A slow start ultimately doomed Eastern Washington Monday night at the Stott Center.
Falling behind 8-0 early in the contest ultimately was too much in the Eagles’ 89-80 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball loss to Portland State.
The setback further muddled an already a complex race for the seven postseason berths as teams take a break from league play to take part in ESPN BracketBuster games as the Eagles (6-10 Big Sky, 8-18 overall) do Saturday when they entertain the Sam Houston Bearkats at 1:05 p.m. at Reese Court.
Eastern returns to Big Sky play Feb. 28 hosting Northern Colorado and North Dakota, March 2.
“The bottom line, the first four or five minutes of the game and that last three minutes of the first half were the difference,” Eastern head coach Jim Hayford said.
After falling behind 43-31 at the half as Portland State (5-11, 7-16) finished the first 20 minutes on a 7-1 run, Eastern used their own 16-0 run to take their first lead of the game on a Tyler Harvey 3 with 13 minutes, 42 seconds to play.
The points were part of a team and game-high 23 for Harvey, a redshirt freshman. True freshman Venky Jois seemed to return to old form following an ankle injury with 17 points and nine rebounds. Senior Jeffrey Forbes added 17 points, as four Eagles combined for all but seven of EWU’s points. Sophomore Martin Seiferth had 16 points and nine boards.
Portland State, meanwhile, went 5:27 without a point in that span. But their dry spell couldn’t – and didn’t – last forever.
Hayford thought the swing back in the Vikings’ favor came on a turnover with about 10 minutes to play in which the Eagles had a chance to break a 55-all tie. Instead PSU countered with a 3 by Gary Winston and never again trailed. Renaldo Parker scored 20 to lead PSU with Michael Harthun adding 18.
“If you would have told me we were going to score 80, I would have told you we could win,” Hayford said. “But if you would have told me they would score 89, I would have said we would have no chance.”
In a traffic jam for every postseason position below leaders Montana at 15-1 and Weber State’s 14-2 – just four games in the loss column separate third from last – Hayford has done the math.
“If we can go get three more, that would get us nine (wins) and I think nine’s the number,” that would earn his team a second consecutive berth in the Big Sky tournament.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.