Eagles make the long road trek to Northern Colorado and North Dakota, entering Big Sky Conference play with a 6-6 record following a 16-point road triumph
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EWU Coaches Show: First show, featuring head coach Jim Hayford & host Larry Weir, takes place Monday, Jan. 4 live at 6 p.m. Pacific time from the Swinging Doors Restaurant in North Spokane (W. 1018 Francis). Fans may attend the one-hour shows live, or listen on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com.
Road-tested and battle-tested, the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team begins defense of its Big Sky Conference titles.
The defending regular season co-champ and reigning tournament titlist, the Eagles will open Big Sky Conference play at Northern Colorado (Dec. 31 at 4:05 p.m. Pacific time) and North Dakota (Jan. 2 at 12:05 p.m. Pacific). Eastern will have played 11 of its 14 games on the road by the time it plays its conference home opener on Jan. 9 versus Idaho.
Eastern enters league play with a 6-6 record, including nine of its 12 games thus far on the road. A Dec. 17 game against Morehead State would have been one of only two home games for the Eagles in a 12-game stretch from Nov. 23 to Jan. 2, but it was canceled because of weather-related travel difficulties for the Kentucky-based team.
“I don’t think there is a team in the conference that could be more ready for taking on a road trip to start the season,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “When you get in conference play the intensity and preparation increases, and the coaches and players are more familiar with one another. Road wins in conference play are gold and are hard to get. We’ll go scrape, claw and fight to try to start conference play with success on the road.”
Thus far, EWU is 3-0 at home and 3-6 on the road. Eastern ended non-conference play with a convincing 74-58 road victory at Denver, which had previously defeated Idaho State (79-69) and Weber State (69-68) from the Big Sky. The win – in which Felix Von Hofe (28), Venky Jois (26) and Austin McBroom (18) combined for all but two of EWU’s points – came after EWU dropped games at Davidson, Pittsburgh and Western Carolina as part of an East Coast road trip with three games in six days.
“Finishing non-conference play with the win at Denver was really good for our team,” said Hayford. “We played some good basketball during parts of the long East Coast trip, but we came back a tired team and let some things slip in the team identity we were trying to build. So to have those good days of practice and have it affirmed with a win was very meaningful to the players – it certainly made my Christmas better.”
Northern Colorado enters Thursday’s game with a 3-9 record, and has dropped its last three after beating Colorado State 73-64 at home on Dec. 13. The Bears were 15-15 last year and placed fifth in the Big Sky with a 10-8 record. North Dakota plays Idaho in its league opener on Thursday, and is 5-6 thus far after finishing 8-22/4-14 a year ago.
The Eagles were 26-9 overall and 14-4 last season, and have been picked to finish third by both the media and the coaches. Montana and Weber State are the preseason favorites, but Eastern plays those two opponents just once as part of the 18-game league schedule for all 12 league members.
“As I look across the league, there are teams that put their heads up on different weeks and looked like they could be something special,” added Hayford. “We did at times. Northern Colorado had a great win at against Colorado State and North Dakota had a good road win at Bradley, and played better than anybody else against North Dakota State, which has done well against the league (4-0). There is something good that every team can hang their hat on, and now we have to go fight it out. It’s going to be a great conference season.”
Link to Fact Book
The complete version of the 2015-16 EWU men’s basketball fact book may be found at: http://goeags.com/trads/ewas-factbooks.html
More Eagle Basketball Links
Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.com/sports/m-baskbl/index
2015-16 Season Outlook -- http://goeags.com/sports/m-baskbl/2015-16/releases/16mbSEASONOUTLOOK.docx
Link to Ticket Information -- http://www.goeags.com/tickets
Spokesman-Review EWU Basketball Page -- http://www.spokesman.com/ewuhoops
Story on Eagle Head Coach Jim Hayford -- http://www.inlander.com/spokane/the-man-in-the-red-blazer/Content?oid=2603878
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://www.bigskyconf.com/index.aspx?tab=basketball&path=mbball
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/m-baskbl/ncaa-m-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/scoreboard
Tyler Harvey NBA D-League Page -- http://dleague.nba.com/player/tyler-harvey/
Rodney Stuckey NBA Page -- http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html
More Information and Links are Available at: HTTP://WWW.GOEAGS.COM
* This year’s Big Sky Conference Tournament will include all 12 teams at a neutral site, the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nevada. The first round takes place on March 8, followed by quarterfinals (March 10), semifinals (March 11) and the championship game (March 12).
