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Sophomore Felix Von Hofe comes off the bench to hit seven 3-pointers and score career-high 23 points as Eastern beats Sacramento State 91-83
Pick your poison.
With sophomore Felix Von Hofe coming off the bench to score a career-high 23 points with seven 3-pointers made, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team used a 16-of-17 shooting stretch to beat Sacramento State 91-83 in the semifinals Friday (March 13) at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.
The win advances the Eagles to the championship game against host Montana starting at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday (March 14) and airing live via ESPNU and WatchESPN platforms. It also may be heard live via radio on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espon.com. This is the first time since 2004 that EWU has advanced to the title game, and its sixth appearance in the championship game overall.
Von Hofe scored made his first five treys and scored 17 points in the first half – exceeding his previous career high of 14. Fellow Australian Venky Jois added 19 points, and the Eagles came one 3-pointer away from the tournament record en route to shooting an impressive 58.2 percent from the field.
One game earlier, Tyler Harvey scored a tournament-record 42 points in EWU's quarterfinal victory over Idaho by the same identical score. Harvey, who entered the game leading NCAA Division I with an average of 23.6 points per game, had nine points on just eight shots against the Hornets.
"We used the game plan from the last time we played then and we executed it very, very well," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "That's the hard part of coaching – you can have guys in the right places and doing the right things, but players win games. And Felix was unbelievable. I'm not surprised – he's a world-class shooter and he is beautiful. That's the first time I've said that, Felix."
At one point, the Eagles had made 16-of-17 shots from the field, including seven of its last eight in the first half and their first nine of the second half. The 22-11 flurry to start the second half gave EWU a 26-point lead, then EWU led by 23 with 4:28 to play before Sac State rallied to make the score close.
Montana beat Northern Arizona 61-59 to advance to the title game, thanks to a driving layin with one second left by Jordan Gregory.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Now 25-8 on the season after finishing 14-4 in the league, EWU owns school records for overall and Big Sky victories in 32 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I.
* Sacramento State is 20-11 after finishing 13-5 in the Big Sky.
* It was the first-ever meeting between Sacramento State and Eastern Washington in the Big Sky Conference Tournament or on a neutral court. Earlier this season, EWU lost at Sacramento State 90-77 (1/17/15) and then beat the Hornets 64-61 in Cheney (2/12/15).
• Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 29-14 versus Sacramento State, and the two schools did not play against each other prior to that. The Eagles have won 22 of their last 31 games against the Hornets, and have an 18-3 record versus Sacramento State in Cheney and a 10-11 record in Sacramento.
What It Means . . .
* The Eagles advance to their sixth championship game in school history, having won one of the previous five games. Eastern was the champion in 2004, and runner-up in 1990, 2001, 2002 and 2003. Eastern is making its 13th Big Sky Conference Tournament appearance in 28 years as a member of the league, with a record of 10-11 in its 21 games. The Eagles made their ninth appearance in the semifinals where they are now 6-3.
What's Next . . .
* The championship game is at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday (March 14), and will be televised nationally by ESPNU. The winner of the tourney receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Eastern will be trying to join the 2003-04 EWU squad in advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The 2002-03 team advanced to the NIT for EWU's only other national postseason appearance in 32 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I.
Tweet of the Game . . .
Keys to Game . . .
* It didn't matter that Tyler Harvey went scoreless in the first half and had just nine points and eight shots in the game. Four Eagles scored in double figures and helped Eastern to its best shooting performance against a NCAA Division I opponent this season. Five Eagles combined for a EWU's 15 3-pointers, just one away from the tournament record of 16.
Top Performers . . .
* Sophomore Felix Von Hofe had 17 points in the first half on 5-of-6 shooting from the 3-point stripe – besting his previous career high in the first half alone. He finished with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the 3-point stripe. His previous highs were 14 points and four treys versus Walla Walla, and his previous high point total versus a Division I opponent was 12.
* Bogdan Bliznyuk, the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year, had 12 points in the first half for the Eagles. He finished with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting. In two previous games versus The Hornets, he had made 10-of-12 shots (83 percent) and had averaged 12.5 points.
* Junior Tyler Harvey, coming off a 42-point effort in the quarterfinals to equal a tournament record, was scoreless in the first half on 0-of-2 shooting. The NCAA Division I leading scorer (23.6 per game) and 3-point shooter (4.14 makes per game) finished with nine and was 1-of-5 from the 3-point stripe and 3-of-8 overall. He had entered the game with a streak of 40-straight games scoring in double figures.
* Junior Venky Jois finished with 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field, six rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. He had three dunks in the second half and four in the game.
* Senior point guard Drew Brandon hit a pair of early 3-pointers and finished with nine points, and also had eight assists, five rebounds and two steals.
* Senior Parker Kelly chipped in 11 points and in the process went over the 1,000-point mark in his career.
Turning Point . . .
* Tied at four in the early going, Eastern followed with an 11-0 run and never took its foot off the pedal until late in the game. In that run, Drew Brandon hit a pair of 3-pointers and Bogdan Bliznyuk had a trey and another basket to account for the other five points.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern's made 15-of-25 (60 percent) 3-pointers in the game for its best shooting percentage of the season. The 15 makes were one behind the team's best of 17. Eastern's overall shooting percentage of 58.2 percent was its best against a NCAA Division I opponent this season and its second-best overall behind a school-record 72.5 percent performance against Walla Wall on Nov. 19, 2014. Eastern entered the game ranked sixth in NCAA Division in 3-pointers per game (9.9), 11th in 3-point percentage (40.1) and 22nd in field goal percentage overall (47.8).
