Eastern Washington (15-16) at Montana (23-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, March 6, 10:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Dahlberg Arena (7,500) -- Missoula, Montana. Television: Altitude. Home Record: Eastern Washington 9-4, Montana 14-2. Away Record: Eastern Washington 6-12, Montana 9-4. Neutral Record: Eastern Washington 0-0, Montana 0-0. Conference Record: Eastern Washington 8-8, Montana 15-1. Series Record: Montana leads, 44-17.
GAMES NOTES: The top-seeded Montana Grizzlies will begin their run toward a Big Sky Conference Tournament title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament when they face off with the fourth-seeded Eastern Washington Eagles at Dahlberg are an in the tournament's semifinals.
Montana didn't have much of an issue with Eastern Washington in the regular season collecting wins in both meetings this year. Most recently the Grizzlies rolled to an easy 74-60 victory on the Eagles' homecourt, giving Montana an all-time series lead of 44-17.
Eastern Washington beat Idaho for the third time in just over a week in the opening round. The Eagles took down the Bengals in two of the final three games of the regular season as well to earn the fourth-seed with an overall record of 14-16 and a conference record of 8-8.
With the top seed in the tournament, Montana, along with second-seeded Weber State, earned byes in the first round, meaning the Grizzlies have been off since their regular season finale win over those same Wildcats. The Grizzlies rolled to a 66-51 win which was their 12th straight with eight coming by double-figure margins. Montana's late success matched a successful overall season, for the Grizzlies, who finished 23-6 overall, with a stellar 15-1 ledger in conference play.
Eastern Washington had a strong performance in its quarterfinal victory over Idaho State, as the Eagles hit on 52.8 percent of their shots from the floor including 60.9 percent in the second half while three players scored more than 20 points. Eastern Washington managed only an 81-75 decision due to a lack of pressure on perimeter defense that allowed the Bengals to knock down 14 three pointers.
It was no surprise that Cliff Colimon led the team in scoring with 22 points in win. Colimon (16.1 ppg, 5.1 apg) was one of the best guards in the conference this season finishing the year in the top five in scoring, assists and steals per game. What did come as a shock were the other 20-point scorers for the Eagles. Laron Griffin (8.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Jeffrey Forbes (7.0 ppg) have been at best supplemental scorers this season but each put in 21 points in the win. Griffin completed a double-double by pulling down 11 rebounds. Colin Chiverton (14.4 ppg) and Cliff Ederaine (10.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) were therefore pushed to lesser roles in the game with the two combining for just nine points and six rebounds. With Colimon leading the way, the Eagles enjoyed a strong offensive season scoring 72.9 points per game which was good enough for third in the Big Sky.
Montana's scoring leader Will Cherry bested Weber State's star Damian Lillard, the second highest scorer in Division I this year, in the Grizzlies' 66-51 undressing of the Wildcats in the final game of the regular season. Cherry poured in 23 points to Lillard's 19. The Grizzlies held the conference's highest scoring squad to only 51 points on 30.2 percent shooting, including a 3-for-26 performance from three-point range.
Cherry (16.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg) was the team's leading scorer all season, ranking fourth in the conference. Kareem Jamar (13.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.7 apg) continued a solid all-around season in the regular-season finale by scoring 17 points to with seven rebounds and a pair of assists. The third and final member of the team scoring in double figures is Mathias Ward (10.4 ppg), who notched 15 points against Weber State. Montana was a team in the middle of the conference in scoring putting in an even 70.0 points per game this year but was the strongest defensive squad in the league, holding opponents to a mere 61.4.
Montana is the clear pick in this matchup. With the Grizzlies' stellar defense added to the fact that they are playing on their home floor, Eastern Washington doesn't have much of a shot in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 72, Eastern Washington 60
03/06 10:34:15 ET