Defense key to win as Eagles snap 12-game losing streak to the Grizzlies in Missoula despite playing without Tyler Harvey
Playing the Big Sky Conference's top defensive team without the nation's leading scorer was a tough task for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
But despite Tyler Harvey being left home to receive treatment for a quadriceps contusion, senior point guard Drew Brandon equaled his career high with 27 points to lead EWU to a 75-69 victory over the Grizzlies in a Big Sky showdown Thursday (Feb. 5) at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula Mont.
Winning the game with defense, the Eagles led for 36:10 of the game – compared to just 2:22 for the Grizzlies -- en route to ending a 12-game losing streak to the Grizzlies in Missoula. Eastern held the Grizzlies scoreless for stretches of 3:06, 3:19 and 3:50 during the contest.
Eastern made 51 percent of its shots from the field and held Montana to 46 percent. Most notably, the Eagles held Montana's two leading scorers – Martin Breunig and Jordan Gregory – to a combined 21 points on 6-of-24 shooting (25 percent). They both entered the game averaging more than 17 points per game.
The Grizzlies had entered the game with the Big Sky's top defense at 65.1 points per game, while EWU led in offense at 83.3. The Eagles entered the game 11th in scoring defense (75.2) while Montana was sixth in offense (69.9). The Eagles played without the services of Harvey, who leads NCAA Division I in scoring (23.4) and 3-pointers per game (4.33).
"Without Tyler, the team said we were going to take on this challenge on the road, and we were going to win this game with defense," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "We wanted to show Montana that we can guard too. We did what we have to do to win a big game on the road – we did it with great defense."
Junior Venky Jois, who has been hobbled recently with an ankle sprain, finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots and equaled his career highs with seven assists and four steals. And Felix Von Hofe, who started in place of Harvey, scored 12.
"Venky pushed for a triple-double, and Drew is so calm all the time," said Hayford. "I really feel like we have three first-team All-Big Sky Conference players."
Now with nine victories in their last 11 games, the Eagles improved to 17-5 on the season. Last year, the Eagles were 15-16 overall and missed the Big Sky Conference Tournament with a 10-10 league mark.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Eastern is now 17-5 on the season and 8-1 in Big Sky play. The Eagles were ranked a season-high 12th in this week's Collegeinsider.com mid-major poll, and are a Big Sky-best 64th nationally in the RPI rankings. The Eagles are now 6-5 on the road and a perfect 11-0 at home at Reese Court.
* Montana is 11-10 overall this season under first-year head coach Travis DeCuire, and 7-3 in league play.
* Eastern is now 19-47 against the Grizzlies since 1983-84, including an 8-26 record in Missoula, 11-19 in Cheney and 0-2 on neutral courts versus the Grizzlies, who lead the overall series 64-40. Until the victory, the Eagles had lost their last 12 meetings in Missoula, dating back to a 71-52 Eagle win on Feb. 7, 2004. Eastern's 69-62 win at home last season snapped UM's five-game winning streak against EWU.
What It Means . . .
* The Eagles (8-1) kept pace with idle Sacramento State, which is 9-1 in league play. The Grizzlies fell to 7-3 in league play with their second-straight loss, including a loss to both the Hornets and the Eagles. Eastern will play both teams later this season at home. The league schedule continues through early March, with the top eight teams qualifying for the Big Sky Conference Tournament on March 12-14 at the site of the regular season champion.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern continues on the road at Montana State (Feb. 7) to face a MSU team which lost 80-71 to Idaho on Thursday. The Bobcats are now 4-18 overall and 1-9 in the Big Sky. Following that game, the Eagles return home to face first-place Sacramento State on Feb. 12 at Reese Court and then host Portland State on Valentine's Day on Feb. 14.
Tweet of the Game . . .
Keys to Game . . .
* After missing three games and parts of two others with a sprained ankle, junior Venky Jois returned to form against Montana. He made 4-of-6 shots from both the field and the free throw line to finish with 12 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, four steals and a pair of blocked shots. His assists and steals both equaled career highs.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior point guard Drew Brandon matched his output earlier this season in a huge road win at Indiana with 27 points. He made a trio of 3-pointers and 10-of-20 shots overall, and also finished with six rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals.
* Taking over the starting position of Tyler Harvey, Sophomore Felix Von Hofe made his second start of the season and second of his career. He finished with 12 points, just two off of his previous career high set against a non-Division I opponent.