* The Eagles had a 6-6 record in non-conference play, with three of those losses coming to upper echelon squads in NCAA Division I (Mississippi State, Davidson and Pittsburgh). With two of EWU’s wins against lower-division teams, that gave Eastern seven opponents – mid-majors if you will –to prepare for the rigors of league play. The Eagles finished those seven games with a 4-3 record, including road wins at San Francisco and Denver.
* The Eagles are 9-9 all-time versus UNC (6-3 in Cheney, 3-6 in Greeley), with the first meeting taking place on Dec. 20, 1971, when Eastern beat the Bears 76-68 in Greeley, Colo. Since then, all of the meetings have been with EWU as a member of NCAA Division I (since 1983-84), starting in the 2006-07 season when the Bears became a Big Sky Conference member. Last year, EWU played the Bears just once, winning 95-85 in Cheney.
* Eastern is 2-5 all-time against North Dakota, with last year’s 102-80 home victory marking EWU’s first in five tries since UND joined the Big Sky in the 2012-13 season. Until that season, Eastern hadn’t played North Dakota since Dec. 11, 1982, when EWU lost 75-71 in Grand Forks. A year earlier, the Eagles beat North Dakota 81-72 in Cheney in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
* Due to travel issues, the Gotham Classic men’s basketball game between Morehead State and Eastern Washington scheduled for Dec. 17 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., has been postponed to next season. Morehead State's original flight to Spokane was canceled due to weather conditions in Denver, and the sponsor of the tournament, the Gazelle Group, exhausted every possible way to get MSU to Cheney before electing to postpone the game to Dec. 13, 2016. Morehead State was going to come to Cheney ranked 19th in NCAA Division I in steals per game (9.0) and offensive rebounds per game (14.9), and 27th in turnovers forced (16.6). Eastern was ranked 66th nationally and first in the Big Sky in fewest turnovers per game (11.6). “Our team was looking forward to playing one of the best defensive teams in the country in Morehead State,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team just returned from playing three games in six days on the East Coast. “We will table it for a year. Travel is tough -- we know it as well as anyone. This was out of our control. We will turn our attention to the next game and improvement we need to make as a team.”
* Coaches Shows featuring head coach Jim Hayford and host Larry Weir will begin Monday, Jan. 4 at 6 p.m. Pacific time at the Swinging Doors Restaurant in North Spokane (W. 1018 Francis). Fans may attend the one-hour shows live, or listen on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com. Because of the National Championship college football game on Jan. 11, the next coaches show will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Thereafter, shows will be on Mondays from Jan. 18 through at least Feb. 29. The show on March 7 depends on team travel arrangements for the Big Sky Conference Tournament tourney in Reno, Nevada. Shows on March 14 and March 21 are also possible and will be determined by EWU’s postseason fate and availability of Hayford.
* The Eagles enter league play 5-1 when they’ve held opponents to 71 points or less. Twice EWU has held opponents to a season-low 58 points, including a 58-52 loss at Seattle and a 74-58 road win at Denver. Eastern is 5-3 when it scores 72 points or more, 4-0 when it has a better field goal percentage, 5-2 when it forces more turnovers and 3-1 when it has a rebounding advantage.
* Eastern has now led at halftime in 10 of 12 games this season, and has a 6-4 record in those 10 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. The Eagles trailed by eight and 19 points, respectively in those two games. In EWU’s last outing at Denver on Dec. 20, the Eagles had advantages of 43-32 and 31-26 in each half. In the previous game with Western Carolina, the Eagles had a 39-35 halftime lead but were outscored 62-41 after that. Eastern has out-scored opponents 463-400 in the first half (average score of 38-33) and has been outscored 514-496 in the second half (42-41).
