February 26, 2007

Eastern Still Alive For Big Sky Tournament Berth

Feb. 26, 2007

Thanks to the Montana Grizzlies, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball season continues. For at least another day.

Montana defeated Idaho State 72-71 in overtime Monday (Feb. 26) to keep alive Eastern's hopes of qualifying for its 10th-straight Big Sky Conference Tournament. 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.

"We're happy to be alive at least for another 24 hours," said Mike Burns after learning the result of the game played in Pocatello, Idaho. "Hopefully, the stars are aligning correctly for us."

Now, Eastern becomes a huge Montana State fan as a Bobcat victory Tuesday over ISU will give EWU the sixth and final tourney berth. If that happens, Eastern will open the playoffs at the No. 3 seed -- either Montana or Northern Arizona. The Bobcats have a lot of reasons to win -- if they beat the Bengals they will be the No. 4 seed and host a first-round game.

If Idaho State beats MSU, thus forcing a three-way tie for fifth at 8-8, Eastern loses the tiebreaker because of a 1-3 record in head-to-head play versus the other two schools. The Bobcats would finish fifth because of a 3-1 record against EWU and ISU, and Idaho State would get the sixth and final berth with splits in games versus the Bobcats and Eagles.

If EWU fails to get into the tournament, it would become 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. Besides its loss to Montana, Eastern also dropped home games to Northern Arizona and Portland State during the league season.

The Eagles finished the regular season 15-14 overall for the school's eighth season of .500 of better in the last 10 years.

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