Team Highlights . . .
* The Eagles led by as many as 20 points in the first half as the Eagles shot a blistering 60 percent from the field while making 9-of-14 3-point attempts (64 percent). Eastern scored 11 unanswered points early in the half to open a double-digit lead, then made seven-straight shots to help the Eagles to a 21-7 run – including a four baskets by Felix Von Hofe and a pair by Bogdan Bliznyuk.
Notables . . .
* Tyler Harvey now has a school-record 121 3-pointers this season to rank second in Big Sky Conference history, just three behind the record of 124 set by Stephen Sir of Northern Arizona in 2007. Harvey had 109 last season and is the first player in league history to have two single season performances of 100 treys. Earlier this season, Harvey broke the school record for career 3-pointers made, with a current total of 253 to eclipse the previous record of 184 set by Marc Axton (2002-05). Harvey is the 17th player in Big Sky Conference history to make at least 200 and is currently sixth in league history (five away from ranking fifth). He has a career total of 1,519 points, the most by an Eagle in NCAA Division I history and ranking all-time only behind EWU Hall of Famers Irv Leifer (1,550 from 1942-47) and Ron Cox (1,741 from 1974-77).
* Parker Kelly, the only Eagle to have previously played in a Big Sky Tournament (2012), now has 1,003 career points and is the 19th player in EWU history – and third this season – to go over the 1,000-point mark in his career. Now with 124 games played in his career, he broke the school record for games played (121 by Jeffrey Forbes from 2010-12) when the Eagles played at Weber State on March 7.
* Junior Venky Jois is just one blocked shot away from equaling the school record of 68 set by Martin Seiferth in 2013. Jois owns three of the top five single season performances in school history, with 67 blocks this season (second), 49 last season (fifth) and 66 as a freshman (third). He became the 18th player in EWU history to go over the 1,000-point mark in his career (versus Lewis-Clark State on Dec. 22), and has a current total of 1,251 to rank 10th. He continues to add to his career record for blocked shots, and now has 182 in his career to rank sixth all-time in the Big Sky Conference. Jois has had 16 performances in his career with at least 20 points and two with at least 30, and has 26 career double-doubles (eight this season).
* The Eagles are 3-0 this season in Missoula, having defeated Montana 75-69 on Feb. 5. However, Eastern won for the first time in four tries in the tournament in Missoula, including its last appearance in the 2012 semifinals when the No. 4 seeded Eagles lost 74-66 to the top-seeded Grizzlies. One of the other losses in Missoula was to Northern Arizona in 2000 when EWU shared the regular season title with Montana and lost the tiebreaker to host the tourney – just like this season.
* With 25 victories, the Eagles are almost certainly assured of a berth in a postseason tournament. The Big Sky Conference Tournament champion receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, and other possibilities are the NIT (National Invitation Tournament), CIT (CollegeInsider.com Tournament) and the CBI (College Basketball Invitational). Last season, Weber State advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and North Dakota, Portland State and Northern Colorado all made first-round CIT appearances. Eastern lost to Wyoming in the first round of the NIT in 2003, and lost 75-56 to Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament a year later.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Game Plan & Sac State Holding Tyler Harvey to Nine Points and Eight Shots: "Obviously, their game plan was to stop Tyler Harvey. You can do that, but if you do you aren't going to stop the whole Eastern Washington team. We had really, really good preparation when we played Sacramento State at our place at the mid-point of the season. Our players understood how to attack their switching defenses and all the things we needed to do. We were able to pick that back up in the short turnaround in the conference tournament."
On Venky Jois & Felix Von Hofe: "Venky was the finisher on the press and obviously he is a very athletic player. I went to the other side of the world to Australia before I even coached a game at Eastern – and even sent an assistant there too – and we got Venky to come to Eastern. Venky believed in the vision and we built a program mainly on he and Tyler, based on their performances. But there are a lot of other guys who are unsung heroes. Because Venky was having a great experience here, Felix joined him --- and now we have another one coming (Michael Wearne). Who knew the pipeline from Cheney to Melbourne was so short. But Venky got it started, and that's why you have two guys from Australia in Missoula, Mont., talking to you tonight. It was also special because Felix's uncle just flew in today – he had a lot of faith because he didn't fly in yesterday. And Venky's parents are here as well. I know that is very special to these guys because they don't get much time with their families."
On Hornets: "Congratulations to Sacramento State. This is the best season in their history and they have more basketball to play. We beat a great team tonight."
Comments from Felix Von Hofe
On Performance: "It's always easy to get shots like that when a team puts a huge amount of pressure on a superstar like Tyler. Guys were getting me the ball in the right spot, it really felt good out of my hand and I wanted to keep shooting it."
"We had an idea because they faceguard a lot of players, and they do it well. We don't come into the game expecting to get a lot of easy shots – there is still a long hand closing out on us. But we understood the bench players were going to have to step up because of the pressure they put on our superstars. We knew that coming in."
On Jim Hayford's comment, 'we've never used the term superstars': "In a huddle I said, 'they were covering our superstars so the bench players have to step up.' Coach gave a sort of emotional, movie type of response with his hands out and said, 'we're all superstars.' It was just an emotional scene in the timeout."
Comments from Venky Jois
On Four Dunks: "I'm always happy to give Drew a few assists."
On Sac State Comeback: "Half of it is on us, but they did force quite a few turnovers. We didn't finish the game as well as we should have. They just jumped up their game up really, really hard. They were called for maybe six or seven fouls in a row. They had to play desperate and it got them to a place where they were closer. I respect what they had to do, but we kind of held the ball enough where the game would be closer but we would still be ahead."