* Eastern’s scoring average for the season is at 79.9 points to rank 65th in NCAA Division I and lead the Big Sky Conference through games of Dec. 27. Eastern had scored 290 points in its first three games for an average of 96.7 points per game to rank fifth nationally. Last year's team set a school record with 2,820 points scored and averaged 80.6 per game to rank third in NCAA Division I.
* Eastern’s average of 10.8 3-pointers per game is eighth in NCAA Division I (previously fourth after eight games) and leads the Big Sky, and the team’s percentage is 54th at 38.3 percent (previously 175th/33.9 percent after six games). Felix Von Hofe (3.64 per game) and Austin McBroom (3.55 per game) and are ranked 1-2 in the Big Sky, and are 11th and 14th, respectively, in the nation. A year ago, Eastern was fifth with an average of 9.8 made treys per game, and its 40.0 percent accuracy was eighth-best in the nation.
* In what could again be a tightly-contested race in the Big Sky Conference, the defending champion Eastern men’s basketball team has been picked to finish third by both the coaches and media in preseason polls released Oct. 1 by the league. Eastern had 99 points in the coaches poll to trail preseason favorites Weber State (114) and Montana (113). Both the Wildcats and Grizzlies received six first-place votes. With 183 points in the media poll, EWU trailed preseason favorite Montana (220) and WSU (194). Montana captured 14 of the 19 first-place votes, with the Eagles receiving one and the Wildcats two.
* Because of his team’s involvement with the C.H.A.M.P.S (College Headed and Making Progress) program at Whitman Elementary School in Spokane, senior Venky Jois is one of 154 nominees nationally for the NABC/Allstate Good Works Team. The 10-player squad will be announced in February, and the distinguished award shines a spotlight on a select group of student-athletes who have shown dedication to community service and altruism in their communities. Eastern student-athletes spend part of their time at Whitman with the entire student body, but a majority of their time is spent one-on-one with a fifth-grade student. The unique program follows each Whitman student for eight years through middle school and high school. Once a EWU student-athlete graduates, an incoming player will begin mentoring their student. Jois, an Academic All-America candidate with a 3.51 grade point average as a pre-med student at EWU, has also been a part of several other team community projects. Those include Salvation Army backpacks and school supplies distribution; Salvation Army Christmas Eve meal for the homeless; participation in AAU Youth Basketball Day; food drive for the West Plains Food Bank; and campus move-in days. He’s a three-time member of the Big Sky Conference All-Academic Team, and three times has been honored on All-Big Sky Conference teams (2012-13 Freshman of the Year and all-league honorable mention; 2013-14 all-league honorable mention; 2014-15 all-league first team for a squad that won Big Sky regular season and tournament titles to advance to the NCAA Tournament). He is also the preseason choice for 2015-16 MVP honors in the Big Sky.
* Fresh off its best season in the school’s NCAA Division I history, Eastern played teams from nine different conferences in the 2015-16 non-conference portion of EWU’s season. In all, the Eagles will play nine games this season versus six teams who appeared in national postseason tournaments a year ago. Seattle, which advanced to the semifinals of the College Basketball Insider (CBS) Tournament, accounted for two of those games. The only NCAA Tournament participant EWU faced was Davidson on Dec. 9. Two days later after that, the Eagles played at NIT qualifier Pittsburgh. Davidson was 24-8 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic-10 Conference a year ago, and lost 83-52 to Iowa in Seattle in the NCAA Tournament. Pitt was 19-15 overall and 8-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and lost to George Washington 60-54 in the NIT. Montana (20-13/14-4 Big Sky), Eastern's opponent on Jan. 23 in Missoula, also appeared in the NIT where it lost to Texas A&M. Because of the Big Sky's new 18-game league schedule started last year, Eastern will play the Grizzlies just once this season in the single-division, 12-team league. Eastern's other two opponents who advanced to the postseason last year are Sacramento State and Northern Arizona, which both advanced to the CollegeInsider Tournament (CIT). NAU beat Sac State 78-73 in a second-round meeting, then won twice more before falling 71-65 to Evansville in the title game. The Lumberjacks finished the year 23-15 and the Hornets were 21-12, with both teams finishing 13-5 in the league.
