Eagle point guard has averaged 21 points in last seven games, and has helped EWU overcome the loss of Glen Dean
Big is relative.
On a team with two Cliffs, Eastern Washington University point guard Cliff Colimon wants it known that he doesn’t like the “Little Cliff” moniker he was given a year ago. The “Big Cliff” tag goes to teammate Cliff Ederaine, seven inches taller than Colimon.
“It’s not really a nickname I like too much, but a lot of people call me that,” laughed Colimon. “I tell some people not to, but most of the time I let it slide because Big Cliff is my man and he’s my roomie. He was one of the first people I met when I got here. Both of us were new coming from junior colleges.”
First-year head coach Jim Hayford, knowing Colimon was a little sensitive to “Little Cliff,” changed his nickname to “Tough Cliff” earlier this season after an Eagle victory when he had 23 points, 11 assists and no turnovers against Linfield.
“Coach Hayford changed my nickname,” he explained. “I’m older than Big Cliff too, so I don’t like being called little compared to him. I’m the one that should be called “Big Cliff.”
Lately, the play of the 6-foot Colimon has indeed been big.
The senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., has averaged 21.1 points per game in Eastern’s last seven outings, helping lead Eastern to a fourth-place finish in the Big Sky Conference with an 8-8 record in the Big Sky and 14-16 mark overall. The Eagles host Idaho State on Saturday (March 3) at 2:05 p.m. in a quarterfinal game in the Big Sky Conference Championships.
Colimon has scored at least 20 points on 11 occasions this season, and on Thursday (March 1) became the first Eastern player to earn first team All-Big Sky Conference honors in five years. He is coming off a career-high 28-point performance in EWU’s regular-season finale against ISU, a performance that earned him Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career.
“It’s a big game and there is more pressure than last Saturday on Senior Night,” Colimon said. “It’s a must win – we have to win. It’s been emphasized in practice that this is a really big game. As seniors, we don’t want it to be our last game.
“I thought we could do even better,” he said of EWU’s season, a year after the Eagles finished 7-9 in the league and 10-20 overall. “With the players we had, we felt like we could be one of the best teams in the conference. We just didn’t come through with more wins. Deep down inside, we think we can beat the really good teams in this conference. We just have to finish well in more games.”
He is coming on strong at the end of the season much like he did last year when he had his previous career high with 27 points in the Big Sky Conference Tournament against Weber State. In his final three games of his junior season, Colimon led EWU to a pair of victories and averaged 19.0 points per game.
Entering this season, he was expected to be the backup again to Glen Dean, who earned second team All-Big Sky honors last year as a sophomore. But after initially telling Hayford he would stay, Dean transferred to Utah where he redshirted this season.
“A lot of people wondered how we were going to replace Glen Dean, who had been a second team all-conference player,” said Hayford. “Obviously, Cliff filled his shoes more than capably.”
“It gave me opportunities to show what I could really do,” said Colimon. “Glen is a good player and he’s a really good friend of mine. I wish him the best of luck at Utah – I talk to him all the time.
“I’ve gotten a lot more minutes, because I would have had to share the minutes at point guard with Glen and Kevin Winford. It’s been an opportunity.”
Colimon averaged 17.9 points and 4.8 assists in 16 league games, and 15.9 points and 5.0 assists in 30 games overall. Eastern hasn’t had a first team selection in the Big Sky in five seasons, with Rodney Stuckey and Paul Butorac the last Eagles to be named to that exclusive club in the 2006-07 season.
“It’s a really big accomplishment,” the former standout at Eastern Utah Junior College said. “The coaches have really worked hard with me this year. With Glen leaving, we had to work hard all year to get better.”
In Eastern’s victories this season, Colimon is averaging 17.8 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting from the field (33-of-83 from the 3-point arc for 39.8 percent). In EWU’s losses, he is averaging 14.3 points on 34.7 percent shooting from the field (30-of-89 3-point shooting for 33.7 percent).
“Coach has really emphasized that I need to step up and play well for us to win,” Colimon explained of the progress he’s made.
“I’ve been more focused on what I have to do, but coach has helped me the whole year trying to get that out of me,” he added of the leadership role thrust upon him. “I think I’ve done a decent job of leading.”
For the season, Colimon is second in the Big Sky Conference in assists (5.0 per game), fourth in scoring (15.9), fifth in steals (1.6), seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (+1.5), sixth in 3-pointers made per game (2.1), fifth in free throw percentage (.802) and third in minutes played (34.9). In statistics from league games only, he ranks third in scoring (17.9), second in assists (4.8), and second in minutes played (36.6).
His 63 3-pointers made this season rank eighth in school history and his 172 attempts are eighth. Despite playing just two seasons for EWU, he ranks sixth in school history for career 3-pointers with 111, and is ninth in attempts with 300.
A win Saturday versus Idaho State would give EWU its fourth win in its last six games, and advance Eastern to the semifinals of the Big Sky Championship versus either Weber State or host Montana.
Hayford admits that Colimon’s progress – and that of his team – has been a work in progress all season. Getting comfortable with a new regime is never easy.
“Hopefully the whole team is (getting more comfortable),” Hayford added. “It’s just a question of getting comfortable in new surroundings for players, coaches and everyone. You can see we are still trying to feel comfortable in different parts of games.”