Eastern Washington couldn't have picked a better time to put together a winning streak.
After losing their Big Sky Conference opener to Montana, the Eagles have rattled off four straight wins to take sole possession of first place in the tightly bunched league standings. Eastern played 13 non-conference games without posting back-to-back wins.
The Eagles have won all three of their road games and return home for dates against Idaho State and Weber State this weekend. A pair of home wins would give Eastern a 6-1 record at the halfway point and some margin for error during the second half of league play.
Eastern's bid for its fourth straight win didn't look promising when the Eagles trailed Portland State 27-21 at halftime Saturday night in Portland. But the Eagles scored 50 second-half points to pull out the 71-63 win.
"We're starting to have some composure," Eastern coach Ray Giacoletti told the Spokane Spokesman-Review. "Man, it'd sure be nice if we can sustain it."
Giacoletti, whose teams are noted for their tough man-to-man defense, switched to a zone defense in the second half against Portland State, hoping to force the Vikings to settle for jump shots.
"They really only have a couple of consistent shooters and we just wanted them to take as many jumpers as possible," Eastern's Josh Barnard told the Spokesman-Review. "They're big-time athletes, but we needed to take (the drive) away."
Portland State committed 31 fouls and the Eagles made good on 21-of-29 free throws.
Eastern will have to buck the league trend - and its own - to get a home sweep this weekend. Visting teams are 11-9 so far in Big Sky play while Eastern is 18-7 on the road under Giacoletti; just 16-8 at home.
Portland State junior Seamus Boxley is receiving national attention, although right now it's just for his name.
Boxley made Dick Vitale's list of the top five names in college basketball as reported by ESPN The Magazine.
"It kind of cracked me up," Boxley told the Portland Oregonian. "For him to even know who I was and pick me out, I was like, 'Wow.' "
If Boxley keeps putting up impressive numbers, he might receive recognition for more than his name. Boxley is averaging a double-double (15.2 points, 11.8 rebounds) during conference play and recorded his league-leading eighth double-double against Eastern Washington with 12 points and 12 boards.
Boxley was forced to redshirt last season with a finger injury. He returned this season with an extra 20 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-7 frame.
"It's a little easier for me to bang down low," Boxley said.
Boxley already owns the school record for career blocked shots with 76 and is on pace to set the school marks for career rebounds and shooting percentage.
Northern Arizona took wins at Weber State and Idaho State last weekend, its first road sweep in two seasons.
Think maybe the Lumberjacks are kicking themselves for losing two straight at home the previous weekend?
Forward Aaron Bond has emerged as the Jacks' go-to man. At 19.8 points a game, he leads the league in scoring during conference play. Bond had 23 points and seven boards in NAU's 73-67 win over Weber State and 25 points and eight rebounds in the Jacks' 92-86 win over Idaho State.
Sophomore Kelly Golob added 21 points and Kody Yazzie had 17 in the win over Idaho State. Golob leads the league with 57 treys.
"We've got a lot of guys who can contribute," Yazzie told the Arizona Daily Sun. "It's a matter of making the extra pass to find the open person. We've got a lot of guys who can knock shots down."
NAU coach Mike Adras stole a page out of Montana State coach Mick Durham's defensive playbook, double-teaming Weber State's post players every time they touched the ball during the win over the Wildcats.
Weber center Lance Allred still managed 16 points, but forward Slobodan Ocokoljic was held to just nine, seven below his average.
"We were just trying to keep him as far off the block as possible," Bond said of Ocokoljic.
Adras also made three changes to the starting lineup before departing Flagstaff. Guard Chris Ferguson, center Joakim Kjellbom and Yazzie earned starts with their work in practice early in the week.
"There was a lot of doubt floating around," said Adras, who guided the Jacks to just their fourth win ever in Ogden. "There were people calling worried about the team, questioning their character. These guys have great character. They didn't make excuses Monday. They just came to the gym and worked hard. They focused to play - and win - this game."
Fastbreaks: Weber State improved to 18-0 against Sacramento State with its 65-54 win on Saturday. … Montana junior Kamarr Davis leads the league in field goal percentage (.578). He's also shooting 93 percent (27-for-29) from the line during league play. … Eastern Washington is 46-19 in Big Sky games over the last five seasons, the best in the league. Weber State is next at 42-23, NAU is third at 35-30 and Montana is fourth at 34-31. … Sac State's 1-4 start in league play is its worst since starting 0-5 in 2001. … Eastern is 6-0 when it allows 63 or fewer points in a game.
Sports editor Bob Meseroll can be reached at 523-5265 or by e-mail at email@example.com.