Bears sink 62 percent of their shots from the field to spoil opening game of Big Sky title defense for EWU
For the first 13 minutes, things went according to plan in the Big Sky Conference opener for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
But the defending champions couldn't keep the Bears caged, and Northern Colorado exploded for 78 points in the final 27 minutes to beat the Eagles 96-90 Thursday (Dec. 31) at the Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion in Greeley, Colo.
Felix Von Hofe scored 27 points for the Eagles, marking his third-straight game of at least 27. Venky Jois had his second-straight double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but EWU never led in the second half after taking a 24-18 lead in the opening 12:47.
"We came in here and played our game-plan in the first half," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team plays its 11th road game in 14 games this season on Saturday (Jan. 2) at North Dakota. "We did a great job rebounding in the first half, and in the second half we would get a stop but we wouldn't get the rebound. It's not realistic to win if you don't put up more resistance defensively."
The Bears made 40-of-65 shots from the field for 62 percent, including 9-of-13 3-pointers (69 percent). In the second half alone, Northern Colorado made 66 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Eagles 22-10. The Bears had 16 of their 20 second-chance points after intermission.
"We are going to shake it off and see if we can go guard better on Saturday," added Hayford.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Eastern is now 6-7 overall and 0-1 in the Big Sky, with 10 of its 13 games thus far on the road.
* Northern Colorado is 4-9 overall and 1-0 in the league, and snapped a three-game losing streak dating back to a win over Colorado State 73-64 at home on Dec. 13.
What It Means . . .
* The Eagles knew defending their Big Sky Conference regular season and conference titles wasn't going to be easy, but it's now going to be downright tough after losing a winnable game on the road. Eastern had ended non-conference play with a convincing 74-58 road victory at Denver, which had previously defeated Northern Colorado (81-77 in Greeley), Idaho State (79-69) and Weber State (69-68) from the Big Sky.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern now travels to Grand Forks, N.D., to face North Dakota on Saturday (Jan. 2) in a game that begins at 12:05 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern will have played 11 of its 14 games on the road by the time they play their conference home opener on Jan. 9 versus Idaho. The Vandals knocked off North Dakota 74-71 in Grand Forks on Thursday, dropping UND to 5-7 on the season and 0-1 in the Big Sky play. Idaho is now 9-5 overall and plays at Northern Colorado on Saturday.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern equaled its best defensive performance of the season in holding Denver to 58 points on 40 percent shooting in a 74-58 road romp on Dec. 20. But after a promising start Thursday for the Eagles, the Bears got hot and had 58 points just 28 1/2 minutes into the game. They ended up scoring 78 points in the final 27:13 while sinking 32 of their last 47 shots (68 percent).
Top Performers . .
* Junior Felix Von Hofe was coming off a season-high 28 points against Denver on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and 8-of-14 from the 3-point stripe to earn Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors. He also made 9-of-18 shots against UNC, including 4-of-10 from the 3-point stripe and 5-of-6 free throws.
* Senior Venky Jois, who was ranked sixth in the nation entering the game with a .673 field goal percentage, made 11-of-15 from the field on his way to his third double-double in the last five games and the 29th of his 102-game career (100 as a starter). He had 10 rebounds and a blocked shot, moving him to third on the Big Sky all-time list with 207 blocks.
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom added 18 points, but was just 6-of-19 from the field and 2-of-7 from the 3-point stripe. He has scored 112 points in his last five games (22.4 per game), and also added three assists and four rebounds versus the Bears.
* Sophomore Sir Washington made 3-of-6 shots from the field and 5-of-6 free throws to finish with 11 points against UNC. It equaled his career high against a NCAA Division I opponent, having also scored 11 versus Mississippi State and Seattle earlier this season.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern was within 83-81 with 2:20 to play, but the Bears scored 10 of the next 12 points to go up by 10 with 37 seconds left. The biggest blow in that run was an offensive rebound – UNC's 11th of the half – that led to a basket and eight-point lead at the 1:19 mark.
Key Stats . . .
* The final rebounding margin was 39-36 in favor of the Bears, but it was a tale of two halves. Eastern led 26-17 at halftime and had 12 offensive rebounds leading to 11 second-chance points (16 in the game). But in the second half, UNC out-rebounded the Eagles 22-11, with 11 offensive boards leading to 16 UNC second-chance points (20 in the game).
Team Highlights . . .
* The Eagles led for all but one second in the first half, leading by eight on several occasions and holding UNC to 18 points through the first 12:37. Felix Von Hofe scored 15 first-half points to lead another great start on the road. But in the last 7:13, the Bears made 9-of-12 shots overall and 5-of-6 3-pointers to out-score EWU 23-15 and take a 41-39 advantage at intermission on a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Northern Colorado led 44-39 after scoring the first three points of the second half to complete an 11-0 run during a 3:20 scoreless EWU stretch spanning intermission.
Notables . . .
* Senior Venky Jois had one blocked shot versus UNC, increasing his school-record total to 207 and moving into third on the Big Sky Conference career leaders list. He is five from second and 40 from the league record of 247.
* A 3-pointer at the buzzer after a costly dead-ball turnover by the Eagles gave the Bears a 41-39 halftime lead. That marked just the third time in 13 games this season EWU has trailed at intermission.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On UNC Loss: "I want to give credit to Northern Colorado – they played and shot the ball really well. But if we don't develop more resistance against the other team, we're going to be on the wrong side of these scores."
On Reliance on Offense: "There are going to be runs both ways. We just get too much of our confidence on offense and not enough on defense. When they miss a couple of shots and still score, that makes you have to play perfect offensively. You aren't going to be able to go on the road and win if you give up those kind of points and shooting percentages. We can keep learning the same lesson or we can take more pride defensively. You have to go stop the other team and put resistance up, and we didn't do that. Since we got back from our East Coast trip, that's all we've been coaching."
On Needing Defense to Go Along With Offense: "We recruit some offensively-skilled players, but you have to be a complete player at the Division I level, or you are going to pay for it. It's a shame because this was a winnable game on the road in our conference opener. You are putting way too much pressure on yourself offensively to play that kind of defense and think you are going to win."