Eagles lose their grip on postseason
Eastern’s twin losses at home all but end return to Big Sky tournament
The possibility of Eastern Washington University returning to the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament next week has likely slipped through their hands.
A pair of home court losses – 88-80 in overtime Thursday to Northern Colorado and 78-74 against the University of North Dakota – can largely be linked to the Eagles’ inability to take care of the ball at Reese Court.
Saturday versus UND, while the Eagles (6-12 Big Sky, 9-20 overall) had a better shooting percentage, 47 to 45 percent, they committed six more turnovers as the visitors enjoyed a 20-8 edge in points from the miscues. Thursday the Eagles lost the ball 22 times and the battle for points off turnovers 24-14.
So the end result leaves Eastern with only the slimmest of chances of postseason play as they enter the final two games of the season, tonight (March 7) at Idaho State (4-14, 5-23), which is trying to vacate the cellar, and Saturday at Weber State (16-2, 22-5) which continues to chase Montana for the top spot.
At stake for the Griz and Wildcats is being regular season champions and hosting the conference tournament. Eastern would need a sweep, plus losses by Northern Arizona, Montana State and Sacramento State to wiggle in.
While the present seems to be a done deal, Eastern got another fine performance from its future as redshirt freshman Tyler Harvey and sophomore Martin Seiferth stood out with impressive performances Saturday on a day dedicated to EWU’s seniors.
Harvey had 21 points to lead his team, while adding eight assists, four rebounds and three steals. Seiferth, the German import, had his fourth double-double of the season with 14 points, 14 rebounds, seven blocked shots.
“Tyler had 21 points with eight assists, so we’re obviously excited about that performance and the future he has,” Eagles’ head coach Jim Hayford said. “You can tell we’re excited about building on Martin for the future. And Thomas Reuter really stepped up and made some big plays in the last few minutes.”
Departing seniors made their impact, too.
Jeffrey Forbes made history as he equaled the school record for career games played with 119 and tied Marc Axton for the benchmark set between 2002-05. Collin Chiverton and Jordan Hickert joined the injured Kevin Winford on the court as starters.
“We would have liked to have a storybook ending for the seniors, but unfortunately it didn’t happen that way,” Hayford said. Chiverton closed out his EWU career with a 14-point effort.
Chiverton and Hickert later connected on back-to-back 3-point shots early that earned Eastern a 6-6 tie at the 17:46 mark but it was all UND, and Troy Huff after that. Huff‘s 24 first-half points, part of a career and game high 31, would help the visitors jump to a 24-10 lead.
Eastern, which trailed 38-31 at the half, never recovered from the hole that they fell into, but they certainly tried to climb out.
The Bears opened a 60-52 lead with 11:18 to play, but a 9-2 run and a 3-pointer by Chiverton gave the Eagles a 68-67 lead with 5:12 to play.
A Reuter layup with 1:50 remaining trimmed it to 71-70 but a turnover, steal and basket by Jamal Webb put UND up 73-71. After a Harvey basket again made it a one-point game, 73-72, baskets by Aaron Anderson and Huff with an exclamation point dunk and follow-up free throw with seven seconds to go put UND up 78-72.
Thursday night, after true freshman Venky Jois sunk a pair of free throws with 1:12 to play and gave the Eagles a72-69 lead, Tate Unruh’s long 3-pointer from the top of the arc tied the game at 72-72.
The Eagles had a turnover on their final possession but UNC missed its final two shots of regulation.
Eastern was then outscored 16-8 in the 5-minute overtime as Northern Colorado (9-10, 11-17) would catch the first of a pair of key wins on their trip to the Northwest. The Bears advantage in OT came at the free throw line where they made 8-of-11 attempts.
The Bears used a turnover and 3-pointer at the buzzer by Derrick Barden to claim a 37-36 halftime lead. That was the last of 10 first-half turnovers by the Eagles that allowed Northern Colorado to score 12 of their 37 points. For the game the Eagles surrendered a season-high 24 points off turnovers.
Harvey, in only his second start, scored 22 points to lead Eastern. Jois had 14 and Seiferth 11, to go with 21 rebounds for his third double-double on the season. He also had a pair of blocked shots. Chiverton also had 11 and Parker Kelly 10.
Barden topped the Bears - and the game -with 28 while Unruh added 21. “Barden is a beast, and he is tough to handle,” Hayford said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.