The shots were falling for one bird, but not the other.
Eastern Washington had a 21 percent shooting advantage and rolled past Southern Utah 86-72 Saturday (Feb. 16) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game.
The eighth-place Eagles made a season-best 53.7 percent of their shots from the field, leading to a season high of 86 points. The third-place Thunderbirds, meanwhile, made only 32.8 percent from the field. After losing four-straight games in late January, Eastern has won four of its last six.
“Getting a win makes us happy,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “One of the things I appreciate about our team is through all the adversity, we have kept improving. We have won four of our last six and we are in the fight to get in the Big Sky Tournament. I don’t think there is a lot of difference between the third and eleventh place teams in the Big Sky. We have to keep grinding, and we did that today. I am really proud of my team.”
Senior Colin Chiverton led the Eagles with 18 points in just 10 minutes of action, and sophomore Parker Kelly had 15. Sophomore Martin Seiferth finished with his second double-double of the season with 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Tyler Harvey, the hero of last Saturday’s come-from-behind 77-74 overtime win at Northern Arizona, chipped in 11 points in just 14 minutes of action.
The win provided a boost in EWU’s chase for a berth to the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Eagles improved to 6-9 in the league and 8-17 overall, while Southern Utah slipped to 8-8 in the league and 10-15 on the season. The Thunderbirds have lost their last three games following a five-game winning streak.
Eastern now plays at Portland State on Monday (Feb. 18) before returning home for its next three. The Eagles play Feb. 23 versus Sam Houston State in the ESPN BracketBusters, then host Northern Colorado on Feb. 28 and North Dakota on March 2.
“It was a good, solid win,” said Hayford, whose team is now 6-5 at home this season and 1-11 on opponent home courts (1-1 at neutral sites). “We will enjoy it for a little bit, and Portland State comes up in a few days, so let’s see if we can get two road wins.”
Eastern set a pair of blocked shots records against the Thunderbirds. Venky Jois had five blocks, giving him 55 for the season and break the school record of 51 set by Paul Butorac in 2006. The Eagles finished with 10 as a team to give them 138 on the season, breaking the EWU record of 130 set in the 2005-06 season. Seiferth has 46 blocks to rank third all-time behind Jois and Butorac.
“Venky and Martin are athletic players,” said Hayford. “They are a presence inside. They are a freshman and a sophomore, so we have to balance their athleticism with smarts and wisdom.”
Jois, who had missed EWU’s last three games with a sprained ankle, played 22 minutes and finished with one point and five rebounds. He had entered the game with averages of 13.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, but plenty of other players picked up the offensive slack.
Eastern, which entered the game ranked 11th in NCAA Division I in 3-pointers made per game (8.7), attempted just 15 versus the Thunderbirds. Eastern made six, just one game after establishing a season-high for attempts in a 14-of-43 performance at NAU.
Eastern also won the rebounding battle 41-40 over a team that ranked second in the league in rebounding margin (+3.9 per game). Although SUU had 16 offensive boards, the Thunderbirds only had a 14-9 edge in second-chance points.
“We knew (rebounding) was going to be a big deal,” said Hayford. “They shot 30 percent from the field. We can hold them to a low field goal percentage, but we just couldn’t let them get points off of rebound putbacks. We did a good job cleaning up the boards.”
Eastern also had a 16-4 advantage in fast-break points.
“That was part of our game plan,” said Hayford. “We felt that we are the team that has rested seven days, and they played two days ago. They are on the road, and we are at home. Let’s just keep pushing it, keep pushing it. I thought that got us some easy buckets.”
The Eagles used a trio of 5-0 runs in the first half to lead by as many as 11 in the first half. A 3-pointer by Kelly gave the Eagles a 37-26 lead with 1:58 left in half, and EWU led 39-31 at intermission. Chiverton paced the Eagles with 13 points in the first 20 minutes.
Eastern opened a 58-41 lead in the second half on a basket by Jeffrey Forbes to cap a 7-0 Eastern run. Chiverton scored the other five points in the run, as he made 3-of-5 3-pointers in the game, and was 5-of-8 overall (5-of-7 at the free throw line).
An 8-0 SUU run cut Eastern’s lead to nine, but Seiferth made a pair of baskets in a 6-0 EWU spurt to regain a 15-point advantage with 8:29 left. The closest Southern Utah came after that was nine, as Harvey scored all 11 of his points in the final 6:10. One game earlier when EWU rallied from an 18-point deficit against NAU, Harvey scored 14 points in the final 8:31.