Eagles lose home game against Morehead State because of poor weather (ironically, in Denver), but practice time was valuable as well
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Not all was lost by the loss of a rare home game for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
After the Morehead State game was canceled because of travel issues for the Kentucky-based university, the Eagles received valuable practice time and will now head back on the road and close their pre-Christmas schedule at Denver of the Summit League. Tipoff Sunday (Dec. 20) at Magness Arena in Denver, Colo., is noon Pacific time.
Thursday's (Dec. 17) game against the Eagles of 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. Instead, 5-6 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.
Thus far. EWU is 3-0 at home and 2-6 on the road. Eastern will open Big Sky Conference play at Northern Colorado (Dec. 31) and North Dakota (Jan. 2). Perhaps more importantly than the home game against Morehead State was the extra practice time being back in Cheney provides.
"We have a really hard run where we play nine of 11 away from home between Thanksgiving and New Year's," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "That will help us in the long run but the process sure us tough. We need practices. The schedule only allows us four home practices between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We will benefit from getting in the gym and having a regular routine next month."
Denver is currently 8-3 and has already defeated three Big Sky Conference members. Most recently, the Pioneers defeated rival Northern Colorado 81-77 on Dec. 15. The Pioneers previously defeated Idaho State (79-69) and Weber State (69-68) from the Big Sky. Four Pioneers scored in double figures against UNC, but Nate Engesser had just five. He is the team's leading scorer with a 14.9 average and had 26 with six 3-pointers one game earlier versus Weber State. Earlier this season, South Dakota knocked off EWU 77-71 in a battle between the Summit and Big Sky.
Two of the top-shooting teams in NCAA Division I basketball will square off in Denver. The Pioneers are ranked 33rd at 48.6 percent, and the Eagles are just ahead of them in 31st at 48.8 percent. In addition, Denver is 66th in 3-point field goal percentage (37.9 percent) and EWU is 72nd (37.5 percent), with Nate Engesser from UD ranking eighth individually (51.8 percent). Eastern's Felix Von Hofe is 45th in 3-point percentage (44.4 percent), and Venky Jois is 12th in overall field goal percentage (65.6 percent).
The Pioneers are also 26th in scoring defense (61.9 per game) while the Eagles are 62nd in scoring offense (80.5). Both teams feature veteran coaches – Hayford is in his 17th season and has 325 wins as a collegiate head coach, and Denver's Joe Scott has 227 victories in 16 seasons.
"Coach Scott at Denver is an outstanding coach and his teams rarely best themselves," said Hayford. "They have incredible discipline. This will be a great test."
The Eagles are 5-6, but three of those losses were to upper echelon squads in NCAA Division I, and two wins were against lower division teams. That gives Eastern seven opponents – mid-majors if you will – for Hayford to prepare his young team for the rigors of league play. The Eagles have been picked to finish third by both the media and the coaches
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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
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* Eastern is 2-2 all-time against Denver, winning the first two meetings and dropping the last two. Eastern won 69-48 on Nov. 30, 2002, in Denver, then won 77-73 in Cheney on Nov. 26, 2003. Eastern fell on the road 80-64 on Nov. 28, 2004, and then lost at home 80-61 less than a month later on Dec. 18, 2004.
* 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."
* Eastern has now led at halftime in nine of 11 games this season, and has a 5-4 record in those nine 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 Western Carolina, the Eagles had a 39-35 halftime lead but were outscored 62-41 after that. Eastern has out-scored opponents 420-368 in the first half (average score of 38-33) and has been outscored 488-465 in the second half (44-42).
* Eastern's scoring average for the season is at 80.5 points to rank 62nd in NCAA Division I and lead the Big Sky Conference through games of Dec. 17. 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 10.6 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 72nd at 37.5 percent (previously 175th/33.9 percent after six games). Austin McBroom (3.50 per game) and Felix Von Hofe (3.20) are ranked 1-2 in the Big Sky, and are 15th and 28th, 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.
* Eastern's games versus Pacific and South Dakota were part of the post-Thanksgiving Sacramento State Basketball Invitational. The Eagles opened with a 70-63 win over the Tigers from the West Coast Conference, while the Coyotes were a 96-90 winner over host Sac State. There was no tournament champion, but if there was, then a 77-71 win for USD over EWU on the tournament's second day was a pseudo championship game between teams that won the day prior. There was also no all-tournament team. 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).
