Eagles remain flat, winless on road; host So. Utah
The bounce the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team hoped they would have from a rare sweep of the Montana schools the week before never happened for the Eagles in their trip to the southern reaches of the Big Sky Conference.
Losses to Northern Arizona 84-65 last Thursday and 75-64 at Sacramento State, Saturday, leave Eastern in a familiar place, jumbled with six of the league’s teams in the battles for one of seven conference tournament berths.
Eastern will play twice this week, but on a different pace with a game tonight (Thursday, Jan. 23) at 6 p.m. against Southern Utah (0-6 Big Sky, 1-14) and then on the road Monday, Jan. 27 versus Portland State (2-4, 7-8).
“A week ago we’re feeling real good,” Eastern head coach Jim Hayford said. “We just beat Montana, Montana State; I thought we were going to go play some really good basketball but we didn’t shoot the ball that well and if you’re not shooting the ball you’re going to have to be excellent on defense and we weren’t excellent on defense so we got what we deserved.”
It wasn’t for lack of effort, however, as Saturday at Sac State Eastern rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit – down 53-33 with 14 minutes, 46 seconds to play – closing it to a 60-54 contest with 4:42 left before losing in the last minutes as Hornet free throws and some key Eagle misses from the field.
Four Eagles scored in double figures, led by the 17 points from sophomore Venky Jois. Point guard Drew Brandon had 13 and Eastern scoring leader, sophomore Tyler Harvey, was limited to 15 and junior Parker Kelly 11 points. Harvey and Kelly, Eastern’s long-range snipers, combined for just 5-of-21 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from the 3-point stripe.
The 3-point shooting, and points from the field in general, wasn’t any better in the 7,000-foot altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz. Eastern made only 30.4 percent of their shots from the field and just 4-of-23 3-point shots, a season low of 17 percent.
Harvey was just 5-of-13 from the field and 2-of-6 from the 3-point range, but was perfect in all 13 of his free throws. Kelly also made all six of his free throws, but hit just 1-of-9 treys to finish 2-of-11 overall from the field. As a team, Eastern was 27-of-33 for 82 percent at the line.
Harvey led the Eagles with 25 points while Jois had his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
“Venky had a great night and really competed,” Hayford said. “We should have gotten the ball to him more.”
After Eastern fashioned a 24-24 tie with 4:26 remaining in the first half, NAU (5-1, 8-9) went on a 12-3 run to end the first 20 minutes up 36-27. A 17-4 start in the second pushed the lead to 22 at 53-31.
Eastern, winless so far on the road at 0-9, tries to get that first win away from home against a Portland State team that is 6-3 at the Stott Center.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.