After trailing by 18 with 7:35 left, defensive strategy by Jim Hayford brings Eastern back and helps EWU gain ground in Big Sky Conference standings
Down by 18 with 7:35 left to play, Eastern Washington University head coach Jim Hayford still had a couple of tricks up his sleeve. And one of them was redshirt freshman Tyler Harvey.
The freshman redshirt came off the bench to score 14 points in the last 8:31 of the game and rallied the Eagles to an improbable 77-74 overtime victory over Northern Arizona Saturday (Feb. 9) in Flagstaff, Ariz. As a result, Eastern was able to gain ground on NAU in its chase to the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament and complete a season sweep over the Lumberjacks.
“I’m really proud of our team,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, after his strategy of fouling to lengthen the game resulted in holding NAU without a field goal for over nine minutes. “What a great day for all of our players. You couldn’t write it up to be any more dramatic.”
Sophomore Parker Kelly led the Eagles with a career-high 19 points, and senior Kevin Winford scored 12 with five assists and a career-high four steals. Senior Jeffrey Forbes chipped in 10 points, including a pair of clutch free throws with nine seconds left that provided the final margin, as well as four assists and a career-high eight rebounds,
But the real story was Harvey, who had entered the game having averaged just 4.8 minutes in the 13 games he has played thus far as an Eagle. He had only scored 17 points the entire season, with a high of six in the team’s opener at Washington State. He made 5-of-6 shots overall and 4-of-5 from the 3-point line against the Lumberjacks; before that he had made only 6-of-17 overall and 3-of-9 treys for the season.
Eastern trailed by 13 when Harvey entered the game for the second time with 3:42 left. He never came out after that as he provided the short-handed Eagles a huge boost. True freshman Venky Jois missed his third-straight game for the EWU with a sprained ankle.
“We said, ‘alright Tyler, let’s go,’” said Hayford of the game-changing substitution. “We wanted to start chipping away and cut it to 10, then get it cut down more. And it started happening.
“What inspiration from Tyler,” Hayford continued. “He has amazing character and is an outstanding young man. So it’s great for him to have this moment -- the team had him on their shoulders in the locker room passing him around, yelling and cheering. That substitution brought some inspiration, and then the rest of our team was playing at the top of their level.”
The win was Eastern’s first of the season in 12 tries on opponent home courts. It snapped a 13-game losing skid overall on the road as Eastern’s last win on an opponent’s home court was at Idaho State on Feb. 23, 2012, by an 85-78 score.
The Eagles improved to 5-9 in the league and 7-17 overall, while the Lumberjacks fell to 6-8 in the league and 9-15 overall. Eastern plays four if its next five games at home, including a trio of home league games.
“It’s just a fantastic win for us,” said Hayford. “When you look at where it puts us in the race to achieve our goal of making the Big Sky Tournament, it’s even more dramatic. So I’m really, really happy for our players.”
After making just two of their first 17 shots in the second half – including only 1-of-13 3-point shots – the Eagles fell behind by 18 with 7:35 to play. But the Eagles made 10 of their last 17 shots (59 percent), including nine of their last 15 from the 3-point stripe (60 percent). Beside the four treys made by Harvey, Kelly had three and Winford and Jordan Hickert each had one in the final 11:04 of the game.
Kelly’s 3-pointer with 15 seconds left in regulation and a subsequent defensive stop helped send the game into overtime tied at 66. Harvey hit a pair of treys in overtime, and Kelly had one, as EWU led by as many as five in the extra period.
“When Parker missed a couple of threes in the second half, he came out of the game and said, ‘coach, I will make those,’” said Hayford of the graduate of Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep High School, whose previous career high was 17 points. “He was really certain of that, and he did.”
In all, Eastern out-scored NAU 26-8 in the last 6:34 in regulation and 11-8 in overtime. After taking its 58-40 lead, NAU scored its next 10 points at the free throw line, including a stretch of 9:38 without a field goal. Hayford used a trapping defense in the final four minutes of the second half to complete the comeback and help force the game into overtime.
“We decided to make it a long four minutes,” he explained. “We were going to trap like crazy, and if they broke the trap we were going to foul the next player and make it a longer game. We did that and executed it.”
“We got real feisty,” he added. “We put five guards on the court and picked them up full court defensively. The pressure switched on them and away from us. We made a great stop to get it to the overtime, then Tyler made two threes that let us get hold of the lead for good.”
Earlier this season, Eastern defeated NAU 82-59 in probably Eastern’s most impressive win of the season. Eastern made a season-best 50 percent of its shots in that game, but just 37 percent in the rematch.
Northern Arizona finished the game at 48 percent from the field, but was guilty of 19 turnovers, including 12 of them after intermission. Eastern scored a season-high 21 points off turnovers, but the main difference in the game was EWU’s 14-of-43 shooting from the 3-point line.
The loss spoiled a triple-double by Lumberjack guard Stallon Saldivar, who finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals.
“Give them credit. Saldivar had a heckuva game,” praised Hayford. “He was beating us off the dribble and our dribble containment, and he had just a fantastic game. If somebody could lose a game and be Big Sky Conference Player of the Week, he deserves it.”
Eastern now returns for three of its next four league games at home, plus a game on Feb. 23 versus Sam Houston State in the ESPN BracketBusters. The home stretch starts on Saturday, Feb. 16 when Eastern hosts Southern Utah at 2:05 p.m. at Reese Court in a game televised regionally on SWX.