Thursday, March 23, 2023

EWU falls to NAU on buzzer-beater in Big Sky tourney

Herald Sports Staff | March 6, 2023 4:19 PM

BOISE, IDAHO —The top-seeded Eastern Washington Eagles fell on a buzzer-beater to No. 9 Northern Arizona in the men’s Big Sky tournament quarterfinals on Saturday.

Lumberjack guard Oakland Fort had the ball kicked out to him after an attempted drive-by guard Jalen Cone with 1.4 seconds remaining, and Fort’s shot left his hand with .4 seconds on the clock.

Fort’s shot rang true, as players and coaches swarmed the freshman guard on the opposite end of the floor in celebration.

The Eagles and Lumberjacks played back-and-forth all game, with both squads being tied at 35 at the half. Neither team led by more than eight points all night in Boise.

A layup by EWU forward Casey Jones gave the Eagles a 77-71 lead with 58 seconds remaining in the game, but a jump shot by Cone and a three by NAU’s Trent McLaughlin quickly cut the lead to 77-76 with 29 seconds left.

EWU’s Cedric Coward’s dunk on a fastbreak pushed the lead back to three, and after two made free throws by Cone, Eastern guard Steele Venters made the first of two free throws to give the Eagles an 80-78 lead with eight seconds left.

Steele missed the second free throw, which was rebounded by McLaughlin. Seconds later, Fort’s shot took down EWU and eliminated them from the Big Sky tournament.

Being the Big Sky’s regular season champions, EWU is automatically eligible for the National Invitational Tournament. Teams and matchups for the NIT are announced on Sunday and games begin on March 14.

Eastern, who had won 18-straight games from Dec. 17 to Feb. 23, lost its final two games of the regular season (71-63 against Idaho State on Feb. 25 and 79-74 to Montana State on Feb. 27) before losing in its postseason opener to NAU.

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