In completing the first Big Sky road sweep for the Eagles since 2004, EWU uses defense during 17-3 run to turn eight-point deficit in second half into a six-point advantage
Yes, the Eagles can win games without Tyler Harvey -- and with defense.
Despite a season-low scoring and shooting afternoon, the defense for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team came through in the second half to help EWU to a 61-51 victory over Montana State in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Saturday (Feb. 7) at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, Mont.
Eastern went on a 17-3 run and held Montana State to 1-of-14 shooting during an 11-minute span in the second half to turn an eight-point deficit into a six-point advantage. The Eagles allowed the Bobcats just 17 points in the second half on 20 percent shooting, and gave up only six points in the final 15:13 of the game after MSU had taken a 45-37 lead.
"We came in here and gutted it out," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "We held them to 32 percent shooting in the game, we forced 20 turnovers and we gave up only 17 second-half points. We got our school's first road sweep in a long time, and we did it both nights with defense."
In completing EWU's first Big Sky Conference road sweep since 2004, senior point guard Drew Brandon had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. But the Eagles struggled offensively with a season-low 35.1 percent shooting night, and just 26.7 percent (4-of-15) from the 3-point stripe for another season low. Eastern's previous low for scoring was 65 points.
Harvey, the nation's leading scorer at 23.4 points per game, missed his second-straight game with a quadriceps contusion. Eastern went into the game leading the league and ranked third NCAA Division I in scoring offense (83.0 per game), eighth in field goal percentage (49.4 percent) and fourth in 3-pointers made per game (10.3). The team was third nationally and second in the Big Sky in 3-point field goal percentage (41.9 percent).
Four Eagles scored in double figures, led by Brandon's sixth double-double of the season and 11th in his career. He also made 7-of-8 free throws and had a career-high six steals to equal the 13th-best performance in school history.
"Drew is just a winner – he finds different ways to help us win," said Hayford. "Tonight it was at the free throw line and rebounding. He had 15 points, 12 rebounds and six steals – that was just big-time."
Now with 10 victories in their last 12 games, the win sets up a showdown for the Big Sky Conference lead against Sacramento State this Thursday (Feb. 12) in Cheney, Wash.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Eastern is now 18-5 on the season and 9-1 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 57th nationally in the RPI rankings. The Eagles are now 7-5 on the road and a perfect 11-0 at home at Reese Court.
* The Bobcats fell to 4-19 overall and 1-10 in the Big Sky under first-year head coach Brian Fish.
* Eastern has now won six of the last seven meetings against MSU, and since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 28-35 against Montana State (includes two MSU forfeits in the 1993-94 season). EWU trails in the all-time series 35-43 (21-12 in Cheney, 11-28 in Bozeman, 3-3 neutral). In the 2011-12 season, Eastern recorded a huge 82-66 road victory over the Bobcats in the first Big Sky Conference game in the head coaching career of Jim Hayford, then later in the year won in Cheney 69-52.
What It Means . . .
* Including a 75-69 win over Montana on Thursday (Feb. 5), the Eagles swept the Montana schools for only the fourth time ever and first time since Feb. 5 and 7 in 2004. That was also the last time the Eagles have won a two-game league road trip. The victory gave Eastern 18 victories for the season, equaling EWU's most since becoming a member of the Big Sky Conference 28 years ago. It also continued Eastern's school-record start to league play, matching the 2003-04 NCAA Tournament team with a 9-1 record. 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 . . .
* First place in the Big Sky Conference will be on the line when Eastern hosts Sacramento State on Thursday (Feb. 12) at Reese Court. Sacramento State defeated Portland State 64-60 on Saturday, setting the stage for the showdown at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time between the 10-1 Hornets (16-6 overall) and 9-1 Eagles. Following Thursday's showdown, Eastern hosts PSU on Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 in a game televised regionally by SWX.
Tweets of the Game . . .
Keys to Game . . .