* The Eagles closed a monumental 2014-15 campaign with a 26-9 record overall after finishing 14-4 in the Big Sky Conference to share the regular season title with Montana. Eastern swept through three games in the Big Sky Conference Tournament to garner the school's second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The Eagles finished with program bests for victories overall (26), in the Big Sky (14), on the road (11) and in non-conference play (9) in 32 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I. Eastern’s national resume featured the 25th-most wins in NCAA Division I and 28th in winning percentage at .743, the fourth-most victories in the 50+ year history of the Big Sky Conference, a marquee win at Indiana and the nation’s leading scorer in Tyler Harvey (23.1 per game).
* Entering the 2015-16 season, head coach Jim Hayford was selected by College Sports Madness as its preseason Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year. Additionally, Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports rated him as one of the top 21 offensive coaches in all of NCAA Division I.
* Head coach Jim Hayford – the 2014-15 Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year -- took over an Eastern team four years ago that had been to the Big Sky Conference Tournament just once in five seasons, but in the 2014-15 season he took the Eagles to new heights. The Eagles entered the 2015-16 season with 66 victories overall, 39 league wins and four Big Sky Tournament game triumphs under Hayford, and the 26 victories last season are the fourth-most in the more than 50-year history of the league. In fact, a local newspaper dubbed Hayford the “Wizard in Cheney” in a feature article in November 2015. On July 8, 2015, Hayford signed a new five-year agreement which extends his contract at EWU through the 2019-20 season. The new five-year agreement replaced the contract he signed a year prior.
* Eastern’s triumphs in 2014-15 included victories over six different NCAA Division I conferences, including road wins at Indiana, San Francisco and Seattle. Eastern was ranked as high as 12th in the national mid-major poll, and as high as 50th in the RPI. The Eagles concluded their home schedule with a crowd of 4,621 against Montana to rank as the fourth-most in school history and the most in 15 years.
* For the second year in a row, EWU was honored with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Team Academic Excellence Award. Eastern’s 3.27 team grade point average was the best in the Big Sky Conference in the 2014-15 season, and .20 better than the team’s 3.07 average of a year ago.
* Active within the last year in the pro ranks are 14 former Eagles, including Tyler Harvey and Drew Brandon from last year’s Eagle team. Harvey is now with the Erie Bay Hawks of the NBA’s Developmental League after getting drafted in the second round (51st overall) by the Orlando Magic in the 2015 NBA Draft. Harvey averaged 10.6 points, 2.0 assists and 1.4 rebounds for the Magic’s “Blue” summer squad. Brandon is in his first year with the Bayer Giants in the Germany ProA League. Eastern’s professional players are headlined by NBA veteran Rodney Stuckey, who is in his second season with Indiana after seven seasons with the Detroit Pistons. In 2014-15 – his eighth season as a pro and first with the Indiana Pacers – Stuckey averaged 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 0.8 steals per game in 71 games (36 starts). He made a career-best 39.0 percent of his 3-point attempts, sinking 55-of-141. Stuckey signed a new 3-year, $21 million contract with the Pacers on July 21, 2015.
* Senior Venky Jois is one blocked shot away from moving into third in league history, with a current total of 206 in his 101-game career (99 as a starter). He had his 28th career double-double at Denver on Nov. 21, finishing with 26 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. He had his first double-double of the season with 21 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots at Davidson on Dec. 9. One game later versus Pitt, he moved up two spots to sixth on EWU’s all-time career scoring list. He is now fifth in school history with 1,442 points, just 19 behind Dave Hayden (1,461 from 1970-73) and ahead of the 1,438 of Rodney Stuckey, who now plays for the Indiana Pacers in the NBA. Jois played in the 100th game of his career and became the 16th player in school history to hit the century mark on Dec. 14 when EWU played at Western Carolina.
