This time, the second half was kind to the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team.
A day after letting an 11-point halftime lead slip away in a three-point loss, the Eagles had the same lead in the first half hold up this time as EWU defeated the University of South Carolina Upstate 75-70 Wednesday (Nov. 21) at the Leavey Center in Santa Clara, Calif. The game was part of the 2012 College Basketball Experience (CBE) Hall of Fame Classic, which is hosted by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
“It was a complete game,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford of his team’s first victory in five games this season. “We shared the ball well, we played hard and we didn’t gauge our energy off of our offense -- we gauged our energy off our defense. That’s what we have to do. Hopefully, having this success will help get that through to our team. We’re very happy to get the win.”
Senior Jeffrey Forbes hit a 3-pointer with 18.5 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a five-point lead, and point guard Justin Crosgile hit a pair of free throws with 0.7 seconds to play to clinch the win for EWU. The Eagles had made it interesting with six missed free throws down the stretch, enabling USC Upstate to tie the game for the first time in the second half at 67-all.
But Eastern did an outstanding job of not allowing the Spartans to get a lead, as the last Spartan advantage came in the early-going by an 8-7 score. After knotting the game, USC Upstate missed its next shots, and a dunk by Martin Seiferth with 2:10 remaining gave EWU the lead for good.
“We kept the lead in the second half,” said Hayford. “They tied it, but we buckled down after that, and we did it with stops. It wasn’t just trying to out-score teams. This Upstate team can find a rhythm – they won 20 games last season and have a lot of players back. This was a good win for us -- we did a really good job of defending.
“Jeffrey hit a big, big shot to give us that two-possession separation,” Hayford added. The trey was the sixth of season for Forbes, who has 149 in his career to rank fourth in school history.
Senior Collin Chiverton, last year’s Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year, had a season-high 19 points in 18 minutes before fouling out with 6:20 to play. It was his best scoring performance since scoring 20 versus UC Irvine on Feb. 18 last season. A year ago, he had 12 20-point performances, but was slowed late in the year with injuries.
Freshman Venky Jois had his second-straight double-double, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for the Eagles. One game earlier, in an 86-83 loss to Utah Valley, he finished with 16 points and 11 boards.
“Venky is going to be a really good player for us,” said Hayford of Jois, who gave EWU its biggest lead of the first half at 37-36 with a dunk with four minutes before intermission.
“And well take those numbers from Chiv any time. He made 5-of-9 shots and made his free throws for a quiet 19.”
The biggest difference in the game came at the 3-point stripe, where Eastern was 12-of-24, compared to a 3-of-17 performance by the Spartans. The Eagles made a season-high 48 percent of its shots from the field as Jois finished 8-of-12 from the field and Chiverton made 5-of-8 3-point attempts. Overall, Eastern made 48 percent of its shots while holding USC Upstate to 44 percent.
“We had better shot selection and we made 50 percent, so now we look like a better 3-point shooting team,” said Hayford, whose team had made only 32 percent from the arc coming into the game. “We actually shot better from three than two tonight.”
Crosgile dished out 11 assists – equaling the seventh-most in recorded school history -- a night after finishing with nine versus Utah Valley. Crosgile also scored eight points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field, 1-of-2 from the 3-point stripe and 3-of-6 from the free throw line. He entered the game averaging 17.0 shots and 11.0 attempted treys per game, and was making just 34 percent overall and 30 percent from the arc.
“He played a real complete game, and that was a pleasure to see,” said Hayford. “If he would have made his free throws, he would have had a double-double.”
Opening with its first six games of the season on the road, Wednesday’s outing was the third of a six-day stretch with four games. After a day off for Thanksgiving, Eastern concludes its appearance in the CBE Classic by playing host Santa Clara at approximately 4:15 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 23).
Eastern doesn’t play at home until Cal State Fullerton visits on Nov. 30. The Eagles open league play on Dec. 20.
“It’s really nice to get on the winning side – I wanted that for our team,” Hayford said. “I really do believe that when we start Big Sky Conference play, we will be a complete team. We just need all the pieces to work together and have our players understand their parts.”