Finally there was a lead that held up, or a game where Eastern Washington didn’t have to play catch-up against Sam Houston State University. Of course it took place on the basketball court and not the football field, as had two past meetings between the schools.
With a combination of a single-game Big Sky Conference record of blocking 16 Bearkat shots, and getting four players in double figure scoring, the Eagles scored an 81-76 non-conference ESPN BracketBusters men’s basketball victory last Saturday at Reese Court.
The last two times a Sam Houston team has visited Cheney, it’s come during the Football Championship Subdivision football playoffs and SHSU has left with wins. The most recent was this past December with a 45-42 escape in the FCS semifinals where EWU rallied from a 35-0 halftime deficit.
Eastern did build a big 16-point lead in the first half and as might be expected, it was all needed to improve their record to 9-18 on the season.
The Eagles will meet Northern Colorado and North Dakota in a pair of Reese Court games this week, critical to each team’s postseason hopes. The Bears come calling tonight (7-10 Big Sky, 9-17 overall) at 7 p.m. while one of the BSC’s newcomers, North Dakota (9-8, 12-15) visits for a 2:05 p.m. tip-off. Eastern, 6-10 in conference play, is locked in a battle for anywhere from third place and hosting a first-round playoff game, to last and out of the postseason. Four games in the loss column separate nine teams.
“We hung in there,” EWU head coach Jim Hayford said. “I thought our guys were playing a very athletic team, but we kept enough poise to finish it out.”
Part of that poise came from Tyler Harvey.
In the final 1 minute, 21 seconds the freshman from Torrance, Calif. came up with two key blocks just 11 seconds apart. The first came on a steal and fast break basket attempt by Aaron Harwell that Harvey swatted out of bounds. The next came on his block of a James Thomas jumper with Eastern leading 74-67.
“Tyler continues to step up and he’s given us great minutes,” Hayford said.
Those two empty possessions ended up large as the seconds ticked down and Sam Houston (14-13) trimmed the lead to just two points 76-74 on a Thomas basket with 34 seconds remaining.
The Bearkats press on the ensuing inbounds play resulted in a foul to Collin Chiverton who promptly sunk a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game. Those points were part of a game high 20 points for the senior. Parker Kelly added 17 while Venky Jois and senior Jeffrey Forbes each tossed in 11.
Forbes’ points were both crucial and of milestone in nature. His 3 from the right side with 2:38 to play not only pushed the Federal Way, Wash. to 1,001 in his EWU career but also gave the Eagles a 73-64 lead. Forbes is the 16th player in school history to reach 1,000. Forbes is on the cusp of yet another milestone as Saturday he will play a record-tying 119th game.
“What a great accomplishment and that 3 he made was a very, very timely 3 in the second half,” Hayford said. “You know, there’s a lot of people who’ve worn an Eastern uniform but there’s not a lot who have scored 1,000 points.”
Chiverton collected his 20 on 7-of-10 field goal shooting and going 3-of-5 from 3-point range. Coming into the game Sam Houston was allowing an average of just four successful 3-pointers per game but Eastern knocked down 10 on the day as Kelly went 3-of-4 from long range.
Eastern shot a season-high 61 percent from the field, but did so with a season low attempts connecting on 23-of-38 shots. Sam Houston turned those stats around shooting 33 percent, but did so attempting a season high 78 shots, an EWU high this season. Paul Baxter led the Bearkats with 19 points.
“When Chiverton gives us points, that really helps us a lot,” Hayford said. “Today he got us 20 and that’s something I hope he brings this weekend as well.”
Chiverton came off the bench to score 10 points in just five minutes to spark Eastern to a double-digit lead in the first half. Freshman Daniel Hill nailed a 3-pointer with 1:25 to go in the half to push Eastern’s lead to 15 at 40-25, a high for the game until Martin Seifert’s free throw closed out the first half with the Eagles leading 41-25.
Seiferth had a school-record eight blocks as the Eagles broke the previous mark of seven, set earlier this season by Jois. The team’s 16 blocks broke the previous league and school record of 13 set on three occasions, with the last coming in 1992.
“To block 16 shots in one game, I have never seen anything like that in my life,” Hayford said.
Eastern plans to play a return engagement in Hunstville, Texas in the 2014-15 season.
“As much as there’s must wins in basketball – you know we’re not working at the hospital – but it is and it’s a chance for us to continue to grow up,” Hayford said of this week’s contests. “You win and you’re taking a step towards the playoffs, it’s like a playoff game.”
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.