Montana Edges Eagles 77-76 in Battle for First Place in Big Sky Standings

Montana Edges Eagles 77-76 in Battle for First Place in Big Sky Standings

With Montana owning a slight shooting edge from the line and from the field, the fourth-largest crowd in Reese Court history – 4,621 – watch a game that featured 14 lead changes

Two less free throws than the previous meeting made all the difference.

The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team missed its last four shots from the field and Montana had a perfect free throw shooting day to beat the Eagles 77-76 Saturday (Feb. 28) in a first-place Big Sky Conference showdown at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. A crowd of 4,621 were on hand – the fourth-largest crowd in the 40-year history of Reese Court.

Senior Parker Kelly – one of three Eagle seniors playing in their final regular season home game – missed a potential game-winning shot with four seconds to play. Besides not scoring for the final 1:54 of the game, the Eagles missed eight free throws that could have made a difference after the Grizzlies enjoyed a perfect 12-of-12 day at the line.

Earlier this month, in a 75-69 win in Missoula, the Eagles made 14-of-20 free throws and made 51 percent from the field. In the rematch, the Eagles were 12-of-20 from the line and 47 percent from the field. Saturday's game featured 14 lead changes – second-most for EWU this season – and another seven ties.

"When it is a game that comes down to one possession like that, there are a lot of things you can look at," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team held Montana scoreless for the last 2:35. "You have to give them credit – they came on the road and were perfect from the free throw line, while we missed eight chances. It's a different game there at the end if we make more free throws."

Eastern junior Tyler Harvey scored 27 to lead the Eagles, who fell out of the top spot in the league standings with just two games left for the Eagles to play. Senior Drew Brandon had 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals, and Venky Jois had his second-straight double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Kelly chipped in nine points while playing in his 120th game as an Eagle – one shy of the school record.

"I am really proud of our team," said Hayford. "Our guys will learn from this and grow from it. We'll need a little help from teams playing Sacramento State and we will still be in the thick for the Big Sky Championship. There was only one preseason prognosticator who thought we would win this thing, so we're trying to make him right."


Won-Lost Records . . .  

* Now 21-8 on the season and 12-4 in the league, EWU owns school records for overall and Big Sky victories in 32 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I. The Eagles are 13-2 this season at Reese Court – its best home record in nearly 30 seasons. EWU is ranked 18th in this week's mid-major poll. Eastern has won 13 times in its last 17 games.

* Montana is 17-11 overall and 13-4 in the Big Sky, and avenged a 75-69 loss to Eastern in Missoula.

* Eastern is now 19-48 against the Grizzlies since 1983-84, including an 8-26 record in Missoula, 11-20 in Cheney and 0-2 on neutral courts versus the Grizzlies, who lead the overall series 65-40. Until winning 75-69 earlier this season, 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. Eastern has lost 14 of the last 18 meetings and 20 of the last 25, including both games last year and all three meetings in the 2011-12 season.


What It Means . . .

* The Eagles could still win the regular season title, but would need lots of help to accomplish that feat with just 1-3 games left for teams in contention. The race to the regular season title in the Big Sky Conference is down to four teams, with 12-3 Sacramento State and Montana at 13-4 currently on top, followed by Eastern at 12-4 and Northern Arizona at 11-4. Later today, Sac State plays at Portland State and NAU is at Northern Colorado. 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 closes the regular season when it plays at Idaho State on March 5 and Weber State on March 7. Eastern defeated both teams at home in January to open the league season.


Tweet of the Game . . .


Keys to Game . . .

* Montana was a perfect 12-of-12 from the free throw line, while the Eagles missed eight of their 20 shots from the charity stripe. Eastern's 60 percent accuracy was well below its 73.4 percent for the season, and 76.2 percent in conference play. With most other statistics close, the free throw difference was the biggest discrepancy in the final box score.


Top Performers . . .

* Junior Venky Jois had his second-straight double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, and he also had five blocked shots, five assists and a pair of steals.

* Junior Tyler Harvey, who has been the leading scorer much of the season but dropped to No. 2 entering the Montana game, led the Eagles with 27 points. He made 7-of-8 shots from inside the 3-point stripe, but was just 2-of-8 from beyond the arc.

* Senior point guard Drew Brandon scored all 15 of his points in the first half, and also finished with nine rebounds, five assists and three steals.


Turning Point . . .

