 - Championship (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #2 Northern Ariz. - W, 71-59
2004 - Semifinals (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 72-53
2003 - Championship (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #1 Weber State - L, 57-60
2003 - Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #4 Idaho State - W, 76-67
2002 - Championship (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Montana - L, 66-70
2002 - Semifinals (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Weber State - W, 62-57
2001 - Championship (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #1 CS Northridge - L, 58-73
2001 - Semifinals (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Northern Arizona - W, 58-53
2000 - Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Northern Arizona - L, 65-82
1999 - Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) - #6 seed vs. #3 Portland State - L, 74-80
1998 - Quarterfinals (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #6 CS Northridge - L, 98-104 (ot)
1990 - Championship (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #1 Idaho - L, 62-65
1990 - Semifinals (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 83-67
2007 Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball Tournament
First Round - Saturday, March 3
(on campus sites, Times Local to Site)
7:05 p.m. - No. 5 Montana State (11-18) at No. 4 Portland State (18-12)
7:05 p.m. - No. 6 Idaho State (13-16) at No. 3 Montana (16-14)
Semifinals - Tuesday, March 6
At Dee Events Center, Ogden, Utah
TBA - Highest Remaining Seed vs No. 2 Northern Arizona (17-11)
TBA - Lowest Remaining Seed at No. 1 Weber State (18-11)
Final - Wednesday, March 7
7:00 p.m. (Mountain) - Semifinal Winners - Televised by ESPN2