Back in First, Eastern Scores 55 Second Half Points to Beat Montana State 92-68

Back in First, Eastern Scores 55 Second Half Points to Beat Montana State 92-68

Trio of Eagles combine for 62 points, as EWU improves to 12-3 in the Big Sky with largest margin of victory since November

It was a long time coming.

Registering its largest margin of victory since Nov. 19, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball moved back into first place in the Big Sky Conference with a 92-68 victory over Montana State Thursday (Feb. 26) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Eastern made 60 percent of its shots in the second half en route to scoring 55 points after intermission. With a trio of Eagles – Ognjen Miljkovic, VenkyJois and Tyler Harvey – combining for 62 points, the win sets up a showdown with Montana on Saturday at Reese Court at 2:05 p.m. Montana lost to Idaho 92-87 Thursday in double overtime to fall a half-game behind the Eagles and Sacramento State for the league lead.

"Our team and I are in a great mood right now," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "Everybody understands that we worked hard to get to this point, and I think they are really hungry for more."

The 24-point win equaled EWU's second-largest margin of victory over a NCAA Division I opponent this season, and was second only to the 25 EWU beat Utah Valley by on Nov. 17 (75-50). Eastern beat Walla Walla two nights after that by 61 points (95-34).

Jois, who has been hampered the past month with a sprained ankle, finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season and 22nd in his career. It was his first since Dec. 11 against San Francisco. Harvey, the nation's scoring leader, added 20 points and five rebounds, and Mijkovic scored 15.

"The team said at halftime, 'this doesn't have to be a close game --- let's go put the pedal to the metal,'" said Hayford. "I thought the team came out of the locker room at halftime as fired up as I have ever seen them."

The race to the regular season title in the Big Sky Conference comes down to four teams and just a few games left for all the marbles, with 12-3 Eastern currently tied with Sacramento State for first place in the league standings. Montana is right behind at 12-4 and Northern Arizona is 11-4.


Won-Lost Records . . .  

* The Eagles are now 12-3 in the Big Sky and 21-7 on the season – exceeding the school record for NCAA Division I victories and tying the school record for Big Sky wins. EWU is ranked 18th in this week's mid-major poll. Eastern has won 13 times in its last 16 games.

* Montana State is now 7-21 overall and 4-12 in the league, but the Bobcats had won three of their last four games entering Thursday since falling 61-51 to EWU on Feb. 7.

* Eastern has now won seven of the last eight meetings against MSU, including a sweep this year and last season. Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 29-35 against Montana State (includes two MSU forfeits in the 1993-94 season). Since 1983-84, Eastern is 9-23 in Bozeman and 20-12 in Cheney against the Bobcats. EWU trails in the all-time series 36-43 (22-12 in Cheney, 11-28 in Bozeman, 3-3 neutral).


What It Means . . .

* The top of the Big Sky standings is still a four-team race – EWU (12-3), Sacramento State (12-3), Montana (12-4) and Northern Arizona (11-4) have distanced themselves from the rest of the pack. Eastern has already wrapped up one of eight berths in the Big Sky Conference Tournament on March 12-14 at the site of the regular season champion. Eastern has three games remaining – Montana at home on Saturday followed by two on the road. Last year, the Eagles were 15-16 overall and missed the Big Sky Conference Tournament with a 10-10 league mark.


What's Next . . .

* Eastern plays its final home game of the regular season when Montana visits on Saturday (Feb. 28) at 2:05 p.m. on Senior Day at Reese Court. The Eagles led most of the game in beating Montana 75-69 on Feb. 5 before coming from behind to win at Montana State 61-51 two days later. Eastern closes the regular season when it plays at Idaho State on March 5 and Weber State on March 7.

* A year after not having a "Senior Day" because the Eagles were senior-less, Eastern will honor three Eagles playing in their final regular season home game of the season on Saturday (Feb. 28). The trio of Parker Kelly, Drew Brandon and Garrett Moon have combined for 326 games of experience (130 starts) for EWU, with Kelly playing four seasons and Brandon and Moon transferring from junior colleges. Kelly is now just 31 points from becoming the 19th player in EWU history – and third this season – to go over the 1,000-point mark in his career.


Tweet of the Game . . .


Keys to Game . . .

* After making 45 percent of their shots in the first half, the Eagles made 60 percent in the second half to finish at 52.5 percent for the game. It was Eastern's best shooting performance in its last eight games since making 55.7 percent in a 102-80 victory over North Dakota. Since that game, all of EWU's games had been decided by 10 points or less, and six of those seven have been decided by six or less.


