Seniors Cliff Colimon and Laron Griffin combine for 46 points, as Eastern will host a first-round game of the Big Sky Conference Tournament at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time on March 3
Senior night at Reese Court turned out to be only the beginning.
Seniors Cliff Colimon and Laron Griffin had career nights to lead Eastern Washington University to a 77-64 victory over Idaho State in the final Big Sky Conference regular season men's basketball game of the year for both teams Tuesday (Feb. 28) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The victory clinched the No. 4 seed in the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the Eagles, who finished the regular season 8-8 in the Big Sky and 14-16 overall. The victory means the Eagles will host the Bengals this Saturday (March 3) at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in a quarterfinal game of the tournament.
"It was a complete game start to finish," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford.
On a night when four Eagle seniors were honored in pre-game ceremonies, Colimon had 28 points to eclipse his previous career high by one, having scored 27 in last year's Big Sky Conference Tournament against Weber State. He also added four assists – all in the second half when he scored 20 of his points. EWU out-scored ISU 44-35 after intermission, including a 30-15 run in the first 10:38 of the second half.
Griffin finished with 18 points, just one behind his career high set on Nov. 18, 2010, versus Northwest University, but it was a career high versus a NCAA Division I opponent. Griffin also had 12 rebounds for his fifth career double-double, and added four steals and two blocked shots.
"What you want on a senior night is for your seniors to step up," said Hayford. "I thought Laron played an inspired game, particularly on the defensive boards. Cliff Colimon led us offensively and had a great combination of beating people off the pass, the dribble and the shot. It was a complete game by our team and a complete game by these seniors. Generally, in basketball the team that is more aggressive is the team that wins, and I like that we were the more aggressive team."
Four Eastern seniors were honored in pre-game ceremonies on Tuesday. A year after the Eagles were senior-less, this year the Eagles will bid farewell to point guard Colimon and Griffin, as well as forwards Cliff Ederaine and Tremayne Johnson. Those four players have combined for 174 career starts and 266 total games played heading into Saturday's postseason game.
Ederaine added eight points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in his final regular season appearance at Reese Court. Johnson had a blocked shot in four minutes of action.
Griffin and Colimon each scored eight points to lead Eastern to a 33-29 lead at intermission. The Eagles led by as many as six in the first half, with ISU owning a three-point lead in a half that featured five ties and two lead changes.
"Offensively shots weren't falling in the first half, but our defense and our rebounding kept us in it," said Hayford, whose team forced 17 turnovers and had 11 itself. "This team has done a really good job of taking care of the ball. And then in the second half it was a lot like the game we had at Idaho State, because we started going inside and they didn't have an answer."
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Jeffrey Forbes and Colimon to open the second half gave EWU its biggest lead of the night at 39-29. The lead expanded to 15 at 50-35 with 12:45 to play on a pair of free throws by Colimon.
After ISU cut the lead to eight, the Eagles used an 11-0 run to open what would be its biggest advantage of the night at 19 points. Griffin and Ederaine scored four points each in the outburst, and Colimon had a pair of assists and capped the run with a three-point play.
Griffin had 10 of his points, six of his rebounds, three of his steals and both of his blocked shots in the second half.
"Laron went inside and he made baskets for us," said Hayford. "I found myself enjoying Laron's play, but he was running out of gas towards the end. There was that period of the game where Laron was a huge force. And what a great guy. I'm so happy for him. He deserves those accolades tonight."
Saturday's game will be the third meeting between the Eagles and Bengals in a 10-day span. Idaho State, which fell to EWU 85-78 in Pocatello on Feb. 23, has now lost four-straight games and will limp into the tournament with a 7-9 league record and 9-20 overall mark.
The radio broadcast of this Saturday's game, featuring play-by-play announcer Dennis Patchin, may be heard on 700-AM ESPN, via the web at 700espn.com and via iPhone application (search for "700 ESPN" and download the free app).
Tickets for Saturday's game are priced at $15 (lower section/mezzanine) and $10 (upper section) for adults, with special prices available for senior citizens ($10 in lower section/mezzanine), EWU students ($5 in EWU student section) and for all other students/children ($5 in upper section for children high school age and under). Tickets may be obtained via www.goeags.com or by calling 1-800-325-7328.
The Bengals finished tied for fifth with Montana State (7-9, 12-16), but they won the tiebreaker because of a 64-62 home victory over Weber State on Jan. 28. That came during ISU's season-best four-game winning streak, which has been followed by just one victory (79-73 over Northern Arizona on Feb. 11) in its last seven games.
If the Eagles win Saturday's game, they will play in the semifinals on March 6 against either Montana (15-1, 23-6) or Weber State (14-2, 23-5) in Missoula, Mont. The Grizzlies wrapped-up the regular season league title Tuesday night with a 66-51 over the Wildcats in Missoula, Mont. Portland State (10-6, 16-13) finished third and will host the Bobcats in Saturday's other quarterfinal game. The championship game in the tournament is March 7 at 6 p.m. Pacific time and will be televised on ESPN2.
The Eagles will be making their 12th appearance in the Big Sky Conference Tournament, and second-straight after a string of four-straight misses. The Eagles will be hosting their first postseason playoff game in six years, the first since March 4, 2006 when the Eagles knocked off Portland State in Cheney by an 81-75 score. 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.
In the earlier meeting versus ISU, a trio of players combined to make 9-of-10 free throws in the final 41 seconds, helping Eastern clinch a postseason playoff berth with an 85-78 victory over the Bengals at Reed Gym in Pocatello, Idaho. True freshman Parker Kelly came off the bench to equal his career high with 17 points and lead a barrage of 3-pointers by the Eagles. Eastern made 9-of-21 in the first half and sank 10-of-26 in the game, as Kelly made five of his first six and finished 5-of-7. Senior point guard Cliff Colimon added three baskets beyond the 3-point arc and finished with a game-high 21 points, with senior forward Laron Griffin chipping in 15 points.