* Fresh off its best season in the school's NCAA Division I history, Eastern will play teams from 11 different conferences in the 2015-16 season. The Eagles will play nine games 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 next opponent Eastern played that was in the postseason last year came on Dec. 9 when EWU played at NCAA Tournament participant Davidson. Two days later on Dec. 11, 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 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. With four more blocked shots, he'll move into third in league history. He had his first double-double of the season and 27th of his career when he had 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 just 22 points from moving into fifth and equaling the 1,438 of Rodney Stuckey, who now plays for the Indiana Pacers in the NBA.
* Preseason Big Sky Conference MVP Venky Jois is ranked 12th in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage, having made 65.6 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 524 free throws in his career, he broke the previous school record of 499 set by Dave Hayden from 1970-73. His 298 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 18.7 to rank second in the Big Sky and 56th in NCAA Division I, and his average of 3.5 3-pointers per game leads the league and is 15th nationally. He is also 26th in the nation in minutes per game with a league-leading 36.4 average. He is also 146th in free throw percentage, making 28-of-34 for 82.4 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 18.7 points, 3.3 assists and 2.4 rebounds, with 24 total turnovers. He has made 35-of-84 3-pointers for 41.7 percent while making 46.6 percent from the field overall. 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 10 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 13.5 minutes, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 points per game. He missed EWU's last 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 2.4 points and 8.5 minutes on the season. Ty Gibson has seen significant action as a true freshman, averaging 9.9 minutes per game and starting twice. Redshirt freshman Bear Henderson has averaged 8.1 minutes and 2.6 points thus far, and started his first career game against George Fox on Nov. 15. Freshman redshirt Cody Benzel has averaged 6.5 points in an average of 7.2 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. 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 203 currently is fourth, just four from third, nine from second and 44 from the league record of 247. His 1,416 total points ranks sixth in school history and his 810 rebounds are fourth, and he also ranks on leaders lists for scoring average (14.20, 12th), rebounding average (8.1, eighth), field goals attempted (998, eighth), field goals made (557, third), free throws made (298, fourth) and owns the school record for free throws attempted (524). 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 13.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 blocks. Jois has one double-double this season 27 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 12.7 points and 2.2 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-73 inside the stripe (48 percent) with an overall percentage of 41 percent. He has also made 28-of-39 free throws (71.8 percent), has a team-high 17 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 twice this season. He had a career-high 27 points at Western Carolina on Dec. 14, making 10-of-16 shots overall and 5-of-9 from the 3-point stripe. He 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. With an average of 14.7 points on 32-of-72 3-point shooting (44 percent), he currently ranks 28th in NCAA Division I and second in the league in 3-pointers per game (3.20) through games of Dec. 17 and is 45th/7th in percentage (44.4 percent).
* 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 5.8 points on 44 percent shooting from the field, and is also averaging 18.3 minutes and 3.1 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 Western Carolina Game: "Felix is really playing some great basketball for us, and Austin is a very special player. If we can get our two preseason All-Big Sky players (Jois and Bliznyuk) playing the way we know we can and get improved contributions from the bench, the answers are there. We just have to get them there. We're offensively good enough to win these games, but we have to go get better on defense. When it got away from us we had turnovers that led to baskets. We have great character, but (Western Carolina's late run) had more to do with the frustration of going on a long road trip and losing three games."
On Needing More Bench Contributions: "When we go to the bench we are young. They are going to become really good players, but our bench has had eight rebounds in three road games. We have to toughen them up and get them into the fight."
On Defense: "Our defensive identity is just slipping. We've tried to put in a new defense – we brought in a new defensive coordinator in Chris Victor and he's a really good coach. Offensively, we shot well against Western Carolina. We're playing good enough offense to win, and the only team that has really stopped us has been Pitt. But we aren't putting up enough resistance on defense against teams. The teaching will catch and we will coach and adjust. Improvement is on the way."
