It was a coming out party for a trio of newcomers for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team as the Eagles defeated Cal State Fullerton 79-75 on Friday (Nov. 30) in Eastern’s home debut at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The Eagles out-scored the Titans 40-29 in the second half, and held them to 28 percent shooting after intermission, including just 1-of-10 3-point field goals.
“Our team grew up a lot tonight,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “I’m very proud of them. I’m really proud of the defensive effort we put up in the second half. We talked all week how we have to put together for forty minutes. We felt in the six road games we showed flashes of a good team, but we hadn’t done it for forty minutes. Tonight we finished strong. We finished strong like how an Eastern football team finishes strong. It was good.”
Freshman forward Venky Jois and junior guard Justin Crosgile each had double-doubles for the Eagle. Jois finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double in the last four games. Crosgile, a transfer from St. Joseph’s, had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He made two huge baskets late in the game, as he recorded his first double-double of the season.
“All of our guys have come here sold on a vision,” Hayford said of his team. “He (Venky) came halfway around the world and Justin from the East Coast because they really, really believe we can become a winning program. We want to win. We really want to win. It feels really good to get the win tonight.”
After Crosgile hit a driving layin to give EWU a four-point advantage with 1:26 to play, senior Jeffrey Forbes helped clinch the win by making five of six free throws in the last 28.2. Parker Kelly, who had a season-high 12 for the Eagles, closed out the victory with a pair of free throws with 1.4 seconds left.
“I’m scrappy so I’m going to try to make them scrappy every day,” Hayford said of his team’s effort. “That’s the only way I know how to play basketball. It’s just a truth. The team that plays harder wins. That’s the great equalizer -- there’s talent and whatever, but I hope we just get scrappier. It’s real early in the season.”
Freshman forward Thomas Reuter chipped in 16 points, including 13 in the second half. His previous season high was six points as he entered the game averaging 2.3 points per game.
“We went to (Reuter) because we wanted to make them pay for having in four guards out there,” explained Hayford. “So Thomas was the mismatch.”
He took the place of starter Collin Chiverton, who returned to his hometown of San Francisco because of the death of a close friend. A month ago, his mother passed away.
“Our whole team hurts for Chiverton,” added Hayford. “He’s in a hard place right now. He’s grieving and we are getting him all the help he needs. I think all Thomas thought was ‘I need to play up to my ability and that’s the best I can do to fill his shoes.’ And he did a great job.”
Eastern, which opened the season 1-5 during a six-game road stretch, was playing for the first time at Reese Court since defeating Concordia (Ore.) 96-70 in an exhibition game on Nov. 4. The game was also the debut of a new videoboard at renovated Reese Court, including the addition of new seating behind the team benches.
Cal State Fullerton is now 3-3. Eastern is now 2-4 all-time versus the Titans, including last year’s 91-75 loss in Fullerton.
“The key was making them play defense,” added Hayford of the Titans, who finished 21-10 a year ago. “That’s a veteran team. If you go through their starting lineup, those guys play at some really big schools. They are a mature team. We just showed a lot a heart -- a lot of heart.”
Eastern, in the midst of a stretch with five of six games at home, hosts Idaho on Dec. 6 and Seattle on Dec. 10. The Eagles play at UC Davis on Dec. 17 before starting Big Sky Conference play. The Eagles open league play at home against Weber State on Dec. 20, followed two days later by a visit from Idaho State.
Kwame Vaughn led the Titans with 22 points, and D.J. Seeley added 21 points. Seeley, however, scored only two points in the second half after having 19 at intermission.
“I thought we played harder the second half,” said Hayford. “Watching tape, we felt that their pressure defense would wear down through the game. I give my assistant coaches credit for a great scout. Ultimately, the difference was that they shot 28 percent in the second half and 10 percent from three.”
The Eagles trailed 46-39 at halftime, although EWU out-shot the Titans 47 percent to 45 percent. Cal State Fullerton forced nine Eastern turnovers, and turned them into seven points.
The Titans quickly built their lead to nine, and led 54-43 with 15:42 left. Reuter then scored all of EWU’s points in a 7-0 run to pull the Eagles within two. A short time later, Jois scored four in a 6-0 run to knot the score at 58.
Eastern took its first lead since the first half when Crosgile hit a 3-pointer with 7:46 left, giving the Eagles a 63-60 advantage. Crosgile then made a layin to give EWU a four-point cushion with 1:26 to play.
The Eagles finished the game making 46 percent of their shots from the field, while holding Cal State Fullerton to 38 percent. Eastern also out-rebounded Cal State Fullerton 40-33.