* Senior Parker Kelly made 3-of-5 3-point shots to finish with nine points, all in the first half.
* Sophomore Ognjen Miljkovic chipped in eight points.
Turning Point . . .
* Tied at 52, Eastern held Montana scoreless for a 3:50 stretch to take a 59-52 lead. Shortly after that, Drew Brandon followed a steal and layin with a dunk down the middle of the key to give the Eagles a 63-54 advantage with 6:42 to play.
Key Stats . . .
* Senior point guard Drew Brandon, who has played much of the season with back ailments – as well as a recently-disclosed broken finger – attempted a career-high 20 shots from the field. That eclipsed the 16 he had attempted in two earlier games versus Washington (11/17/13) and Indiana (11/24/14). He made 10 of them, equaling his high set versus the Hoosiers when he also finished with 27 points.
* The Eagles and Grizzlies combined for 24 3-pointers after entering the game with the most in the league. Eastern was 11-of-24 while the Grizzlies were 13-of-24. The Eagles are fifth in NCAA Division I in treys per game (10.3), while the Grizzlies were second in the league and 27th nationally (8.3).
Team Highlights . . .
* The Eagles used a pair of scoring runs and seven first-half 3-pointers to take a 33-29 lead at halftime, with Parker Kelly leading the way with a trio of 3-pointers and nine points. Eastern led early 9-0, then were ahead 22-17. After Eastern went 2:50 without scoring and fell behind 26-22, the Eagles responded with an 8-0 run to end the half in holding Montana without a point in the final 3:19. Felix Von Hofe and Drew Brandon each had a pair of treys in the first half for the Eagles.
Notables . . .
* The Eagles recently scored 295 points in a three-game home sweep (98.3 per game) to move into third in NCAA Division I in scoring with an average of 83.3 per game (BYU leads with an 85.3 average). Eastern beat Idaho 98-95 in overtime, with Tyler Harvey and Venky Jois combining for just 20 of those points after entering the game with a combined average of more than double that (42.0). On Jan. 24, Eastern had a 67-point second half in a 102-80 victory against North Dakota that equaled the fifth-most points an Eastern team has scored against a NCAA Division I opponent in school history, and prior to that beat Northern Colorado 95-85.
* Parker Kelly is now just 77 points from becoming the 19th player in EWU history – and third this season – to go over the 1,000-point mark in his career. With 923 career points, he is eighth in school history in 3-point percentage (41.0 percent), second in 3-pointers made (192) and fourth in attempts (468). Kelly could set the school record for games played when his four-year career ends later this season (he has 113 to rank eighth in school history and the record is 121).
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Montana Win: "It is a great win and I'm really happy for our team. There were some Eastern fans who made the drive over to Missoula and it is great to send them back with a win."
On Defense: "Our players studied all week so hard with everything we gave them, and that's why we forced 16 turnovers. It wasn't crazy pressure – we knew their plays. Our players did a really good job of holding the scouting report. We didn't want Breunig and Gregory to get 24 shots between them – they did but we were on them. Between them they made 25 percent."
On Drew Brandon: "This was a good night to show who the true Drew Brandon was. We figured they would leave him alone. His shooting percentage was low because he had a broken finger for the first 10-12 games. He took advantage of it. When we were doing a good job burning the clock in the second half, the terminations came to him and he finished. His dunk at the end was amazing – it was right down the middle. He had 20 shots and didn't take a bad shot the whole night."
On Von Hofe and Kelly: "Felix and Parker combined for 6-of-11 from three, and that kept them spread out. That opened it up for some of our other players. It was just a really good team win."
Jim Hayford on Absence of Tyler Harvey (quadriceps contusion): "We made a decision that the best thing for Tyler and our team is to get him healed as soon as possible. By leaving him with the medical attention that is available at home, that can expedite his recovery even more. The issue is not real complicated. There is a lot of swelling in his thigh, and all that blood needs to work its way out – gravity needs to have its way. Once that clears out he can start moving around. There is no reason to stick him on the bus all weekend when we can have that treatment being done around the clock back home. Everybody is going to have to do a little more. We essentially beat Idaho by 20 with this group of guys. Our players have confidence, but it takes everybody. We responded to Venky's absence, and now we are going to respond to Tyler's absence. We're being put through a lot of adversity, but that is what is going to build depth in our program and help us going into the postseason."