* Junior sharpshooter Felix Von Hofe was selected on Dec. 21 as the Big Sky Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week after back-to-back career-best performances. The 6-foot-5 sharpshooter eclipsed his career high with 28 in a huge 74-58 road win at Denver on Dec. 20 on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and 8-of-14 from the 3-point stripe. Von Hofe finished two treys away from the school record of 10 and also had six rebounds -- two from his career high. One game earlier, he scored 27 at Western Carolina, which bested his previous 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, for two-game totals of 19-of-34 (55.9 percent) and 13-of-23 (56.5 percent). Von Hofe is averaging 15.9 points per game this season, and ranks 11th in NCAA Division I in 3-pointers per game with a league-leading average of 3.64 per game. He is also 23rd nationally and fourth in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (.465).
* Preseason Big Sky Conference MVP Venky Jois is ranked seventh in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage, having made 67.3 percent of his shots thus far (he was as high as third at 72.4 percent after his first seven games played). He was able to get off just three shots on Nov. 29 against a South Dakota defense that double and triple teamed him when he got the ball in the post. As a result, Jois equaled his career high with seven assists and ended up going to the free throw line five times to surpass the school’s career record for charity shots. Now with 532 free throws attempted in his career, he broke the previous school record of 499 set by Dave Hayden from 1970-73. His 302 free throws made are fourth in school history, with Rodney Stuckey (2006-07) owning the record of 386.
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom scored 76 points on Eastern’s East Coast road trip, including 33 at Davidson on Dec. 11, 14 two nights later at Pitt and 29 on Dec. 14 at Western Carolina. He has upped his season scoring average to 18.6 to rank second in the Big Sky and 59th in NCAA Division I, and his average of 3.55 3-pointers per game is second in the league behind teammate Felix Von Hofe and is 14th nationally. McBroom is also 22nd in the nation in minutes per game with a league-leading 36.5 average. He is 103rd in free throw percentage, making 30-of-36 for 83.3 percent (he was 10th nationally after making 19 of his first 20). The Eagles lost a pair of All-Big Sky guards from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but McBroom has provided an instant solution for the Eagles. He has averages of 18.6 points, 3.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds, with 27 total turnovers. His performance against Davidson included a 12-of-19 shooting night, and eclipsed his previous top game as an Eagle of 20 points (versus Pacific) and as a collegian of 26 points (for Saint Louis against Bradley on 11/29/14). He sank 10-of-17 shots from the field at Western Carolina, including 7-of-12 3-point attempts. His 19 points, five 3-pointers and five assists helped EWU win at San Francisco 81-77 on Dec. 1. He had a double-double with 19 points and 10 assists versus George Fox on Nov. 15. McBroom came to EWU with 97 games and 45 starts worth of NCAA Division I experience -- he played in 66 games at Saint Louis (15 as a starter) and 31 (30 as a starter) at Central Michigan in 2011-12.
* Six Eagles have already made their college basketball debuts this season, and five of them have played in at least 11 Eastern games. Those five were inserted into the starting lineup by head coach Jim Hayford against Great Falls on Dec. 6.
* Starting true freshman Jesse Hunt, a 6-foot-7 forward, made the first start of his career against Pacific (11/28/15), and is averaging 14.0 minutes, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 points per game. He missed EWU’s game at Western Carolina with a sprained ankle. Redshirt freshman Will Ferris, who came off the bench to play 23 minutes against Seattle on Nov. 23 and score a career-high nine points, is averaging 2.2 points and 8.5 minutes on the season. Ty Gibson has seen significant action as a true freshman, averaging 9.1 minutes per game and starting twice. Redshirt freshman Bear Henderson has averaged 7.4 minutes and 2.4 points thus far, and started his first career game against George Fox on Nov. 15. Freshman redshirt Cody Benzel has averaged 5.9 points in an average of 7.1 minutes, including 23 points on a 7-of-14 3-point shooting performance against Great Falls on Dec. 6. He also had a 12-point performance against South Dakota on Nov. 29 when he made four 3-pointers in just eight minutes of action. All five of those players made their collegiate debuts in EWU’s opener at Mississippi State on Nov. 13, and Ferris, Benzel and Gibson made the first starts of their careers against Great Falls. True freshman Michael Wearne made his collegiate debut versus George Fox, however, will now redshirt because of a hip injury requiring surgery.