* Eastern led 69-66 when Tyler Harvey made three free throws, but Montana went on a game-changing 7-0 run in the next two minutes to take the lead for good. Eastern pulled within 77-76 on a layup by Harvey, but EWU missed its last four shots in the final 59 seconds of the game. Two of EWU's shots were blocked by the Grizzlies.


Key Stats . . .

* Eastern made 46.6 percent of its shots from the field, but Montana was slightly better at 48.3 percent. The Eagles made 10-of-25 from the 3-point stripe for 40 percent, and UM was 9-of-22 for 41 percent.


Team Highlights . . .

*After trailing by four early in the second half, Eastern went on a 11-2 run that was highlighted by 3-pointers by Tyler Harvey and Parker Kelly. The surge gave EWU its biggest lead of the game at five, 56-51 with 13:48 to play.

* Senior Drew Brandon made 6-of-10 shots from the field and 3-of-4 3-pointers for 15 points in the first half, but Eastern trailed 42-39 at halftime. The Eagles made 43.3 percent of its shots compared to 50.0 percent for Montana in the first 20 minutes. Besides Brandon, the rest of EWU's team was just 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-10 from the 3-point arc.

* A year after not having a "Senior Day" because the Eagles were senior-less, Eastern honored three Eagles playing in their final regular season home game of the season. The trio of Parker Kelly, Drew Brandon and Garrett Moon have combined for 329 games of experience (132 starts) for EWU, with Kelly playing four seasons and Brandon and Moon transferring from junior colleges.


Notables . . .

* Senior Parker Kelly played in his 120th game as an Eagle against Montana to rank second in school history, just one game behind the record of 121 (Jeffrey Forbes 2010-13). Kelly is the top 3-point shooter in EWU history not named Tyler Harvey. Kelly has 204 triples in his career, more than the 184 by former record holder Marc Axton (2002-05), who was passed by Harvey earlier this season (Harvey has a current total of 235). Kelly's 204 treys ranks 18th in Big Sky Conference history, and he is now just 22 points from becoming the 19th player in EWU history – and third this season – to go over the 1,000-point mark in his career.

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

* Now 13-2 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).


More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .

On Grizzlies: "It was a great basketball game, and the two teams really put it all out there. Congratulations to Montana -- they got one more point than we did."

On Free Throw Shooting: On Montana Standouts: "I thought Martin (Breunig) played really well, so give him credit. We did a pretty good job on (Brandon) Gfeller, but we lost him a couple of times and that hurt. On the other side, they'd say they lost Felix (Von Hofe) on one or Parker (Kelly) on one."

On Last Minute: "When you look at that last minute, we really battled hard. Our offensive rebound was a tough no-call. We sure would have loved to have been playing with a one point lead there – who knows what we could have done if we would have gone to the free throw line. We battled back and did all that we had to do. We got the ball on the baseline after the timeout, got to run a play and got a really good look – Parker just didn't make it. That's why we lost by a point."

On Message to Team: "We have four losses and Montana has four losses. We need to refuse to lose, but we're going to need a little help here. I don't know if Sacramento State can walk through Portland State, Southern Utah and Northern Arizona without a loss. If our guys can refuse to lose, and go to Idaho State and Weber State and win, we would end the season with four losses. I tell you what, I'll take a Big Sky Championship flag, and it won't say 'Co'. We still have a lot to play for. At the end of the day, Montana leaves here with four Big Sky losses, and we leave with four Big Sky losses."

On Final Play: "We executed a really good baseline out-of-bounds play and Drew hit Parker there in rhythm. I asked Parker if he was fouled, and he said no. He missed it, but he got a wide-open look. Parker has made a lot of big shots, and I love that a senior was taking that on Senior Day. If Hollywood would have written it, it would have gone in. But Missoula wrote it."

On Atmosphere: "It was great -- we are really appreciative of all the fans.  When we went to work taking over the program as a coaching staff four years ago, you bring recruits into this gym and they say, 'Wow. This is a cool gym. It's a Division I gym.' But you have to fill it and you have to give people a reason to come. I feel like our team has done that with 21 wins. That's more than any other team here. I really appreciate the Eastern fans for filling it."

On Games at Idaho State & Weber State: "We just have to keep getting better. We've had our team together for the last ten days and we just have to get cohesion. Tyler is going to start shooting better. He has had a tough last four or five games. When we get him up to the percentages he has showed all year then he is going to help us win. I thought he had a pretty good shot selection today. If we can get him those eight looks in any game in the future he's going to make more than two."

On His Red Blazer: "It has a loss on it now. The elbow patch now will have to be a new deal. I don't know -- I'll have to figure something out."

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