Eagles battle back to lead Fighting Hawks 65-64 with 3:27 to play and now play next three at home
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team rallied from a 10-point deficit in the first half to take a six-point lead in the second half, but the Eagles lost 79-71 to North Dakota Saturday (Jan. 2) in Grand Forks, N.D., at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
"It was a really good game," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team led 65-64 with 3:27 left. "We were right there at the end. North Dakota played a good, solid game."
Eastern, which now returns to play its next three games at home, lost its second-straight game to open league play, coming on the heels of a 96-90 loss to Northern Colorado. Eastern hosts an Idaho team on Jan. 9 that swept the same road trip at UND & UNC.
Three Eagles scored in double figures, and Saturday's game featured nine lead changes and seven ties before the Fighting Hawks made 11-of-14 free throws down the stretch.
"We played better defense today," added Hayford, whose team allowed UND to make 53 percent after UNC sank 62 percent two days earlier. "We showed some toughness."
Won-Lost Records . . .
* The defending regular season co-champ and reigning tournament titlist, Eastern is now 6-8 overall and 0-2 in the Big Sky. Eastern opened league play with a 96-90 road loss at Northern Colorado on Thursday (Jan. 31). North Dakota will play EWU in Cheney on Feb. 11, and two days later, EWU will attempt to avenge its conference-opening loss to UNC.
* UND improved to 6-7 on the season and 1-1 in Big Sky play.
What It Means . . .
* Despite the 0-2 league start, the Eagles will get to play as many home games in the next two weekends as they have the entire season. 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 3-8 on the road.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern has played 11 of its 14 games on the road heading into EWU's conference home opener on Jan. 9 versus Idaho. The Vandals knocked off North Dakota 74-71 in Grand Forks on Thursday is now 10-5 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky after finishing a road sweep with a 75-70 victory over Northern Colorado on Saturday.
Keys to Game . . .
* North Dakota made 67 percent of its shots in the second half (16-of-24), sinking 15-of-21 from inside the 3-point stripe after intermission. For the game, North Dakota sank 53 percent from the field, including 59 percent on its 2-point shots. Eastern is now 3-7 this season when opponents make at least 45 percent of their shots from the field, and 2-8 when opponents have a better percentage.
Top Performers . .
* Junior Felix Von Hofe led EWU in scoring for the third-straight game, finishing with a game-high 19 with five 3-pointers. He also had six rebounds, and has now scored 101 points in his last four outings (25.3 per game).
* Senior Venky Jois, who was ranked sixth in the nation entering the game with a .681 field goal percentage, made 6-of-11 shots to finish with 17 points, eight rebounds and a team-leading four assists.
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom had 17, but made only 6-of-21 shots from the field, including 4-of-10 3-pointers. He was just 2-of-11 inside the 3-point arc.
* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk made 3-of-5 shots and had two assists, but he played only 21 minutes because of foul trouble. He fouled out with 6:40 to play.
Turning Point . . .
* After EWU took a 65-64 lead with left on a 3-pointer by Felix Von Hofe, the Fighting Hawks sandwiched a pair of baskets around an EWU miss to take the lead for good. A basket by Julian Harrell at the 2:33 mark were the last points for the Eagles -- who missed their next five attempts -- until making a bucket with 40 ticks left.
Key Stats . . .
* The Eagles made only 38.7 percent of their field goal attempts after entering the game ranked 27th in NCAA Division I (48.8 percent). Eastern made only four of their first 18, but still finished the game 11-of-28 from the 3-point stripe. The Eagles, however, were just 13-of-34 from inside the arc for 38 percent.
Team Highlights . . .
* Julian Harrell, a transfer from City College of San Francisco who previously played at Penn, made his Eagle debut after missing the first 13 games with a hand injury. He had two points. five rebounds and an assist in 10 minutes of action.
* An 8-0 run was the highlight in the first half, as Eastern overcame a 10-point deficit to trail by just one at halftime, 31-30. Felix Von Hofe made four of his five 3-pointers in the game in the second half, and EWU led by as many as six at 46-40 with 14:27 left.
Notables . . .
* Eastern is now 2-6 all-time against North Dakota, with last year's 102-80 home victory marking EWU's first victory 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.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Lowering Opponent Shooting Percentages in Second Half: "Our team is going be good – but the moment is now, I get it. Teams are shooting over 60 percent against us in the second half and we're still in close games. We need to get that number down – to 50 percent for starters. I've never seen anything like this, and I'm in year 17 as a head coach."
On Practices at Home Leading to Improved Defense: "We get to stay home until we head off for Montana. It's the longest stretch of practices at home we have all season, and we'll have to put our head into it and figure out how to get better defensively. We're still in really tight games despite giving up an obscene field goal percentage in the second half. That's the challenge for our coaching staff and myself. Once we get that figured out we'll be a dynamite team."
On Shooting Percentages: "We shot the ball from the 3-point stripe well – we made 11 threes and that's a winning number. It was our twos where we were at 38 percent. We need to look at that – we missed some point-blank shots. There was a lot of physical play and we didn't finish through some contact. Venky was 6-of-11, but usually he'll make eight of those. Austin had a tough drive game and we'll need to look at that. That's where our two-point percentages were off."
On Returning Home to Reese Court for Three Games: "It will be nice to be home, but Idaho is playing better than anybody else right now. They gave it to Washington State pretty good earlier this season, and they are playing really well. We beat them three times last year, so they are going to come at us with a lot of force."