After six-point loss in opener, Eastern plays Saturday versus a North Dakota team coming off a three-point setback to Idaho
Upcoming Games (times Pacific)
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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.
The Eagles can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team makes one more road trip to North Dakota Saturday (Jan. 2) before finally getting to play a home game – a string of them in fact.
After falling in their Big Sky Conference opener at Northern Colorado by a 96-90 score, the Eagles head to Grand Forks, N.D., to face the Fighting Hawks in a game that begins at 12:05 p.m. Pacific time at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. 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, which starts a three-game homestand for EWU.
The Vandals knocked off North Dakota 74-71 in Grand Forks on Thursday (Dec. 31), 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.
The defending regular season co-champ and reigning tournament titlist, Eastern is now 6-7 overall and 0-1 in the Big Sky. Eastern had ended non-conference play with a convincing 74-58 road victory on Dec. 20 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.
"Our team is still a work in progress," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford after his team's 90-point, 48-percent shooting night on Thursday was topped by the blistering 62 percent shooting of UNC. "We are going to be a very good basketball team and get better every week of the season."
North Dakota is coached by Brian Jones, who in his 10th season at the helm of a school with a new nickname – the Fighting Hawks. Guard Quinton Hooker is averaging 18.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game after finishing with 28 points on 8-of-12 shooting against the Vandals.
"It's going to be a great game," said Hayford. "Quinton Hooker is an outstanding guard and their team is coming together. They played Idaho tough and were right there until the last possession. We have great respect for coach Brian Jones and his program."
The first four games of the conference season were decided by a collective total of 26 points (6.5 per game) – three were decided by six or less. Hayford expects much of the same.
"After one night of the Big Sky, I think the rest of the league season is going to be very similar," he added. "There were some very close games and this is a really even league."
EWU Notes . . .
* Of EWU's first 14 games of the season, just three have come at home – Nov. 15, Nov. 17 and Dec. 6. 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. Thus, by the time the Eagles play Idaho, they will have not played at home in more than a month and will have played 10 of 11 on the road (including its last six). Thus far, EWU is 3-0 at home and 3-7 on the road.
* 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.
* 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.
* The Eagles are 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 4-0 when it has a better field goal percentage and 3-1 when it has a rebounding advantage.
* Eastern has now led at halftime in 10 of 13 games this season, and has a 6-4 record in those 10 games. A 3-pointer at the buzzer after a costly dead-ball turnover by the Eagles gave Northern Colorado a 41-39 halftime and EWU was out-scored 55-51 in the second half. Eastern has out-scored opponents 502-441 in the first half (average score of 38-33) and has been outscored 569-547 in the second half (43-42).
* Eastern's scoring average for the season is at 80.7 points to rank 50th in NCAA Division I and second in the Big Sky Conference through games of Dec. 31. 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 10.5 3-pointers per game is 10th in NCAA Division I (previously fourth after eight games) and leads the Big Sky, and the team's percentage is 56th at 38.0 percent (previously 175th/33.9 percent after six games). Felix Von Hofe (3.67 per game) and Austin McBroom (3.42 per game) and are ranked 1-2 in the Big Sky, and are seventh and 12th, 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.
* Senior Venky Jois has moved into third in league history in blocked shots, with a current total of 207 in his 102-game career (100 as a starter). He had his 29th career double-double at Northern Colorado on Dec. 31, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds for his second-straight double-double (he had 26 points and a career-high 16 rebounds at Denver on Dec. 20). 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 fourth in school history with 1,467 points, 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. His 836 career rebounds are fourth all-time at EWU, and he also ranks on leaders lists for scoring average (14.40, 12th), rebounding average (8.2, eighth), field goals attempted (1,027, fifth), field goals made (579, third), free throws made (305, fourth) and owns the school record for free throws attempted (537).
* Junior sharpshooter Felix Von Hofe has scored 27, 28 and 27 points in his last three games. He was selected on Dec. 21 as the Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Week after back-to-back career-best performances. Von Hofe is averaging 16.8 points per game this season, and ranks seventh in NCAA Division I in 3-pointers per game with a league-leading average of 3.67 per game. He is also 22nd nationally and third in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (.458).
* Preseason Big Sky Conference MVP Venky Jois is ranked sixth in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage, having made 68.1 percent of his shots thus far (he was as high as third at 72.4 percent after his first seven games played).
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom has upped his season scoring average to 18.6 to rank second in the Big Sky and 54th in NCAA Division I, and his average of 3.42 3-pointers per game is second in the league behind teammate Felix Von Hofe and is 12th nationally. McBroom is also 17th in the nation in minutes per game with a league-leading 36.8 average. He is 72nd in free throw percentage, making 34-of-40 for 85.0 percent (he was 10th nationally after making 19 of his first 20). 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.
* Senior Venky Jois continues to climb the Big Sky Conference career leaders list for blocked shots. His school-record total of 207 currently is third, just five from second and 40 from the league record of 247. 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 15.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.9 blocks. Jois has three double-doubles this season and 29 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.
* 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 also scored 11 in two other games, including Northern Colorado on Dec. 31. He has started four games thus far, and is averaging 5.8 points on 44 percent shooting from the field, and is also averaging 17.5 minutes and 2.8 rebounds with 10 assists and 11 steals.