Hopefully some home cooking will help.
Following two painful road losses in Montana – one a sound 81-66 thumping to the Grizzlies in Missoula and the other a disappointment in overtime 70-68 in Bozeman to Montana State – the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team is back at Reese Court for two Big Sky Conference contests.
Tonight (Thurs., Jan. 10) the Eagles (1-3 BSC, 3-11 overall) tip off at 6:05 p.m. against Northern Arizona (2-2, 5-9) and Saturday face Sacramento State (2-2, 7-5), also a 6:05 start.
“Our team played really, really well, and I hurt for them that they couldn’t take a road win home with them,” head coach Jim Hayford said of having a big 15-point lead slip away in Bozeman. “I’m proud of our team, but sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t go in your favor.”
With a lineup that features two young starters in freshman Venky Jois and sophomore Martin Seiferth – and a squad that just lost point guard Justin Crosgile who left the team – the goal is to simply cobble together enough wins to reach the Big Sky tournament in March.
“Our goal is to hunt out some wins to get into the Big Sky Tournament,” Hayford said. “We are getting better, we played well this week, we played a lot better than the Weber State-Idaho State weekend.”
That goal might have been a little less challenging had Eastern been able to hang on at Worthington Arena Saturday.
Despite an advantage in shooting from the field where the Eagles had five more field goals – and six more 3-point shots – Eastern was outscored 24-6 at the free throw line.
But even the field goals dried up when they needed them the most. Eastern missed a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation and two possible game tying shots at the end of overtime.
Guard Jeffrey Forbes led the Eagles with a season-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers, while new point guard, senior Kevin Winford, had 13 points and six assists before fouling out late in the game. Seiferth finished with 11 points to round out the Eagles in double-figures.
“Kevin and Jeff gave great senior performances to lead and show our team how you play on the road,” Hayford said.
In the opening game of the trip last Thursday at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, the game seemed to swing on the ability of the Grizzlies to surpass their statistical average in 3-point shooting, and the Eagles inability to do the same.
Montana knocked down 9-of-21 from beyond the arc for 43 percent, up from their usual 40.7, while Eastern was just 4-of-16 after leading Division 1 schools with nearly 10 per game.
Eastern trailed just 34-29 at the break and even forged a tie at 37-37 with 17:02 to play but Montana (4-0, 8-4) went on a 27-8 run the next 10 minutes to salt it away.
Jois led the Eagles with 16 points and added seven rebounds. Fellow true freshman Thomas Reuter had 14 points. Senior Collin Chiverton had 14 points in his first action since Nov. 23 following time away from the team for personal reasons.
“For the first 25 minutes of the game we looked like a real solid, cohesive unit playing with a purpose,” Hayford said. “That is something we can really, really build on. Then we had a spurt where we kept fouling and we went cold. That was the difference right there.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org