* Making his NCAA Division I debut against Mississippi State on Nov. 13 was junior college transfer Rico Nuno, who had a career-high seven rebounds at Denver on Dec. 20 and is averaging 2.0 rebounds, 0.9 points and 7.5 minutes per game. Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom made his Eagle debut against the Bulldogs, and junior transfer Julian Harrell is out indefinitely with a hand injury. Three Eagles – transfer Geremy McKay, transfer Mario Soto and freshman Grant Gibb – will redshirt.
* The Eagles rested senior starters Austin McBroom and Venky Jois in a 104-64 win over Great Falls on Dec. 6, and it paid dividends three days later at Davison. They combined for 54 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and a pair of blocked shots, and combined for 22-of-36 shooting (61 percent) from the field.
* Senior Venky Jois continues to climb the Big Sky Conference career leaders list for blocked shots. His school-record total of 206 currently is fourth, just one from third, six from second and 41 from the league record of 247. His 1,442 total points ranks fifth in school history and his 826 rebounds are fourth, and he also ranks on leaders lists for scoring average (14.30, 12th), rebounding average (8.2, eighth), field goals attempted (1,012, seventh), field goals made (568, third), free throws made (302, fourth) and owns the school record for free throws attempted (532). Jois was on the All-Big Sky Conference first team as a junior in the 2014-15 season, and then was named to the Big Sky Conference All-Tournament team. He was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year in the 2013-14 season, and earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades as a freshman and sophomore. Jois averaged 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game as a junior, and so far as a senior has averages of 14.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.0 blocks. Jois has two double-doubles this season and 28 total in his career. Jois is from Boronia, Australia, and has a 3.51 grade point average as an interdisciplinary studies major (biology/pre-med emphasis). He is a three-time member of the Big Sky All-Academic team and was a member of the NABC Honors Court as a junior.
* Sophomore forward Bogdan Bliznyuk has been used frequently at bringing the ball up the court, and is averaging 11.8 points and 2.3 assists per game with a deft ability to get to the rim. He has made 14-of-48 3-pointers thus far for 29 percent, and is 35-of-74 inside the stripe (47 percent) with an overall percentage of 40 percent. He has also made 30-of-41 free throws (73.2 percent), has a team-high 19 steals and is averaging 5.3 rebounds. He was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year after coming off the bench to average 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds for the Eagles. It’s an honor now won six times in the past 14 seasons by Eastern players, including current Eagle Venky Jois in the 2012-13 season. Bliznyuk, who also earned Big Sky All-Academic honors, averaged 12.0 points in league play to rank 24th in the Big Sky -- tops among all freshmen. He was also fifth in field goal shooting (58.0 percent) and 12th in rebounding (5.6) while also averaging 24.3 minutes and 1.4 assists. He made 58.0 percent of his shots (80-of-138) in those 18 league games and converted 39-of-51 free throws (76.6 percent). Bliznyuk is formerly from Lutsk, Ukraine, but graduated from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash., in 2014. He was less than 2 years old when his father, a truck driver, died in an accident. Their mother moved them to Federal Way five years later to be closer to family. Born with a gap in his upper jaw, he has had multiple surgeries after moving to the United States, included transferring bone from his hip.