Top Performers . . .

* Junior Venky Jois made 12-of-17 shots from the field to finish with 27 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of assists.

* Junior Tyler Harvey made 4-of-11 3-pointers and finished with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists.

* Senior point guard Drew Brandon had 12 rebounds – two away from his career high – and also had six points, six assists and a pair of steals.

* Sophomore Ognjen Miljkovic made all six of his shots from the field – including a trio of 3-pointers – to finish with 15 points and five rebounds.


Turning Point . . .

* The Eagles led by seven early in the second half, but scored 24 of the next 30 points to open a 25-point lead with 13:29 left to play. Included was a 13-0 run as the Eagles held MSU without a point for nearly four minutes. The Eagles led by as many as 30.


Key Stats . . .

* Eastern finished the game with 15 fastbreak points, including eight in the second half. The Eagles also out-rebounded Montana State 42-33.


Team Highlights . . .

* The Eagles trailed early 13-9, but a pair of 3-pointers by Tyler Harvey ended a 9-0 Eastern run to give EWU a five-point lead. Later, back-to-back baskets by Ognjen Miljkovic gave EWU its biggest lead of the half at 34-25, and the Eagles led 37-28 at halftime despite 45 percent shooting from the field. Eastern's defense held MSU to 37 percent shooting and forced seven Bobcat turnovers.


Notables . . .

 * The Eagles have equaled the school record for Big Sky wins in a season, set in 1999-00 when the Eagles were 12-4, which included a 5-2 start followed by six-straight victories.

* Tyler Harvey is climbing EWU and the Big Sky single season 3-pointers lists, with 101 this season to rank third in school history and fifth all-time in the Big Sky. Harvey holds the school record with 109 a year ago (second in league history), and Shannon Taylor made 103 in the 1998-99 season.

* Now 13-1 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., the Eagles have recorded their most victories at home since the 1985-86 season when the Eagles were 15-1. Only four total times since the facility opened in the 1975-76 season has Eastern won more than 12 games (15 in 1985-86, 1977-78 and 1976-77, and 13 in 1979-80). The Eagles began the year a perfect 12-0 at Reese Court, and won those games by a combined 206 points (17.2 per game).

* Eastern is a perfect 6-0 thus far in football and men's basketball games against the Bobcats and Grizzlies. Last season, EWU was 5-for-5 until suffering an 82-77 road loss to Montana. Until last season, Eastern had never won more than four of the six meetings in any previous season, and the only time EWU has gone 4-0 against UM and MSU on the court came in 1990.


More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .

On Montana State Win: "This was a fantastic win. Montana State had been playing really good and we really played solid. It looked a lot like the team I saw in early December and early January when we were clicking. Venky had a double-double, Tyler gets 20 points, Drew gets 12 rebounds, O.G. has 15 points and we get bench production -- when we do that we are really hard to beat. So that is my big hope -- that we can capture kind of where we were before all the injuries and the different lineups. And then we take the strength of our team with players who played more during the injuries, and we can be a really strong team down the stretch here. We looked the part tonight so I was really pleased with my team."

On Last Two Weeks of Practice: "Starting last week we said, 'hey, whatever is bugging us we are all going to practice.' And when we went on the road -- no one swept that road trip -- we played really good against Northern Arizona. We just didn't have some shots go down at the end but we were still together. We were playing together and practicing together and then we had three more days of practice all together. We got to play together tonight and were able to keep heavy minutess off the guys -- no one played more than 30 minutes. It's been a long time since we were able to do that, so this is just what the doctor ordered."

On Montana Game: "Saturday is senior day and we are playing Montana. I am sure they want revenge because we went and beat them over there. We are both at the top of the standings -- it has all the makings of a great game. I think it is going to be an unbelievable environment here at Reese Court. I know my team is going to bring a really focused effort and I can't wait. Come Saturday at 2 o'clock, let's go." 

On Senior Day Saturday:  "Senior Day is great. We've worked hard to help these players go be successful in life, and they are kind of putting a comma in their life to go from one thing to the next. The best way to enjoy Senior Day is to beat Montana – that's what I will be telling the guys."

On Fourth-Year Senior Parker Kelly: "Parker has meant a lot. From day one since he arrived here, he's done every single thing the coaches have asked him to do – and more. He's been the epitome of hard work, dedication and being a man of action. He's been a joy to coach."

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