Last second shot keeps Eastern from road sweep
Huff's basket decides it for UND; Eagles take postseason quest to final home games weekend
Long after this season ends for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team, some might look back and remember how it was Troy Huff's rebound basket at the buzzer that beat the Eagles 69-67 and kept them from earning their first sweep of a Big Sky Conference road trip in a decade.
Lost, however, will be the many other opportunities the Eagles had to get the win at the Betty Englestadt Sioux Center, and maybe build a better foundation on their quest to get back to the conference postseason following a dominating 80-66 victory over Northern Colorado last Thursday.
Notable among the missed opportunities were the Eagles going 0-for-6 from the free throw line to start the game, not hitting their first foul shots until the final four minutes of the opening half.
And then there were the struggles from the field in the first half where EWU's leading scorer, Tyler Harvey, was held to just two points on 1-of-8 shooting from 2 and 3-point range.
So thank goodness for Venky Jois who hoisted 12 of his game-high 22 points and six rebounds in the first half, Ognjen "OG" Miljkovic's 2-for-3 shooting from 3-point range and Martin Seiferth's five rebounds in the first half kept the Eagles in it early.
Harvey finally found the net for his first 3 tying the game with 16 seconds remaining. After Harvey's make, the Eagles forced UND's Jamal Webb into a contested 3-point shot, only to have Huff gather in the rebound for the game-winner.
"In the timeout we set our defense, we talked that the possession would be about getting the rebound," EWU head coach Jim Hayford said. "We forced them into a really bad shot, but one of the best players in the league made a big-time play on his senior night."
The Eagles played without point guard Drew Brandon who missed the game with a bruised hand, suffered in the first half of Thursday's game in Greeley.
Further flaws included 13 missed free throws overall and 16 turnovers that led to 22 UND points that offset the Eagles' 49 percent shooting from the field and a notable 40-33 edge in rebounding.
"It was a great basketball game and we played through a lot of adversity," Eastern head coach Jim Hayford said. "Our players had it right there until the final buzzer."
Now Eastern, 9-9 in conference play and 14-15 overall, finish the regular season with home games versus Idaho State (8-10 Big Sky, 11-16 overall) tonight (March 6) and league leading Weber State (13-5, 16-10) Saturday at 2:05 p.m. And despite the still jumbled mess the conference standings are – there's a two-way tie for second and third and a four-way logjam for fourth – the Eagles control their own destiny in the hunt for one of seven berths in the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Eastern led by as many as six in the first half, but went through a 14-minute stretch spanning halftime with just three field goals and fell behind 41-32. In the late part of the second half, the Eagles trailed by seven at 64-57, but a Seiferth layup, plus a 3 and layup from Miljkovic got it to within 66-64. Jamal Webb then missed the second of two free throws with 28 seconds to go, setting up Harvey.
Jaron Nash led UND (11-7, 14-14) with 21 points while Huff added 14 and Webb 13.
Jois added 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. Seiferth was 5-of-6 shooting for 13 points and added 15 rebounds for his fourth double-double. Miljkovic added 13 points and Harvey 11. Seiferth had four blocks and Jois two rejections.
For the second time this season, North Dakota neutralized Harvey, the Big Sky scoring leader at 22.1 per game. He scored only seven points in a 73-61 Jan. 30 loss in Cheney.
Thursday night, there was no stopping Harvey who guided the Eagles to their sixth win in the last eight outings with 31 points and seven 3-pointers. The Eagles win completed a season sweep over the Bears and handed UNC its first home loss in 14 games.
"I dedicate this win to everybody who didn't fold their tent on us after Monday," Hayford said of his team's previous game, an 87-76 home loss to Portland State. "We had toughness and we didn't back down. When we had adversity, we didn't hang our heads. We stayed together."
Eastern led 41-30 at the half and by 19 on a Miljkovic 3 with 10 minutes, 3 seconds remaining that made it 64-45. Miljkovic had 11 points and Jois 10. Tate Unruh had 13 to pace UNC.
Harvey set the school's single season record for 3-pointers made on Thursday, giving him 104 for the season beating the previous record of 103 set by Shannon Taylor in the 1998-99 season. Now with 105, Harvey is tied for second in Big Sky Conference history (Cory Schwab, Northern Arizona, 2000-01) and 19 behind the league record of 124 (Stephen Sir, Northern Arizona, 2006-07).
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.