Eastern sweeps Sac State, Northern Arizona
Eastern Washington's Venky Jois defends against Northern Arizona's Kris Yanku in last Saturday's 84-65 Big Sky Conference win over the Lumberjacks. The Eagles defeated Sacramento State, 85-72, Thursday for a Reese Court sweep that evened their league record at 7-7 and in a 5-way tie for fifth place, right in the hunt for a postseason berth with six games to play.
Eastern Washington brought out the long-range artillery Saturday with Tyler Harvey taking aim to shoot Northern Arizona out of Reese Court during the Eagles' 84-65 crushing of the Lumberjacks in a Big Sky Conference basketball game.
Eastern's win, keyed by Harvey's 37-point afternoon that included nine 3-pointers, earned the Eagles a weekend sweep following Thursday's 85-72 win over Sacramento State that evened their conference record at 7-7 and 12-13 overall.
With four wins in their past five outings in February, the Eagles are in the middle of a five-way battle for fifth place, and just two games back of second place.
Eastern will be on the road Saturday at Southern Utah (0-14 Big Sky, 1-22 overall) before turning around quickly to host Portland State (6-8, 11-12) Monday, Feb. 24, 6:05 p.m. at Reese Court.
Using a season-high 16 3-pointers, including four from Parker Kelly, who scored all of his 12 points from long-range, the Eagles led from start to finish versus NAU (8-6, 11-14). It evened the season series between the schools after the Lumberjacks won 84-65 in Flagstaff, Jan. 16.
"We needed to defend our home court this weekend, and we did that," Eastern head coach Jim Hayford said. "What we are starting to see from our team is more consistency in the performance from each individual, and as we get that we are going to be more competitive in every game."
Harvey helped the Eagles get off to a fast start with a pair of 3s that allowed his team to go ahead 11-1. An NAU spurt allowed them to close to within 16-12 with 11 minutes, 6 seconds to play in the first half, but Eastern used a 21-6 run to distance themselves from NAU and lead 39-26 at the break.
As he did in the opening three minutes of the game, Harvey came out of the locker room and launched another pair of 3-point baskets, pushing the Eagles' lead to 20 at 46-26. Eastern made 8-of-13 3-pointers in the first half.
When NAU made another run and closed to with 12 at 48-36 with 13:57 to play, Harvey canned three more straight 3s, pushing the lead back to 59-40. With just under 10 minutes to play, it was Kelly's turn as he connected on three straight 3s for a 70-51 EWU lead.
The 53 percent shooting night from 3-point range exceeded EWU's shooting everywhere else on the court. Eastern made only 11-of-28 (39 percent) from 2-point range, and was also only 14-of-23 (61 percent) from the free throw line.
Drew Brandon also finished with 12 points, and had nine assists, seven rebounds, part of a 41-33 edge Eastern had on the boards. Brandon had a 9-to-1 assist to turnover ratio for the second-straight game.
"Drew this weekend had 18 assists and two turnovers," Hayford said. "When you are getting that kind of play from your point guard you are going to be hard to beat."
Kelly, who had recently been rotated out of a starting role, earned his time back in the starting five versus Sac State and responded with a game-high 18 points.
All five Eastern starters scored in double figures versus the Hornets with Martin Seiferth and Harvey adding 16, Brandon 14 and Venky Jois 12. Jois also had a blocked shot against Sacramento State, giving him 100 in his two-year career and the school record. Seiferth and Paul Butorac (2004-07) have 99 each.
As they did against NAU, Eastern led the entire way going up 13-2 on a Jois' jam. They'd push it to 18 twice, the final time on a Garrett Moon layup. Eastern led 45-29 at the half on 57 percent shooting.
A Sac State 12-2 run to open the second half closed the gap to 47-41 but a 3 from Harvey and back-to-back dunks from Seiferth helped return breathing room to the game for Eastern. The Hornets would get within 64-60 with 7:54 to play but Eastern's 8-2 run gave the Eagles a 72-62 lead with 3:48 to play.
Eastern made 9-of-10 free throws in the final 1:55, 6-of-6 by Brandon and 3-of-4 for Jois. Jois had made only one of four free throws prior to that.
"Venky was a little bothered, but he made them when it was really important with three of four down the stretch," Hayford said.
"I thought we had a great week of preparation for this game and put together a really solid plan for how we could be successful," Hayford said. "We really studied what happened in the game at Sacramento, and we had everybody on the same page."
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.