Tyler Harvey turned it on just in time.
After Montana took a 59-48 lead with 6:18 left, Eastern Washington poured a 21-4 run on the Grizzlies to claim its second Big Sky championship and first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004, winning 69-65.
Martin Breunig was a force in the block for Montana, and the big man tag-teamed with timely shooting from Mike Weisner to help the Griz to the 11 point lead. The senior Weisner hit three 3-pointers in a three minute stretch on his way to a career-high 18 points, and the Grizzlies were rolling on their home floor.
Then, some prescience from our man Jonathan Reed:
Two of Montana's Big Sky losses this year came when they had 97%+ win probability in final 3 minutes. This one isn't over yet.— Jonathan Reed (@bigskybball) March 15, 2015
After layups from Drew Brandon and Venky Jois cut the deficit to 61-54, Eastern head coach Jim Hayford called timeout, and Jois went charging into the huddle with fire in his eyes.
"Venky came in and fired us up, and woke us up to the moment we were in," Harvey said in the postgame press conference. "We worked a long time to get to this moment."
"The whole game was super emotional because we knew what we were playing for," Jois said. "But that last four minute stretch, we looked each other in the eyes ....all the work we've put in to get to those last four minutes, if that's not enough to make you give it everything you have...that's what showed through in the last four minutes."
The Eagles came out of the timeout and forced Montana into a five second violation on the inbound attempt, and with 3:49 left it was time for a media timeout.
At this moment, Harvey was 3-of-11 from the field and hadn't made a three. But Hayford drew up a play that dished to Harvey, who buried a three with his heels hanging above the out-of-bounds line in front of Eastern's bench.
On their next possession, Harvey drove hard and put up a sky-high floater that banked in, cutting the deficit to 61-59, then forcing Montana into a turnover on the other end.
Eastern's next offensive set led to a smart post pass from Jois to Felix Von Hofe. After shooting a scorching 7-of-8 Friday in a semifinal win over Sacramento State, Von Hofe was 0-of-4 at this moment.
Von Hofe rose and sank his three, giving Eastern a 62-61 lead with 2:13 left.
A game Jordan Gregory drove hard for a layup to reclaim the lead for Montana, but after Eastern took it back on a Drew Brandon jumper, Harvey dropped home a fadeaway from the baseline with 44 secodns left and was knocked down on his landing. Harvey converted the free throw to give Eastern a four-point lead and seal the comeback win.
Harvey finished with 18 points to lead EWU, while Brandon and Bogdan Bliznyuk added 16 and 13 to steady the Eagles while Harvey struggled.
Breunig had a sensational game for Montana, finishing with 23 points, 17 rebounds, and two blocks.
"[Breunig] was a tough today, and we struggled in foul trouble too," Jois said. "He just did a great job, credit to him. He's a great player, I love playing against him. It's great to have another big as skilled as he is."
Coach Hayford gave some perspective on what the win meant for the Eastern Washington program.
"This is a big win because this just didn't happen this year. This freshman class was 10-21. We needed to find a point guard and we did (speaking of JC transfer Drew Brandon), and everyone kept saying we had the best year in 10 years.
"But every man in that locker room said 'We're going to the NCAA tournament next year.' We put it on each other to get to that level, and here we are at 26-8."
Eastern Washington's tournament outlook is good, better than any other team in the Big Sky. At the time of this writing, Eastern's RPI stood at 78 on the NCAA's RPI site. A 14-seed seems appropriate for the Eagles.