On a night when driving conditions outside warranted care to make sure there were no crashes, the Eastern Washington University took a similar approach in making sure the Portland State Vikings didn’t wreck the Eagles’ chances at ending a four-game men’s basketball losing streak.
Eastern not only maintained but even improved on a 33-25 halftime lead on the way to a 76-65 Big Sky Conference victory. In six of its previous seven games the Eagles had led after 20 minutes only to see wins slip away. Eastern has now had halftime leads in 10 games this season but have lost six of those.
After leading 33-25 at the half the Eagles used an early 9-2 run to lead by 15 points, 42-27 on a Kelly 3-pointer. Portland State would close it to seven at 52-45 on a jam from Aaron Moore at the 12:19 mark.
Unlike previous losses, this time Eastern had another answer, building the lead back to 12 on a Venky Jois basket with 6:23 to play.
“Hopefully we’ll remember that the next time,” Hayford said of what his guys did to stave off another slide. “It’s just character, saying ‘hey, I’m not going to back down.’”
The win concluded the first half of Big Sky play and improved Eastern’s conference record to 3-7 and 5-15 overall. The Eagles start things all over tonight at 6:05 p.m. versus Montana State (6-4, 9-9) and Saturday, also at 6:05 versus Montana (10-0, 14-4), both at Reese Court.
Eastern led from start to finish Jois led the way with his ninth double-double of the season, scoring 20 points and pulling down 13 rebounds. He also had three blocked shots.
Sophomores Parker Kelly equaled a career high with 17 points, and Martin Seiferth added 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks. Amidst all the youth that seems to be dominating the Eagles’ stats, senior Kevin Winford had 12 points.
Winford also played some stellar defense, especially against Lateef McMullan who came into the game averaging 11 points per contest and five assists. But Winford limited McMullan to two points and a single assist. “Give Kevin credit, I thought Kevin played a really, really good game,” Hayford said. “He played really aggressive and confident.”
“Our team is in need of building confidence so there’s nothing when you’re 18 or 19 years old that builds confidence more than a win,” Hayford said. “It was certainly a confidence builder.”
In trying to decipher what has ailed his team and led to the numerous second-half collapses, Hayford thought he was able to put a finger on it.
“It’s all going to come, they just need to get experience,” Hayford said. “It’s not just a cliché, the hard part of experience is getting it.”
While Eastern was snapping their losing streak, PSU extended theirs to four straight and are now 3-7 in BSC play and 5-12 in all games.
The Montana game is part of “Alumni Appreciation and White Out Reese Night” at Reese Court, the first 1,500 Eagle fans Saturday will receive free “Our House” T-shirts courtesy of Northern Quest Casino and Resort.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.