Eagles hold on against Bobcats, get slayed by Grizzlies
The difference between the haves and have not’s in the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball race and how to bridge the gap was aptly illustrated in last Saturday’s University of Montana 65-46 win over Eastern Washington at Reese Court.
“We had enough guys on the court to play and they had enough guys and their guys they put on the court beat our guys,” EWU head coach Jim Hayford said.
The solution: “The guys that we’re dressing and playing we have to use those guys to find a way to win,” Hayford said describing his youthful team that went 2-1 on a brief home stand after Thursday’s 72-68 win over Montana State. The split left Eastern in a tie for eighth place as the schedule crossed into the second half against MSU (7-5, 10-10).
The Eagles (4-8 Big Sky, 6-16 all games) play at Sacramento State (5-6, 10-9) tonight (Thursday, Feb. 7) at 7:05 p.m. Saturday Eastern will be in Flagstaff, Ariz., to face Northern Arizona (4-7, 7-14) at 12:05 p.m.
Eastern had the season’s best Reese Court crowd of 2,732 buzzing early as the Eagles raced to an early 11-2 lead against UM. But a 19-0 run by the Grizzlies (12-0, 16-4) coupled with a season low 18 first half points, dug the Eagles into a hole they later tried, but failed to climb out of.
“I guess it was just like a rocket ship, we burned up a lot of fuel early, didn’t we?” Hayford said.
The Eagles played the game without leading scorer Venky Jois who sprained his ankle late in the Montana State game. Also out was Jeffrey Forbes, sidelined with a hand injury.
True freshman Thomas Reuter was the only Eagle in double figures with 11 points while sophomore Martin Seiferth had nine points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. Four Grizzlies scored in double figures, including Will Cherry and Mathais Ward, each with 13 points in Montana’s 12th consecutive victory.
“What’s really hard is when they have (Mathais) Ward because Ward can shoot the 3 too,” Hayford said. “Now they get you spread out and they have shooters who are drivers starting with (Will) Cherry and (Kareem) Jamar.”
Hayford hopes to have Jois back in the lineup against Sac State. The true freshman exited the game with 3 minutes, 15 seconds to play in the MSU game and had his place on the bench next to Forbes Saturday. Jois has had nine double-doubles this season to lead the Big Sky and rank 15th in NCAA Division I play in games through Jan. 31.
Eastern went on an 8-2 run early in the second half pulling to within eight at 34-26 with 18:01 to play. But Montana went on a short run and built it back to a 41-26 lead with 15:22 remaining.
Senior Collin Chiverton led the Eagles with 20 points, versus Montana State Thursday night. That included four clutch free throws in the final 30 seconds. Winford added 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals for the Eagles.
“Any win is a good win, but this is a big one,” Hayford said as Eastern won two in a row for the first time this season.
“The big thing for us was down the stretch is that we had seniors step up,” Hayford said. “Kevin was a great defensive rebounder in the second half, and Collin made free throws down the stretch.”
The Eagles limited Montana State to 30 percent shooting, a season best. But after Eastern twice had 13-point second half leads, Montana State used a series of runs to close to within 64-63 with just under three minutes remaining Chiverton hit a key basket with 1:21 left and made all four of his free throws in the final 30 seconds.
The Eagles also survived 27 percent shooting in the second half after a 52 percent first half, but it was their defense that really saved the day, Hayford said. “There’s no secret the reason we won tonight was because we played outstanding defense.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.