Eagles finish with their best defensive performance of the season and EWU heads into its extended holiday break with 1-1 Big Sky mark
A late 8-0 run keyed by the floor play of Justin Crosgile – and a huge blocked shot by Thomas Reuter with nine seconds left -- lifted Eastern Washington University to a 57-54 victory over Idaho State Saturday (Dec. 22) at Reese Court in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game.
Crosgile offset a 2-of-12 shooting night with seven assists, four steals and seven rebounds to go along with eight points. His 3-point play with 3:31 to play gave Eastern a lead it would not relinquish as the Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak.
The Eagles head into the holidays with a 3-9 record overall and 1-1 Big Sky record, having not won since Nov. 30 against Cal State Fullerton. The Bengals are now 1-9 overall and 0-2 in the league and have lost four in a row.
“To be on this side of a close win will go a long way for our guys -- it was a much-needed win,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “I am really happy our guys can take this win into the break. We don’t play again for twelve days. To think of the alternative, that would have been really tough.”
Freshman forward Venky Jois had his sixth double-double of the season – all coming in the last nine games – with 13 points and 12 rebounds. He also had three blocked shots, as well as 6-foot-10 sophomore Martin Seiferth, who finished with nine points and four rebounds.
Senior Jeffrey Forbes hit a trio of 3-pointers – giving him 155 in his career – to finish with nine points. Freshman point guard Daniel Hill chipped in eight points in just his third game as an Eagle.
Eastern led by as many as 13 in the first half, but found itself trailing by five at the 6:25 mark of the second half. Crosgile assisted on a 3-pointer by Forbes to ignite the 8-0 run, then had three steals in the next minute, including one that led to his 3-point play with 3:31 left and gave EWU 49-46 advantage it would not relinquish.
In the final minute, with EWU nursing a one-point lead, ISU had a steal and was headed for a fast-break layin. But Reuter blocked the layin attempt, retrieved the ball, was fouled and then made a pair of free throws with seven seconds left that provided the final margin.
“They made a great steal when we were trying to call timeout -- give them credit, they made (what could have been) a winning play,” explained Hayford. “Fortunately, Thomas made a big block -- I don’t know if he will make a bigger block in his career. I hope so, but that’s going to be a big one to try to get better on. That’s just a great winning play, and he came down and sank the two winning free throws.”
Eastern led most of the first half, and used runs of 7-0 and 10-0 to open a 29-16 lead on a layup by Hill with 3:11 left. Idaho State, however, scored the last six points of the half and trailed at intermission 29-22.
The Eagles made 46 percent of their shots in the first half, compared to 35 percent for ISU. Jois scored 11 points and had six rebounds in the first half, with Hill providing a spark off the bench to hit a pair of 3-pointers and score eight points total.
The 54 points the Eagles allowed was the fewest they surrendered by 16 – the previous best for the Eagles came in a 75-70 win over South Carolina-Upstate on Nov. 21. Eastern held the Bengals to 37.9 percent shooting from the field, which was Eastern’s best defensive effort of the season. The previous best was a 38.1 percent effort versus Cal State Fullerton.
“They are very patient on offense,” said Hayford. “And they play a zone that makes you need rotations to get the ball inside, so that’s going to take time on the clock. They are a very well-coached team. When they got the separation on us, it was us missing some good looks. Fortunately we had some good plays where defense led to offense and that reversed it, and got the lead back in our hands.”
“I figured it would be a one or two possession game in the fifties and I was right,” he added.
Eastern has won the last 11 meetings versus ISU in Cheney, dating back to a 65-63 Bengal win at EWU on March 1, 2003. Overall, the Eagles have won seven consecutive games in the series, dating back to the last win for ISU on Jan. 22, 2010 (79-71 in Pocatello). Eastern has won 25 of the past 34 meetings against the Bengals, including a sweeps the last two years.
Eastern takes an extended break for the holidays, and won’t play again until visiting Big Sky Conference favorite Montana on Jan. 3 in Missoula, Mont. Two days later on Jan. 5 the Eagles play at Montana State. Eastern doesn’t play at Reese Court again until Northern Arizona visits on Jan. 10.
“We have guys from all over the world, so they don’t get to go home,” added Hayford. “The neat part is we will have an international Christmas with these guys. We will go to the Salvation Army on Christmas Eve, and serve some people. That will bring us a lot of joy to have that opportunity.”