By PAUL DELANEY
Despite mathematical elimination from the final berth in postseason play earlier in the day, the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team played against Weber State as if first place was on the line.
The Eagles got impressive performances from a pair of true freshmen as Tyler Harvey scored 17 points and Venky Jois another 10 in Eastern’s 65-57 loss to the Wildcats at the Dee Events Center in the final Big Sky Conference contest of the season.
Earlier in their final road trip of the season the Eagles got another big effort from their young guns as Parker Kelly scored a career-high 28 points and Harvey 17 more in EWU’s 87-73 win over Idaho State at Holt Arena in Pocatello.
The Eagles finished the season 10-21 overall and 7-13 in the league, as the careers came to an end for a quartet of seniors – Jeffrey Forbes, Kevin Winford, Collin Chiverton and Jordan Hickert.
“I just told them in the locker room I’m really proud of the seniors – guys like Jeff (Forbes), Kevin (Winford) – they showed these guys how to come to work every day, how to do your job, how to do the right thing, represent our program the right way and that’s a great example,” Eagle head coach Jim Hayford said.
Hayford also found that his new faces played a key in the rebuilding job he undertook in his second season as Eastern’s coach.
“I appreciate the young guys, that they weren’t just going to get experience, learn about all this, this year, but we’re going to try to win every game for the seniors,” Hayford said.
After the Eagles led 2-0 on an opening basket from Martin Seiferth, Weber raced to a 23-12 lead with 9:31 left in the half. A 6-0 Eastern run cut the lead to four, and the Wildcats led 35-30 at halftime.
The Wildcats led by as many as eight points before the Eagles put together a trio of short runs to pull within 51-50 on a dunk by Hickert at the 6:05 mark.
”I felt like we got better every week and played one of our best games here tonight,” Hayford said
But WSU’s Scott Bamforth scored five-straight points to hand his team the No. 2 seed in the Big Sky Conference tournament that begins tonight in Missoula. His 3 with 57 seconds to play was the big blow and part of his team-leading 18 points.
“That’s what great players do,” Hayford said. “He came up big down the stretch and they were all contested shots; he was the difference maker down the stretch.”
Eastern’s defense was up to the task against one of the nation’s top offensive teams, holding the Wildcats to 40 percent shooting. The Wildcats came into the game leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage offensively (.434) and in field goal percentage overall (.512).
The Eagles’ good numbers came without center Seiferth who was lost early in the game with a hip pointer.
Weber State won for the 11th straight time, last losing at Montana 76-74 Jan. 26. The Wildcats improved to 18-2 in league games and 24-5 overall, and won its 19th-straight Big Sky home game.
Hayford won for the 279th time in his 400th game as a collegiate head coach Thursday in Pocatello against the Bengals (5-15, 6-24).
Harvey scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half as Eastern raced to a 42-29 halftime lead. Kelly had 22 of his points in the second half. Seiferth added 13 points and Jois 11.
Forbes earned sole possession of the school record for career games played, now with 120.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.