Following a Familiar Pattern for EWU, Southern Utah Pulls Away in Second Half for 69-55 Win

Eagles led at halftime for sixth time in the last eight games, but head into three-game homestand on a four-game losing skid

It was another hard-fought road loss – the third-straight in fact.

The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team carved out yet another halftime lead, but saw that fizzle in the second half as Southern Utah registered a 69-55 victory over the Eagles in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Jan. 26) at the Centrum in Cedar City, Utah.

Senior Collin Chiverton led the Eagles against Southern Utah with 14 points and three steals, hitting three 3-pointers and 4-of-13 shots overall. True freshman Venky Jois added 11 points, seven rebounds, a pair of blocked shots, two assists and a steal.

But after leading 33-31 at halftime, the Thunderbirds out-scored Eastern 10-2 to begin the second half and took the lead for good. Although the Eagles came up empty as it concluded a three-game road stretch, the Eagles led at halftime two of them – plus its last home game in a loss to Sacramento State on Jan. 12.

“It looked exactly the same as our last three games,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “Of course the other team is going to up their intensity and we need to do that as well. We have to stick with the gameplan for the whole 40 minutes – especially the first five minutes of the second half. That’s when we have to go to our go-to plays even more.”

The good news for EWU is that it returns to Reese Court for a trio of games in hopes of improving upon its 2-7 league mark and 4-14 overall record. The Eagles host Portland State on Monday (Jan. 28), then host Montana State on Jan. 31 and Montana on Feb. 2. The game versus the Vikings will end the first half of the Big Sky season for the Eagles.

Southern Utah, which snapped a five-game losing streak with a 76-63 home win over PSU on Thursday (Jan. 24), is now 7-12 overall and 5-5 in the league. The Eagle-Thunderbird match-up was the first ever Big Sky Conference meeting between the two schools, and first meeting overall since 1994. Southern Utah leads the all-time series 4-1.

The Eagles have enjoyed halftime leads in nine games this season, but have lost six of them. Eastern has held leads at intermission in in five of the last six games and six of the last eight.

Starting senior guard Jeffrey Forbes played in just the final seconds of the game because of a cut that required stitches between the pinkie finger and ring finger of his shooting hand. He suffered the injury late in the game a week ago versus Northern Colorado, and one game earlier had missed the first game of his career because of a knee injury suffered in an automobile accident involving one of the team’s mini-vans. Forbes has now played 110 games in his career – just nine behind the school record of 119 set by Marc Axton from 2002-05.

 “We have to push ourselves through this – it’s a 40-minute game,” said Hayford of the myriad of obstacles his team has had to overcome this season. “We have to believe in ourselves. I love our players and they have good character. It hurts not having Jeff in there.”

Eastern fell behind 11-2, but a pair of 3-pointers by Chiverton fueled a 12-2 run to give the Eagles a 14-13 advantage. Later, Kelly scored five points in an 8-0 EWU spurt and the Eagles took their biggest lead of the game at 26-18.

The game was tied five times and the lead changed hands three times in the first half, which EWU led 33-31.

But Southern Utah quickly erased that with its game-changing 10-2 run to start the second half, as EWU managed just one field goal in the first 4:33. The closest EWU came after that was four, but a 12-3 run opened a 14-point lead with 5:43 left for the Thunderbirds. Southern Utah led by as many as 16 in the final seconds.

Senior point guard Kevin Winford, who missed the last two games because of a concussion suffered in the accident, chipped in seven points, as did sophomore Parker Kelly. Senior Jordan Hickert came off the bench to finish with seven points and seven rebounds.

The Eagles made only 8-of-27 shots for 30 percent in the second half, including just 3-of-13 from the 3-point stripe. The Thunderbirds made 15-of-28 shots in the second half for 54 percent.

Eastern finished at 33 percent shooting in the game, including 25 percent from 3-point range (6-of-24). Eastern was out-rebounded 45-38, but each team had 14 offensive rebounds.

Jois, the Big Sky leader in rebounding and blocked shots and 11th in the league in scoring, had six points early in the second half but was scoreless in the last 14 1/2 minutes.

“Venky is a really good player, and teams are keying on him – that’s going to take some toughness,” said Hayford. “We were trying to run some offense through him and Kevin in the second half. They each had three turnovers in the second half which hurt, but you have to go there.”

Against Portland State on Monday, Eastern will be trying to snap a four-game losing streak and record its first win since putting together an impressive performance on Jan. 10 in a 60-53 home win over Northern Arizona. The Eagles are now 3-4 at home this season, 0-10 on opponent home courts and 1-1 on neutral sites.

The Vikings are 5-11 overall and 3-6 in Big Sky Conference play. The Vikings have lost their last three games and are 0-9 on the road.

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