* Defense was a key for both teams. Eastern led by as many as nine in the first half, but then gave up the lead after stretches of 4:47 without a field goal, 4:34 without a point and another 5:02 stretch without a basket. However, EWU turned the tables by holding MSU scoreless for stretches of 4:45 and 6:25 in the second half.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior point guard Drew Brandon finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
* Junior Venky Jois made only 4-of-11 shots from the field, but finished with 13 points, six rebounds two assists and a steal in 28 minutes of action.
* Despite playing much of the game in foul trouble and playing the last 11:05 with four fouls, true freshman Bogdan Bliznyuk finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes.
* Sophomore Ognjen Miljkovic scored 11 points and had five rebounds for the Eagles.
* Sophomore Felix Von Hofe, who started his second-straight game in place of the injured Tyler Harvey, made a pair of 3-pointers and had six points.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern was nursing a 55-51 lead with 1 1/2 minutes left when an offensive rebound by Drew Brandon led to a layup by Bogdan Bliznyuk with 55 seconds to play. The Eagles made 2-of-4 free throws in the final 36 seconds to close out the win, while MSU missed all four of its shots and had a pair of turnovers in the last two minutes.
Key Stats . . .
* To illustrate EWU's difficulty scoring the ball, no assists were credited for Drew Brandon, who entered the game ranked second in the league and 29th nationally with an average of 5.5 per game. Eastern made only 20 field goals and had seven assists, both the second-lowest of the season.
* Although EWU led by as many as nine points in the first half and at halftime 35-34, the Eagles finished with their worst shooting half since Dec. 19. Eastern made only 34.3 percent, which was their fourth-lowest half of the season. The Eagles went 4:47 without a field goal with six-straight misses late in the half, then was scoreless for the first 5:02 of the second half with six-straight misses again. The result was a 14-point turnaround, turning a 27-20 Eagle lead into a 42-35 MSU advantage.
Team Highlights . . .
* Trailing by eight with 15:13 to play, Eastern's defense took over to build a 54-48 advantage with 6:06 remaining. During that 17-2 Eastern run, the Eagles held MSU to 1-of-14 shooting and stretches of 4:45 and 6:25 without scoring.
Notables . . .
* The Eagles registered a sweep of the Montana schools for only the fourth time in 28 seasons as a member of the Big Sky Conference. The only such sweeps came in 1990, 2002 and 2004, which was the last time the Eagles had defeated Montana in Missoula. Only 10 previous times – of a possible 54 weekends of action – has EWU swept the Montana schools home or away. It was also EWU's first road sweep in the league overall since beating the Grizzlies and Bobcats in 2004.
* Coupled with its women's sweep against the Montana schools, Eastern had its first-ever men's/women's 4-0 weekend sweep. Thursday's 65-64 women's win versus the Griz was only the third time in school history in 28 tries both the men's and women's teams have defeated Montana on the same weekend. Eastern's women registered a 72-58 win over the Bobcats on Saturday
* Eastern is a perfect 4-0 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. Twice in school history, EWU has defeated Montana and Montana State in football, then followed with a home sweep of the Grizzlies and Bobcats in men's basketball. Besides 2013-14, the other time it happened was in 1992-93.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Falling Behind by Eight Early in Second Half: "I told them at a timeout, 'hey, if you aren't going to be tough, you aren't going to like the result. We need to get tough here.' I thought we really knuckled-down after that."
On Montana State Defense: "They did a good job of staying in our way is the best way to say it, I guess. It was a very physical shoving match in the paint. Sir Washington came up with some really big defensive rebounds down the stretch, and we cooled off Marcus Colbert in the second half because he had quite a first half."
On MSU Effort: "Montana State played really hard and guarded us as well as any team has guarded us. I have full respect for their efforts. And it wasn't that we were playing bad. It was a defensive battle on both sides."
On Replacing Tyler Harvey's Scoring: "We stepped up and had four players in double figures. But we did miss Tyler a little bit – there are some points that we are going to score with him on the floor. But our team from top-to-bottom on the roster really stepped up. This is a really good win and it's a really good feeling to get a sweep."