The numbers were dizzying.
Eastern Washington University broke a 21-year-old Big Sky Conference record with 16 blocked shots to help the Eagles to an 81-76 men’s basketball victory over Sam Houston State Saturday (Feb. 23) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., in the ESPN Ramada Worldwide BracketBusters series of college basketball games.
The Eagles opened a 16-point lead in the first half and needed every bit of it in holding off the comeback attempt of the Bearkats from the Southland Conference. Four Eagles scored in double figures, and senior guard Jeffrey Forbes became the 16th Eagle in school history to hit the coveted 1,000-point mark.
Eastern attempted a season-low 38 field goal attempts, but made them count for a 61 percent shooting night. Eastern made a season-best 56 percent from the 3-point line (10-of-18) as Collin Chiverton led four Eagles in double figures with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Sam Houston State, meanwhile, had 29 offensive rebounds and a 45-29 rebounding advantage. Fortunately, the Eagles held SHSU to 33 percent as the Bearkats finished with 78 total shots -- a high against EWU this season.
Eastern improved to 9-18 overall and Sam Houston State fell to 14-13.
“I thought our guys were playing a very athletic team, but we kept enough poise to finish it out,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “I am really proud of them. Obviously, (it helps) when you block 16 shots. We knew we had a height advantage, and they maybe had a quickness advantage. We knew it (the height advantage) would show up somewhere.”
Sophomore Martin Seiferth had a school-record eight blocks as the Eagles broke the previous league and school record of 13 set on three occasions, with the last coming in 1992. The previous individual school record was seven set earlier this season by Seiferth and his teammate, Venky Jois.
“To block 16 shots in one game -- I have never seen anything like that in my life,” said Hayford. “For us to shoot 61 percent from the field shows how we are really improving. Our theme today was great effort, great execution and great efficiency. When you look at us offensively, you see all three of those things.”
Sophomore Parker Kelly finished with 17 points and Jois and Forbes each had11. Jois also has six assists and four of EWU’s blocked shots.
Freshman redshirt Tyler Harvey made the first start of his career, and finished with seven points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots at point guard.
“The best thing Tyler did today was have eight defensive rebounds,” said Hayford. “Part of that was chasing down blocked shots. Tyler continues to step up and seize the opportunity. There is a lot of pressure on a freshman point guard that started off as the fourth-string point guard at the beginning of the year. I am very proud of him. He is an outstanding teammate as his teammates will say.”
Forbes went over the 1,000-point mark with 2:39 left on a key 3-pointer that helped EWU maintain a nine-point lead. Later, he made a pair of free throws as EWU made 7-of-8 shots from the charity stripe in the final 54 seconds to hold off the Bearkats. Forbes is also now just two games away from the school record of 119 career games played.
The game was a hiatus from an exciting race for the final five berths in the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles are 6-10 in the Big Sky Conference, but remain in the midst of a logjam in the middle of the conference standings. Eastern is currently ninth in the Big Sky, but is just one game out of fifth and two games out of third place. Only the top seven teams advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament, and Montana and Weber State have already locked up spots.
Eastern now hosts Northern Colorado on Feb. 28 and North Dakota on March 2 in critical league games. Eastern closes the regular season at Idaho State on March 7 and Weber State on March 9.
Chiverton came off the bench to score 10 points in just five minutes to spark Eastern to a double-digit lead in the first half. He scored seven of EWU’s points in a 9-0 run that turned a one-point lead into a 10-point advantage at 24-14 with 9:20 left.
An 8-0 run fueled by 3-pointers by Kelly and Harvey, plus another deuce by Harvey, opened a 34-20 lead. The Eagles scored the final four points of the half – including a three-point play by Daniel Hill – to lead 41-25 at intermission. Eastern made 68 percent of its shots in the first half, including 6-of-8 3-pointers, while holding the Bearkats to 30 percent shooting.
Despite the scrappy play of the Bearkats in the second half, Eastern was able to maintain a double-digit lead much of the second half. Harvey had two key blocked shots in the last 1:21 to help preserve a seven-point advantage. After the Bearkats cut the lead to two with 34 seconds left, three free throws by Chiverton and two by Kelly secured the win.
A total of 122 schools are involved in the final year of BracketBusters, including all 11 Big Sky Conference schools. As part of the agreement, Eastern will play a return game against SHSU in Huntsville, Texas -- probably in the 2014-15 season.