The method was the same but the result was a little different.
The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team survived yet another comeback by Montana State and the Eagles opened the second half of the Big Sky Conference season with a hard-fought 72-68 victory over the Bobcats Thursday (Jan. 31) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Senior Collin Chiverton led the Eagles with 20 points, including four clutch free throws in the final 30 seconds. The Eagles limited Montana State to 30 percent shooting – a season best for the Eagles -- as the Bobcats came up short after rallying from a 13-point deficit in the second half. In a 70-68 loss at Montana State earlier this season, the Eagles led by as many as 15 in the second half before falling.
Senior Kevin Winford added 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals for the Eagles, who improved to 6-15 overall and 4-7 in the league. Sophomore Parker Kelly had 15 points in helping drop Montana State to 6-5 in the Big Sky and 9-10 overall.
“Any win is a good win, but this is a big one,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “Montana State is playing as good as basketball as anybody except maybe Montana. They are a good team, and this was a good win. We did some growing up today.”
Thursday’s game was the first of two visits from two of the top three teams in the league standings, as league-leading and defending champion Montana rolls into Cheney on Saturday (Feb. 2). Eastern has now won the first two games of a three-game homestand.
“This was a good win,” Hayford said. “Right now we are building this program with our (young) team. We gut checked it (at the end), and we finished it out with some adversity through the end. That’s good because it’s a growing point. We have had some times where we have hit adversity and not grinded it out. It is really important for us to taste that, and to have success.”
After EWU held a pair of 13-point leads in the second half, Montana State used runs of 6-0, 5-0 and 8-0 to pull within 64-63 with 2:53 to play. But Chiverton hit a key basket with 1:21 left and made all four of his free throws in the final 30 seconds. The Bobcats missed a pair of 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds to help Eastern, which had nine second-half turnovers after just four in the first half.
The Eagles also survived 27 percent shooting in the second half after a 52 percent first half. And the Bobcats out-rebounded Eastern 45-41, and had 16 offensive boards leading to 15 second-chance points.
“There’s no secret the reason we won tonight was because we played outstanding defense,” said Hayford. “They are a hard team to guard because they spread you out, and then they try to take you off the drive. That gets them to the free throw line, and they are a great free throw shooting team. Give credit to our guys for realizing that’s how we defend.”
True freshman Venky Jois had a career high seven assists and equaled his career high with 14 rebounds for EWU, and he also had eight points and three blocked shots. Jois, however, missed the last 3:15 with an ankle injury, and Hayford said his status for Saturday will be a game-time decision.
Eastern used a 7-0 run to jump out to an early 15-11 lead on Chiverton’s fastbreak basket with 10:52 to play. Chiverton then scored five-straight points to help EWU open a 25-17 lead with 6:50 left.
The Eagles then led by 10 on four occasions before settling for a 41-36 halftime lead.
Chiverton scored 12 points in the first half and Kelly had 10 as they combined for 9-of-15 shooting from the field. As a team , Eastern made 52 percent of its shots compared to 30 percent for the Bobcats.
Scores by Martin Seiferth with 17:21 and 15:07 left in the second half helped give EWU 13-point cushions before MSU rallied. But the difference for the Eagles were 10 second half points by Winford and Chiverton’s six down the stretch. Those two players combined to make 11-of-23 shots from the field and 7-of-7 free throws.
“The big thing for us was down the stretch is that we had seniors step up,” said Hayford. “Kevin was a great defensive rebounder in the second half, and Collin made free throws down the stretch. That’s showing the young guys how to do it. When you get those kinds of contributions it will be fun. It is going to be a lot better result.”
The Montana game begins at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time and will be televised live in the Eastern Washington region on SWX. As part of “Alumni Appreciation and White Out Reese Night” at Reese Court, the first 1,500 Eagle fans Saturday will receive free “Our House” t-shirts courtesy of Northern Quest Casino and Resort.