Eagles will head into Big Sky Conference play with 6-6 record after falling to 10-1 Gaels
If the Gaels were tired from a fifth game in a span of just eight days, they didn’t show it in the opening minutes.
Playing its third game in four nights, Saint Mary’s used a 16-2 run to take command early, and went on to a 77-61 non-conference men’s basketball victory over Eastern Washington University Tuesday (Dec. 20) at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif.
Continuing its own killer stretch in which it plays five of six games on the road, the Eagles fell to 6-6 on the season heading into league play. The Eagles open Big Sky Conference play on the road at Montana State (Dec. 28) and Montana (Dec. 30).
“Our players played with great resolve and poise,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “Weber State is kind of the measuring stick in the Big Sky Conference right now, and they came in here and lost by 17 and we lost by 16. Now we move into Big Sky Conference play and we will use this loss to get better.”
The Gaels out-scored Eastern at the free throw line 32-13, and EWU managed only six 3-pointers in 15 attempts. Eastern entered the game ranked fifth in NCAA Division I with an average of 9.8 made per game on an average of 27.0 attempts per game.
After trailing by double-digits much of the second half, a pair of technical fouls on the Gaels and some timely baskets, helped EWU pull within nine with 3:55 left. But the Gales clinched the win by making 10-of-14 free throws in the final 1:50.
“At the end of the night, the story is we have to foul less,” said Hayford. “We had more baskets, we shot a good percentage, we defended at a good percentage and we limited our turnovers in the second half. But they beat us by 19 points at the foul line.”
Junior college transfer Collin Chiverton, who redshirted at Saint Mary’s in the 2008-09 season, led the Eagles with 18 points. He made 6-of-14 shots from the field, including 3-of-5 from the 3-point arc.
“They were hanging on Chiverton and not letting him get shots,” Hayford said of EWU’s leading scorer, with an average of 18.0 points per game. “So for him to get 14 shots and some clean looks, and still shoot 60 percent from three, is saying a lot.”
Junior Jeffrey Forbes chipped in 10 points, and senior Cliff Ederaine had 10 points and eight rebounds. Senior Laron Griffin contributed six points and 12 boards.
Saint Mary’s improved to 10-1 overall and extended its winning streak to eight games, including all games it played in its eight-day homestand. Eastern is now 2-4 all-time versus Saint Mary’s.
Entering the game, the Gaels were led by the 1-2 punch of forward Rob Jones (15.1 points, 11.0 rebounds per game) and guard Matthew Dellavedova (13.4 points, 6.0 assists). They continued their stellar play, as Jones finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds – his eighth double-double of the year -- and Dellavedova finished with a game-high 25 points and six assists. Dellavedova, a member of the Australian Olympic Team, made 6-of-10 shots from the field, 4-of-7 from 3-point range and 9-of-12 free throws.
“Saint Mary’s has two outstanding players,” Hayford said. “Jones was very hard to guard in the first half and then we clamped down on him, then Dellavedova really stepped up in the second half. They are really, really good players.”
The wins for the Gaels included a convincing 87-70 home win over Big Sky Conference preseason favorite Weber State, which currently has the best record in the league at 6-3. The lone loss for Saint Mary’s was a 70-58 loss at Denver on Nov. 23.
Eastern had 15 turnovers in the game compared to just nine for the Gaels. It was the first time this season that Eastern has had more turnovers than its opponents. Eastern entered the game with a Big Sky-leading turnover margin of plus 4.9 per game, which ranks 13th in NCAA Division I (through games of Dec. 18).
The Eagles led the game early 6-4, but that’s when Saint Mary’s went on its decisive 16-2 run. That gave the Gaels a 20-8 lead that they would expand moments later to 27-14 with a 7-3 run. Eastern cut the score to 34-25 late in the half on a pair of baskets by Ederaine, but Saint Mary’s led 40-25 at intermission.
Eastern’s undoing in the first half were 10 turnovers and 10 offensive rebounds allowed.
“We came out with the zone and our first-shot defense was 24 or 25 percent,” said Hayford. “Unfortunately, they had 10 offensive rebounds, so they had more offensive rebounds than we had defensive boards. You combine that with some poor execution on our part with 10 turnovers, and that was 20 extra possessions that we gave the other team. That’s why we were down by 15 at half, and we have no where else to look than us right there.”
The Gaels led by no more than 18 and no less than 12 until the final six minutes when Eastern made a final move. Baskets by Cliff Colimon cut the score to 62-53 at the 3:55 mark and 68-59 with 1:59 to play, but EWU managed only two free throws the rest of the way.