Tough Eagle Defense Prevails In Nip-and-Tuck Second Half in 70-63 Win Over Tigers

Tough Eagle Defense Prevails In Nip-and-Tuck Second Half in 70-63 Win Over Tigers

Eastern holds University of the Pacific without a field goal for 5 1/2 minutes with game on the line to break away from a 49-all tie

This was a tough, gritty victory that will pay dividends down the road.

The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team held the University of the Pacific without a field goal for 5:27 late in the game to beat the Tigers 70-63 in a tightly-contested non-conference game Saturday (Nov. 28) at "The Nest" in Sacramento State.

Four Eagles scored in double figures, as Eastern used its late 10-3 run to turn a 49-all tie into a seven-point advantage with 1:59 to play. Nine free throws in the final 1:48 and a dunk by Venky Jois with 44 seconds left clinched the third win in five games this season for EWU. There were six ties and eight lead changes in the second half before Eastern pulled away.

"I credit our team's toughness today," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "It's great starting this road trip with a win and that will build toughness. We got off to a good start and now we'll need to come back tough again tomorrow.

"As a coach that's what you want to see – you want to see your team get better every night out and we did that," Hayford added. "We'll take it. This is a good day when you play a West Coast Conference team and can get a win. It's good for our conference and good for our program."

The game was part of the post-Thanksgiving Sacramento State Basketball Invitational, with the Eagles also playing Sunday afternoon against South Dakota, a 96-90 winner over host Sac State in Saturday's other game.

 

Won-Lost Records . . .  

* The Eagles are now 3-2, having lost its last time out with a 58-52 loss at Seattle on Nov. 23, just five days after EWU won at home against the Redhawks by a 70-66 score. Eastern played its first three games in a six-day stretch to open the year. Eastern lost its opener on Nov. 13 to Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., and then set school records for steals (23) and points (126) in a 62-point victory over George Fox (126-64) on Nov. 15.

* The Tigers of the West Coast Conference are currently 1-4. Pacific opened the season with losses to Arizona (79-61), Cal State Fullerton (77-76) and Nevada (85-82), then beat Notre Dame de Namur 79-44 on Nov. 23.

 

What It Means . . .

* There will be no tournament winner, as Eastern and Sacramento State swap opponents for games on Sunday. Sacramento State (4-1) suffered its first loss of the season with a 96-90 loss to South Dakota (3-3) earlier Saturday. The Eagles play South Dakota Sunday (Nov. 29) at 2:35 p.m. Pacific time, followed by Sac State taking on the University of the Pacific in the final tournament game.

 

What's Next . . .

* In playing South Dakota on Sunday, Eastern takes on a Coyotes team riding a two-game winning streak. Before knocking off Sacramento State 96-90, South Dakota beat South Dakota Mines & Technology 83-63. The member of the Summit League has also lost to Wright State (77-69), Northern Illinois (72-65) and Kansas State (93-72), with a win over Cal State Northridge (76-72). Following the two games in the tournament, Eastern remains on the road to face San Francisco on Tuesday (Dec. 1), then returns home to face Great Falls on Dec. 6.

 

Keys to Game . . .

* Eastern made 11-of-28 field goals in the second half for 48 percent, but more importantly, sank 20-of-25 free throws for 80 percent.

 

Top Performers . . .

* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom led the Eagles with a season-high 20 points, making all 10 of his free throws and 4-of-10 shots from the field with pair of 3-pointers.

* Senior Venky Jois had 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. Jois is still looking for his first double-double of the season after having 26 in 90 total games the past three seasons.

* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk also nearly had a double-double with 10 points and eight rebounds.

* Junior Felix Von Hofe chipped in 12 points and four boards.

 

Turning Point . . .

* Tied at 49, the Eagles used a 7-2 run to open its biggest lead of the night at 57-51 with 2:44 to play on a steal and dunk by senior Venky Jois. Eastern held Pacific without a field goal for 5:29, taking its biggest lead of the night in that span at 59-52 on a basket by Felix Von Hofe.

 

Key Stats . . .

* Eastern held Pacific to 38 percent shooting from the field (21-of-56), including percentages of under 40 percent in each half. The Tigers made only 5-of-17 3-pointers for 29 percent.

* The Eagles made 15-of-34 3-pointers in a 76-70 victory over Seattle on Nov. 18, but have struggled from beyond the arc since then. Eastern made only 9-of-29 (31 percent) at Seattle on Nov. 23, then sank 5-of-24 (21 percent) versus the Tigers.

 

Team Highlights . . .

* The Eagles used two small scoring runs to open their biggest leads of the game in the first 35 minutes of the game. In the first half, Austin McBroom and Felix Von Hofe both his 3-pointers in a 7-0 run to give EWU a 14-6 lead. In the second half, during a stretch in which the Eagles held Pacific without a field goal for 2:37, the Eagles used a 5-0 run to open a 47-42 lead. Eastern led 27-24 at halftime when true freshman Ty Gibson hit a shot at the buzzer.

* Senior Venky Jois continues to climb the Big Sky Conference career leaders list for blocked shots. His school-record total of 197 moves him to fourth, just 50 from the league record.

 

Notables . . .

* Eastern has faced South Dakota twice before, losing on Dec. 20, 2012, by a 78-72 score at the DakotaDome. Eastern won 70-61 the following year (11/15/11) in Cheney. The Coyotes were 17-16 a year ago overall and 9-7 to place fourth in the Summit League, with 6-1 guard Casey Kasperbauer the team's top returning player after averaging 9.9 points a year ago. Through four games this season, he is averaging 13.3 points on 12-of-30 shooting from the 3-point stripe. Guard Tre Burnette has a team-leading 15.3 scoring average. In their win over Sac State, Kasperbauer had 13 points and Burnette had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Dan Jech had a career-high 22 to lead the Coyotes.

* Until Saturday, Eastern had never faced the University of the Pacific, which was 12-19 a year ago overall and finished ninth in the West Coast Conference with a 4-14 mark.

* Next year, the tournament is expected to be played in Cheney, with the Eagles and Hornets hosting two non-conference opponents from the same leagues (Denver from the Summit and San Francisco from the WCC are the tentative opponents).

 

More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .

On Playing Tough: "We didn't shoot the ball particularly well and we took care of the ball better in the second half, but we just stayed tough and true to the scouting report the entire game. We played all 40 minutes, and that wasn't something we've done in our first four games. I was just really proud with way our team played with toughness."

On Finding Ways to Win: "I want our team to continue to improve and get better. We are a better shooting team than we've showed, but until we do that, we aren't going to have a chance to win unless we play good defense. What good teams and good players do is find out what is necessary to win. It was ugly last Monday in Seattle and it wasn't beautiful offense tonight, but both nights we grew up and played some good, solid defense."

On Clutch Baskets: "We were good at the end of the shot clock on four or five possessions which shows a little bit of veteran saavy. Those plays were created by Austin (McBroom). That showed some growth to be level-headed at the end of the shot clock."

On Bench: "We played 11 of the 12 we dressed out for the game. One of the biggest plays was Ty (Gibson) hitting that 3-pointer at the end of the first half. Credit Ty for making a winning play right there. When each guy's name is called they have to contribute. Whoever gets the call has to step up and give us what we need to win a game."

On South Dakota: "Sac State is playing as well as any team in the conference, but South Dakota really, really shot the ball well against them. They scored 96 – they looked like our team last year. We are going to have to turn around and go right at them. We have to get good bench production. Two days later we'll make an hour drive to play San Francisco."

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