On Pitt Loss: "The way we played the first five minutes of the second half was with the kind of energy we have to play with the entire game. At halftime we came out and said, 'let's come out swinging and at least play hard.' And I was pleased to see that kind of energy – we just couldn't sustain it. That's the best team I've coached against in my five years here. They are a very, very good basketball team."
On Davidson Loss: "We represented our school very well. We showed that offensively we can hang with these teams, but we just couldn't put together the stops we needed. We didn't have enough mature depth to close that gap and that's why we left with a 10-point loss. It was a great learning experience. It's game that I would like to play in the future, because it's against the kind of team that can only make you better."
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
* Eastern battled for 35 minutes before the Catamounts surged ahead with 62 second-half points to defeat the Eagles 97-80 in a non-conference game at Western Carolina on Dec. 14 in Cullowhee, N.C. Eastern junior Felix Von Hofe and senior Austin McBroom combined for 56 points on 20-of-33 shooting overall and 12-of-21 from the 3-point stripe. Eastern equaled its second-best shooting performance of the season at 53 percent, and made 13-of-27 3-pointers for a season-best 48 percent. But the Catamounts were even hotter, hitting 73 percent of their shots in the second half on their way to a 56 percent shooting night. Eagle senior Venky Jois played in his 100th game as an Eagle, becoming the 16th in school history to hit the century mark. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Eastern also had its second-most turnovers of the season with 17, and a late 11-0 Western Carolina run took command of the game. The Eagles led by seven early in the second half, but the Southern Conference opponent took the lead for good at the 12:15 mark. Prior to that, the game featured eight ties and nine lead changes. Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom made 10-of-17 shots from the field, including 7-of-12 3-point attempts, to finish with 29 points. Junior Felix Von Hofe eclipsed his previous career 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.
* Pittsburgh used a 15-0 run to open a 19-point halftime advantage, and the Atlantic Coast Conference foe used runs of 11-0 and 13-0 in the second half to defeat Eastern 84-51 Dec. 11 at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. Eastern cut the lead to as few as 13 in the second half, but the game turned into free throw fest for the Panthers in helping them pull away. They sank 16-of-18 in the half on their way to a 22-of-27 performance in the game. At one point, Pitt went 5:56 without a field goal, but sank seven free throws in that stretch. Eastern, however, had its own seven-minute field goal-less drought and the Panthers used the 11-0 run to regain a 24-point advantage. Pitt led by as many as 37 with a late 13-0 run. Eastern was out-rebounded 43-22 and sank a season-low 37.3 percent from the field, including just 7-of-23 3-pointers. Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom led the Eagles with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field. He made a trio of 3-point baskets and had three assists. Junior Felix Von Hofe hit a pair of 3-pointers and 4-of-7 shots overall to finish with 10 points. Senior Venky Jois scored 10 points and had five rebounds, and sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk chipped in seven points and five rebounds. Trailing at halftime by 19, the Eagles made four-straight shots and used a 9-2 run early in the second half to cut the lead to 14. Von Hofe scored the last five points on a 3-pointer and a layup, and Jesse Hunt and Jois also hit baskets in that stretch. A basket by McBroom with 15:04 left kept the lead at 14, but Eastern had three turnovers and missed five shots and a pair of free throws over the next seven minutes before hitting its next field goal at the 8:04 mark.
* Eastern sank 49 percent of its shots from the field, but Davidson was even hotter and used a 14-2 run early in the second half and 66 percent shooting after intermission to defeat the Eagles 96-86 Dec. 9 at the John M. Belk Arena in Davidson, N.C. Davidson is the former home for the NBA's hottest star right now, Stephen Curry of the unbeaten Golden State Warriors. Jack Gibbs did his best imitation of Curry, hitting 12-of-17 shots with six 3-pointers to finish with 37 points to lead a trio of Wildcats with at least 20. Ahead by just three at 47-44 with 18:23 left, Eastern went 2:22 without scoring. As a result, the Wildcats scored 10-straight as part of a 14-4 run that gave Davidson a 61-46 lead at the 14:58 mark. The Wildcats led by as many as 20, at 82-62 with 8:14 to play. The Eagles had only 11 turnovers in the game, but three came early in the second half that helped ignite Davidson's game-deciding run. Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom scored a career-high 33 points, making 12-of-19 shots from the field. He was 5-of-9 from the 3-point stripe, sank all four of his free throws, and finished with three assists and a pair of steals. Senior Venky Jois had his first double-double of the season and the 27th in his career with 21 points and 14 rebounds. He sank 10-of-17 shots against the Wildcats and also had four assists and two blocks. Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk had 14 points, but made only 1-of-9 from the 3-point line. He was 4-of-7 inside the stripe. Junior Felix Von Hofe had a career-high eight rebounds, but Davidson's defense limited him to four 3-point attempts. He made two, and finished 2-of-7 overall from the field. There were eight lead changes early in the game, and Eastern led by as many as four with 13:58 to play in the first half.
