Eastern Washington men’s basketball fans weren’t the only ones happy to see the Eagles’ upset at Indiana in a nonconference game Monday night.
Sacramento State coach Brian Katz and his players knew it would be a boost for the under-the-radar Big Sky Conference.
Eastern Washington rallied from a 12-pointsecond-half deficit to shock the Hoosiers 88-86. It ended Indiana’s 43-game home winning streak against nonconference foes, and it was the Eagles’ first win in 14 games against a Big Ten Conference opponent.
But it wasn’t the only early-season upset posted by a Big Sky men’s team. Portland State topped USC 76-68, Northern Arizona beat Fresno State 73-52, and defending conference champion Weber State edged Nevada 59-56 in a tournament in the Virgin Islands.
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“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but if things continue the way they are going, whoever wins our league is going to get a pretty good seed for the (NCAA) playoffs,” Katz said Tuesday night after Sac State walloped Division III Bristol of Anaheim 97-63 in a nonconference game at The Nest.
The Big Sky is traditionally one of the lowest tournament seeds, often having to open against a No. 1 or No. 2 regional seed because of its traditionally poor Rating Percentage Index.
“I’ve told our guys we’re working for everybody in our league,” Katz said. “Everybody needs nonconference wins to bump up our RPI. There’s a huge difference between being a No. 14 seed and a No. 15 or No. 16 seed for the tournament.”
Last season, Sac State nosed out Eastern Washington for the final berth in the Big Sky tournament. But the Eagles have four starters back and are projected to finish second behind Weber State in the preseason’ coaches poll. Northern Arizona is picked to place third – the Lumberjacks are Sports Illustrated’s preseason pick to win the conference – while Sac State, with all its starters back, has been selected No. 4 in the media and coaches’ polls.
“I was happy for Eastern Washington,” said Hornets senior guard Mikh McKinney, a unanimous first-team Big Sky selection last season. “We’re all part of the Big Sky, so we want to see them be successful outside of our conference. It helps us all.”
Sac State lost its season opener 104-58 at No. 10 Gonzaga but still can positively influence the conference’s RPI rating.
The Hornets play Dec. 6 at UC Irvine, the Big West Conference preseason favorite, and host undefeated Portland on Dec. 14. Portland plays in the West Coast Conference, currently rated No. 6 nationally in RPI by CBSSports.com.
Hawkins’ hot start – UC Davis senior guard Corey Hawkins was named the Big West Conference Player of the Week after leading the Aggies past Eastern Illinois 63-61 and Furman 58-55.
Hawkins averaged 24.5 points as the Aggies won back-to-back road games for the first time since March 2013. He shot 17 for 30 (57 percent) from the floor and 9 for 14 (64 percent) from three-point range and averaged 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals.
The Aggies entered this week 3-0, their best start since the 1999-2000 season.
Hornets’ national leaders – Sac State senior wide receiver DeAndre Carter and senior quarterback Garrett Safron finished the season as Football Championship Subdivision national leaders.
Carter led in catches (99), receiving yards (1,321) and receiving touchdowns (17). Safron was the total offense leader with 4,241 yards and a 353.4-yard average.
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UPCOMING BASKETBALL GAMES
▪ Men: Monday, vs. Utah Valley, 7:05 p.m., 1380; Dec. 4, at Abilene Christian, 5:05 p.m., 1380; Dec. 6, at UC Irvine, 7:05 p.m., 1380
▪ Women: Dec. 3, at Cal., 11 a.m.; Dec. 6, at Oregon State, 2 p.m.
▪ Men: Saturday, vs. Utah Valley, 7 p.m., 105.5; Wednesday, vs. San Jose State, 7 p.m., 105.5; Dec. 6, at Idaho, 2 p.m., 105.5
▪ Women: Saturday, vs. Pacific, 4:30 p.m.; Tuesday, vs. USF, 7 p.m.; Dec. 5, Air Force Tournament, vs. Santa Clara, 3:30 p.m.; Dec. 6, Air Force Tournament, vs. Southern Utah, 1 p.m.