Eagles fall to Vikings 69-64, but Eastern still has a chance to host Big Sky Tournament game with home win Tuesday versus Idaho State
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the most important game the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team will play in the next few days.
A 14-2 run in the second half and some spotty shooting by the Eagles helped Portland State beat EWU 69-64 Saturday (Feb. 25) at the Stott Center in Portland, Ore. Eastern rallied several times to make it a one-possession game, but a late-game possession with a chance to tie came up empty.
“I’m very proud with how hard we battled,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “We came back to make it a close game and have a chance to force overtime. With as poorly as we shot, it’s just staggering that we were still in the game at the end. It shows a lot of heart from our players, and I want to congratulate them on that.”
Although the victory allowed the Vikings to wrap-up third place and a first-round home game with the victory, EWU all but needed a win this Tuesday (Feb. 28) at home versus Idaho State anyway to clinch a home game. That game will begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court.
And regardless of Tuesday’s outcome and because of tiebreaker scenarios, the Eagles will face Idaho State in the tournament’s first round on March 3. Win Tuesday and the Eagles are the No. 4 seed and host the Bengals; lose Tuesday and EWU is fifth-seeded and heads for Pocatello.
“The bottom line was that a home game was going to be determined Tuesday anyway,” said Eastern’s first-year head coach. “We missed an opportunity for third, but there is another opportunity waiting there for us. To host a home playoff game for the first time in six years since Rodney Stuckey played is something for our young program to really build on. We need to play well on our home court.
Senior point guard Cliff Colimon led the Eagles with 19 points versus PSU, joining fellow seniors Laron Griffin (11), Tremayne Johnson (11) and Cliff Ederaine (10) in double figures. Griffin also had nine rebounds and a pair of steals before fouling out after playing just 25 minutes.
Eastern had 18 offensive rebounds and seven less turnovers than PSU, but the Eagles couldn’t overcome its 32 percent shooting from the field. The Eagles made only 5-of-22 (23 percent) shots from the 3-point arc, and were just 15-of-26 (58 percent) from the free throw line.
“We are a better 3-point shooting team than that, but we missed a lot of shots inside the paint too,” said Hayford. “We had 18 offensive rebounds, but there were a lot of offensive rebounds to be had.”
The Eagles led in the second half 39-37, but the 14-2 PSU run gave the Vikings a 51-41 with 10:40 left in the game. After putting together several rallies, Eastern trailed by three with inside of 20 seconds left. But sharp-shooting Parker Kelly passed up a potential tying 3-point shot and instead passed to Johnson, whose miss inside the paint sealed the victory for the Vikings.
Just two days earlier, his Eagles clinched a spot in the Big Sky Conference Tournament with a thrilling 85-78 win over Idaho State in Pocatello.
“Our team played hard enough and we gave ourselves an opportunity to win on a terrible shooting night,” said Hayford of the PSU loss. “That happens the second night on the road a lot in the Big Sky. You never want to offer up an excuse for a loss, but it does happen. We used up a lot of what was in our tank in Pocatello, and put a lot of emotion into that win.”
Tuesday in the EWU-ISU rematch, the Eagles will be playing for a chance to host its first postseason playoff game since 2006 when the Eagles knocked off PSU in Cheney by an 81-75 score on March 4, 2006. Rodney Stuckey scored 38 points in that game – the second-most in the career of the current Detroit Piston and the sixth-best performance in school history.
Following Saturday’s Big Sky games, Eastern currently is 13-16 overall and tied for fourth in the league standings with ISU at 7-8 and behind Montana and Weber State (both 14-1) and PSU (9-6). Montana State (6-9) wrapped up the No. 6 seed, while Northern Colorado (5-10), Sacramento State (5-11) and Northern Arizona (1-14) have been eliminated.
The Big Sky Conference Tournament is at campus sites on March 3 (No. 3 seed and No. 4 seed host games). The site of the semifinal and championship games be decided on Tuesday (Feb. 28) when Weber State plays at Montana for the regular season title and host status for the league’s “Final Four.”