* Junior Felix Von Hofe had a breakthrough game in the Big Sky Conference Tournament last March, and he has topped that three times this season. He has had five 20-point performances this season, including outings of 28 and 27 points in EWU’s final two non-conference games. He also had 25 against Seattle on Nov. 18 when he made 7-of-12 shots from the 3-point stripe. That bested his previous high of 23 points when he made 8-of-10 from the field and 7-of-8 from the 3-point stripe in a 91-83 victory over Sacramento State in the semifinals of the league tournament on March 14, 2015. Much like the 15-point lead he helped open against Seattle, his sizzling shooting helped EWU open a 26-point lead against the Hornets. He scored a career-high 28 points in a 74-58 win at Denver on Dec. 20, helping the Eagles lead by as many as 18 versus the Pioneers. He scored 16 points in a 19-7 run in the first half to give EWU the lead for good at 30-23 against a team that entered the game 3-0 versus the Big Sky and was 8-3 overall at the time.
* Guard sophomore Sir Washington had a career-high 11 points in the team’s opener at Mississippi State, and topped that with 15 points and a career-high nine rebounds against Great Falls on Dec. 6. He has started four games thus far, and is averaging 5.3 points on 44 percent shooting from the field, and is also averaging 16.8 minutes and 2.8 rebounds with nine assists and 10 steals.
* Two major cogs in Eastern’s roll to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament last season – Venky Jois and Bogdan Bliznyuk -- have been selected to the preseason All-Big Sky Conference team as selected by a panel of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors in the league. Jois, a senior 6-foot-8 forward, is EWU’s lone returning starter this season and was selected as the league’s preseason MVP. A year ago, Eastern’s Tyler Harvey won the award and went on to lead NCAA Division I in scoring and was eventually drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft by Orlando. Besides Jois, Bliznyuk was also selected to the seven-player team and was the only underclassmen chosen. The others honored included Montana’s Martin Breunig, Montana State’s Marcus Colbert, Northern Arizona’s Kris Yanku and Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy and Jeremy Senglin.
Quoting Coach Hayford
On Progress Since Three-Game East Coast Trip: “The beauty of it was that we had 11 practices, we had four days off and we played a game and had a win. The comma between non-conference and conference play has been just what we needed. It remains to be seen how well we play on geographically the hardest trip in Big Sky play. But we’re more ready and more dialed in to our identity than we were two weeks ago coming back from North Carolina.”
On Entering League Play 6-6: “We’re trying to win every single game, but you have to take a big step back and look at the big picture. If you are one of the teams in Big Sky play that are .500 or better heading into league play, you have to at least be pleased with the results. There are going to be years when you are below .500 and you have to take your satisfaction in the development of your players. The schedule is such that our league takes on some really tough assignments in November and December.”
On Playing Nine of First 12 on the Road: “It was a good non-conference season for us. But do I want to play nine out of 12 non-conference games on the road in future years? Certainly not. Next year we already have six games contracted at home. But it is what it is, and it was what it was. The beauty of conference play is that there are nine at home and nine on the road.”
On Start of Conference Play: “Every team is playing with a fresh start. If a coach likes the results of non-conference play, he’s saying ‘let’s go build on this.’ If he doesn’t like how his team played in non-conference games, he gets a fresh start and a do-over. It’s the beginning of the second season, and every coach has his eye on the third season, which is the Big Sky Conference Tournament.”
On Von Hofe’s Big Sky Player of the Week Honor: “I am pleased Felix is being recognized for his play. Even more than the award, he deserves recognition for his leadership as a team captain. He has elevated all he is doing to a high level.”
On Denver Win: “It was a really good win. We just needed some practice time to get ourselves figured out, and it’s really early in the process. But a little rest and a little practice really made a huge difference. Denver is a better team than some of the teams we’ve lost to, so it’s a big win.”
On Big Three of Von Hofe, Jois & McBroom Against Denver: “Obviously, Felix was really special. He’s a great shooter and it’s hard to take away his shot because he’s so tall and his release point is so high. Venky is feeling better and better – he had 26 and 16, and I honestly expect that he can do that a lot. It’s a question for him to get healthy to do that. And Austin has obviously coming in and done a really good job as our point guard. Against Denver’s zone, we had one play that involved those three players, and they didn’t have an answer for it. We rode that play to great performances inside and outside – we read the options well and that’s why those guys scored all the points. About 95 percent of the night we ran the same play. I’m just really proud of our team."