* With eight of its 10 players who played either freshmen or sophomores, Eastern tuned up for a difficult upcoming road trip to the East Coast by romping past Great Falls 104-64 in a non-conference game Dec. 6 at Reese Court. Redshirt freshman Cody Benzel scored a career-high 23 points with seven 3-pointers to lead seven Eagles in double figures. Eastern used a 14-4 run at the end of the first half to lead by 14 at halftime, then led by as many as the final margin in out-scoring the Argos 56-30 in the second half. The Eagles made 17 3-pointers – one short of the school record – in the game against the NAIA foe from Great Falls, Montana. Eastern dominated in most statistical categories. Eastern made 17-of-40 3-point attempts, plus won the rebounding battle 43-28. The Eagles had 20 second-chance points and scored 15 points off 13 Great Falls turnovers, while committing a season-low six turnovers themselves. Sophomore Sir Washington made 6-of-8 shots from the field and finished with a career-high 15 points, a career-high nine rebounds and a pair of steals, and junior Felix Von Hofe also had 15 with a trio of 3-pointers. Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk added 13 points and seven rebounds and three other Eagles scored 10 points – redshirt freshman Bear Henderson, redshirt freshman Will Ferris and senior Kyle Reid. Ferris also had four assists, Reid had three and Henderson had a pair with six rebounds.
* Propelled by hot shooting during a trio of scoring runs, Eastern beat San Francisco from the West Coast Conference for the second-straight year, winning 81-77 in a non-conference game Dec. 1 at War Memorial Gymnasium. Eastern used runs of 10-0 and 13-2 in the first half to forge a 17-point lead on sizzling 13-of-16 shooting from the field. The Eagles hit five-straight shots to regain a 17-point bulge in the second half with a 14-4 run, then held on for EWU's fourth win of the season. A late 9-1 run by the Dons cut the lead to three with 50 seconds to play, but USF missed its last three shots. Eastern's Austin McBroom clinched the victory with a free throw with seven seconds to play, but six missed charity shots in the final 58 seconds made the Eagles sweat it out. Eastern made 14-of-30 3-pointers for 47 percent, just four makes from the school record of 18. Junior Felix Von Hofe made 8-of-11 field goals, including 4-of-7 from the 3-point stripe, to finish with 20 points. Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom scored 19, making 5-of-9 3-pointers. He also had five assists. Senior Venky Jois finished with 11 points and a pair of blocked shots to give him 201 for his career. The preseason Big Sky Conference MVP made 5-of-6 shots from the field after entering the game ranked fifth in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage at 71.2 percent. Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk was the fourth Eagle in double figures with 13, and also had four assists. After leading by as many as 17 in the first half, the Dons made their first six shots of the second half and cut EWU's lead to 49-42. But the Eagles responded with a 14-4 run, making five-straight shots of their own to regain a 63-46 lead with 13:37 left. Von Hofe (6), Jois (4) and McBroom (4) accounted for all of EWU's points in the run, with Von Hofe hitting a pair of 3-pointers and McBroom sinking one. The Eagles forced 17 San Francisco turnovers, and turned them into 25 points. In the first half alone, 12 USF turnovers were turned into 20 Eastern points. The Eagles finished with just nine turnovers, but were out-rebounded 36-22. Eastern opened the first half by making 13 of its first 16 shots, and began the second half 8-of-10. Collectively, those starts equaled a 21-of-26 performance (81 percent), compared to 8-of-31 for the rest of the game (26 percent).