GAME NOTES: The streaking Montana Grizzlies attempt to remain the lone undefeated team in Big Sky Conference play, as they come calling on the Eastern Washington Eagles for a Saturday night showdown.
Montana is one of the hottest teams in the country, as it has ripped off 11 straight wins since the start of Big Sky action to improve to 15-4 overall, moving to No. 16 in the latest Mid-Major Top-25 poll. The Grizzlies hit the road on Thursday night and took down Portland State, 81-68, extending their conference winning streak to 22 in a row dating back to last season.
Meanwhile, EWU has endured nearly the opposite fate this season at just 6-15, but it has been hitting its stride of late with back-to-back home wins to move to 4-7 in conference play. The Eagles took down Portland State on Monday (76-65), and followed that up with a 72-68 victory over visiting Montana State on Thursday to move above .500 at home in the process (5-4).
With an 81-66 win in Missoula back on Jan. 3, Montana has claimed 11 of the last 13 matchups with EWU to improve to 45-17 in the all-time series.
Montana briefly trailed Portland State late in the first half of its recent bout, but it finished the frame on a 19-6 run to take an eight-point advantage at intermission, and never looked back. It was an outstanding road performance by the Grizzlies, who shot 28-of-50 from the field and 19-of-23 from the foul line while only committing six turnovers. Will Cherry paced four teammates in double figures with 16 points, adding seven rebounds, six assists and three steals for good measure. Mathias Ward netted 15 points, while Keron DeShields and Spencer Coleman added 13 and 12 points, respectively. On the season, Montana sports both the third-ranked scoring offense (71.4 ppg) and scoring defense (65.8 ppg) in the Big Sky, and it is led by the conference's fifth- best scoring in Ward, who pours in 15.3 ppg on nearly 52 percent efficiency from the field. Kareem Jamar is strong in the trenches with 13.9 ppg and 5.8 rpg, and after missing the first seven games of the season, Cherry has been a huge boost to the lineup since his return with 13.1 ppg, 4.6 apg and 3.9 rpg.
Eastern Washington appeared to have its latest game with Portland State well in hand as it was up by 13 points with just over eight minutes to play, and even though it saw the lead dwindle to just one, it never surrendered the advantage as it held on for the four-point win. The Eagles shot a modest 40 percent from the field, but they went 21-of-28 from the foul line and held the Bobcats to only 30.3 percent shooting. Collin Chiverton came off the bench to score a game-high 20 points, Parker Kelly had 15, and Kevin Winford made 3- of-7 from 3-point range on his way to 13 points. Venky Jois shot just 1-of-8 from the field, but made his presence felt elsewhere with 14 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks. Jois is typically a much stronger scorer (13.1 ppg, .493 FG percentage), and he is the league's top rebounder (9.7 rpg) and shot blocker (2.4 bpg). Chiverton has adjusted to his reserve role rather nicely with 10.7 ppg, and 6-foot-10 center Martin Seiferth (7.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg) gives the team plenty of size down low. The Eagles rank in the middle of the pack in the Big Sky in scoring (67.8 ppg), but their downfall has come at the defensive end of the court as the permit 74.7 ppg to their opponents.
EWU has come to life lately in its home building, but it has been far too inconsistent this season to expect it to knock off a team as hot in all facets of the game as is Montana.
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