On Defense Versus Denver: “Our staff did a great job in preparation. We held them to 40 percent and 23 percent from the 3-point line -- our defense was solid.”
On Bench Contributions: “The bench played really good – we’ve been looking for that. Rico came in and rebounded well for us – we just needed a little more size and he provided that. What our bench did better than any other game, is when the young guys came in they really held the defensive scout. That’s why we walked out with a 16-point win at Denver where a lot of other really good teams have lost.”
On Entering League Play With a Win: “Especially for 18-to-20 year olds, you can be improving but if you’re not winning it’s harder for them. The things that were glaringly bad we could easily fix, we just needed to get back home to practice. We are still a long ways away, but we showed great backbone. We faced some adversity and we weathered it – we answered their runs. And we had some runs of our own so it wasn’t scary in the last two or three minutes.”
On Venky Jois & Involvement With Champs Program: “CHAMPS is a very unique mentoring program that will help a young person from age 10 all the way up to college entrance. It involves our team being a mentor each step of the way. Venky has been a leader of this program and sees its value. He has been exemplary to his teammates on how to maximize the mentorship to bring success to these young people.”
On Jois & Bliznyuk Earning Preseason Honors: “Preseason honors set up expectations. We are comfortable with that, as our team has great expectations for the upcoming season. On preseason lists that I’ve seen, Venky is listed as one of the top 20 forwards in college basketball. It’s pretty special to lose the nation’s leading scorer, but you still welcome back one of the top forwards in college basketball.”
On Venky Jois: “Venky is a threat to have a double-double every night out. He plays with great passion and energy, and is a captain of our team. Venky has been a foundation in the building of our program -- he is an outstanding student, a great leader, and committed to developing into the best basketball player he can be. I join all Eagle fans in anticipating a great senior year for Venky. ”
On Bogdan Bliznyuk: “Bogdan had a great freshman year and has a great career ahead of him. He’s a very coachable player and he plays hard. He has a great drive game and rebounds with tenacity. He is efficient as a player and has great shot selection. I think he has a great career ahead of him because of his determination to be the best that he can be.”
On Being Picked Third in Big Sky Preseason Poll: “Being picked in the top third of the conference is a good place to be. That shows we are earning the respect of our peers. This year there are many great players returning in the Big Sky Conference and the league has so many great coaches. We have our work cut out for us.”
Recent Game Recaps
* Australians Felix Von Hofe and Venky Jois joined Austin McBroom to combine for 72 points, and the Eagles used hot 3-point shooting some great defense to register a huge 74-58 non-conference road win Dec. 20 at Magness Arena in Denver, Colo. Von Hofe scored 28 points and made eight 3-pointers, Jois had 26 points and equaled his career high with 16 rebounds and McBroom chipped in 18 points and four assists. That trio combined for all 26 of EWU’s field goals, helping the Eagles sink 51 percent of their shots overall (26-of-51) and 12-of-25 3-pointers for 48 percent. Defensively, Eastern had a dominating 40-21 rebounding advantage over the Pioneers, who entered the game 3-0 against Big Sky Conference teams. Eastern held Denver scoreless for nearly seven minutes to open a 16-point lead early in the second half, then closed out the win by holding the Pioneers to just two field goals in the final nine minutes of the game. The Eagles held the Pioneers to 40 percent shooting from the field, and just 4-of-17 from the 3-point stripe (24 percent). The Pioneers entered the game ranked 33rd in NCAA Division I at 48.6 percent, and the Eagles were just ahead of them in 32nd at 48.8 percent. In addition, Denver was 62nd in 3-point field goal percentage (37.9 percent) and EWU was 73rd (37.5 percent). Eastern trailed early 16-11, but Felix Von Hofe scored 16 points in a 19-7 run in the first half to give EWU the lead for good at 30-23. The Eagles closed the half with an 8-0 run, then scored six of the first seven points of the second half to take a 49-33 lead. Eastern led by no less than eight the rest of the way.