Eastern returns home to host Morehead State Thursday with 5-6 record after Felix Von Hofe and Austin McBroom combine for 56 of EWU's points
It had the feel of a typical Big Sky Conference road game, but there was nothing typical about Western Carolina's second half shooting.
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team battled for 35 minutes before the Catamounts surged ahead with 62 second-half points to defeat the Eagles 97-80 in a league-like non-conference game at Western Carolina in Cullowhee, N.C., Monday (Dec. 14) at the Ramsey Center.
Eastern junior Felix Von Hofe and senior Austin McBroom combined for 56 points on combined 20-of-33 shooting overall and 12-of-21 from the 3-point stripe. But the Catamounts were even hotter, hitting 73 percent of their shots in the second half on their way to a 56 percent shooting night.
Eagle senior Venky Jois played in his 100th game as an Eagle, becoming the 16th in school history to hit the century mark. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
"Felix is really playing some great basketball for us, and Austin is a very special player," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "If we can get our two preseason All-Big Sky players (Jois and Bogdan Bliznyuk) playing the way we know they can and get improved contributions from the bench, the answers are there. We just have to get them there. We're offensively good enough to win these games, but we have to go get better on defense."
Eastern also had its second-most turnovers of the season with 17 leading to 23 Catamount points, and a late 11-0 Western Carolina run took command of the game. The Eagles led by seven early in the second half, but the Southern Conference opponent took the lead for good at the 12:15 mark. Prior to that, the game featured eight ties and nine lead changes.
"When it got away from us we had turnovers that led to baskets." Added Hayford. "We have great character, but (Western Carolina's late run) had more to do with the frustration of going on a long road trip and losing three games."
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Eastern is now 5-6, having lost all three games on a difficult eight-day road trip to the East Coast that included three games in six days.. The Eagles play two more non-conference games before beginning Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 31.
* Western Carolina is 4-6, having lost 87-54 last Saturday (Dec. 12) at Davidson, now 7-1 and the same team EWU lost to 96-86 three days earlier.
What It Means . . .
* Eastern head coach Jim Hayford's team is 5-6, but three of those losses were to upper echelon squads in NCAA Division I, and two wins were against lower divisions teams. That gives Eastern eight opponents – mid-majors if you will – to prepare his team for the rigors of league play. Two victories in its final two non-conference outings can give EWU a winning record heading into league play.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern returns home to face Morehead State of the Ohio Valley Conference on Thursday (Dec. 17) at 6 p.m. Pacific time in a game that will be broadcast live regionally on SWX. That ends EWU's four-game appearance in the Gotham Classic presented by the Gazelle Group. The Eagles from Morehead State are 5-3 following a 72-62 loss to Pitt on Sunday (Dec. 13). After a trip to play at Denver of Summit League on Dec. 20, Eastern will open Big Sky Conference play at Northern Colorado (Dec. 31) and North Dakota (Jan. 2).
Keys to Game . . .
* Western Carolina entered the game having made just 39 percent from the field overall and 31 percent from the 3-point stripe, and made only 37 percent from the field in the first half against the Eagles. But the Catamounts made 22-of-30 shot attempts in the second half for a sizzling 73 percent, and finished 9-of-20 from the 3-point arc for 45 percent.
Top Performers . .
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom made 10-of-17 shots from the field, including 7-of-12 3-point attempts, to finish with 29 points. He had 76 points in three games on the road trip, including 33 at Davidson on Dec. 11 and 14 two nights later at Pitt.
* Junior Felix Von Hofe eclipsed his previous career high of 25 points set against Seattle on Nov. 18. He made 10-of-16 shots overall and 5-of-9 from the 3-point stripe against Western Carolina.
* Senior Venky Jois was 3-of-5 from the field, but was fouled numerous times and sank 6-of-13 free throws. He also had eight rebounds, two steals and two assists, but also had seven turnovers.
* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk finished with just two points on 1-of-5 shooting, but had six rebounds and three assists with four turnovers.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern knotted the game at 47 with 12:32 to play on a 3-pointer by Felix Von Hofe. But just 15 seconds later, the Catamounts took the lead for good as part of a 14-6 run that opened an eight-point lead with 8:21 to play. Eastern cut the advantage to three at the 5:31 mark on a 3-ponter by Cody Benzel, but five-straight free throws regained an eight-point advantage for Western Carolina, then an 11-0 run clinched it.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern equaled its second-best shooting performance of the season at 53 percent, and made 13-of-27 3-pointers for a season-best 48 percent. The Catamounts entered Monday's game ranked 12th in the nation is three-point shooting percentage defense, allowing opponents to make just 26.5 percent. Conversely, Eastern entered ranked 12th in 3-pointers per game (10.4) and was 98th in percentage (36.5 percent).
Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern led early 8-0, then took a 39-35 halftime lead when Austin McBroom hit a 25-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer. He scored 14 points in the first half and Felix Von Hofe had 15 as that dynamic duo combined for all but 10 of EWU's points. Both players made four 3-pointers. At one point in the second half, they had combined for 47 of EWU's 57 points.
Notables . . .
* Eastern has now led at halftime in nine off 11 games this season, and has a 5-4 record in those nine games. Until a 96-86 loss to Davidson on Dec. 9 and an 84-51 setback to Pitt two days later, EWU had led at halftime in its first eight games of the season.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Venky Jois & Bogdan Bliznyuk: "We have two preseason All-Big Sky players who are really good players who are going to have great seasons. Bogdan is struggling right now -- he was 1-of-5 shooting the ball but did a little better job on the boards. They were very physical with Venky, and he was under 50 percent from the line with seven turnovers. We run our offense through those two guys, and they had 11 turnovers and five assists. Maybe teams have figured us out and we have to do a few different things with those players. But I know those guys are going to play a whole lot better for us."
On Need for Practice Time: "We're a team in need of some practices. We haven't had time for our players to work on their individual skills and shooting. I put the schedule together, but with where our team is at, there are lot of areas we haven't gotten better in the last eight days. But we haven't had a lot of practice time to work on that either. So I'm really counting on a great week between Christmas and New Years to fix a lot of things."