BOISE — This time, the deficit was too much.
Jacob Groves scored 15 points and Tanner Groves added 14 as second-seeded Eastern Washington built an imposing first-half lead against No. 5 Montana State and then fended off the Bobcats in the second half for a 65-55 victory in the Big Sky Conference men's basketball championship game on Saturday.
The Eagles (16-7 overall) earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament while ending MSU's season. The Bobcats, which in Friday's semifinals overcame a double-digit deficit to topple No. 1 Southern Utah, finish the season at 13-10 after reaching their first conference title game since 2009.
The Eagles bolted to a 26-9 lead with 9:08 remaining in the first quarter. MSU managed to trim the lead to 38-24 by halftime and rallied to within nine points with under five minutes remaining but couldn't close the gap.
Abdul Mohamed led the Bobcats with 15 points and Jubrile Belo notched a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bobcats shot 34.5% as they connected on 19 of 55 field goal attempts. EWU hit 21 of 52 shots. MSU attempted 17 3-pointers but converted just two of them to the Eagles' four.
Eastern Washington completed three wins over the Bobcats this season after sweeping MSU in Bozeman in February.