Eagles Get Confidence Boost With 76-65 Win

Venky Jois has ninth double-double to lead four players in double figures, as Eastern leads from start to finish against Portland State

A confidence boost indeed.

True freshman Venky Jois had his ninth double-double of the season with 20 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots and five assists, and the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team opened a three-game homestand by defeating Portland State 76-65 Monday (Jan. 28) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles led from start to finish as four Eagles scored in double figures. Sophomore Parker Kelly equaled his career high with 17 points, sophomore Martin Seiferth had 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks, and senior Kevin Winford added 12 points and three assists. A second true freshman, Thomas Reuter, contributed eight points, eight rebounds and three assists.

“Our team is developing confidence, and there is nothing that develops confidence more than a win,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “It was a much-needed win for our team. We are very thankful for that.”

Eastern improved to 5-15 on the season and 3-7 in the league to move up three spots into a four-way tie for eighth place. The Eagles are now 4-4 at home this season, 0-10 on opponent home courts and 1-1 on neutral sites. The Vikings, meanwhile, lost for the fourth-straight time and are now 5-12 overall and 3-7 in Big Sky Conference play, and are 0-10 on the road this year.

The game versus the Vikings ended the first half of the Big Sky season for EWU, which had lost at Southern Utah just two days earlier. The Eagles host Montana State on Thursday (Jan. 31) and Montana (Feb. 2) in games against teams ranking third (6-4) and first (10-0), respectively, in the league standings.

“I am really proud of our team,” said Hayford. “I believe we can build on this. It showed a lot of character because we were a tired team coming back from Utah.”

Eastern snapped a four-game losing streak and recorded its first win since putting together an impressive performance on Jan. 10 in a 60-53 home win over Northern Arizona. In four games since – all losses -- the Eagles had out-scored opponents 125-114 in the first half, but were out-scored 152-86 in the second half (average differential of 16 points, 38-22).

Against Portland State, Eastern led 33-25 at halftime – the seventh time in EWU’s last nine games the Eagles have led at intermission. In the second half, Eastern outscored PSU 43-40.

“We have been in all of our games since the Idaho State game (on Dec. 22),” said Hayford. “In the last nine games in conference, we have been there at half. At the end of the day our guys showed great determination, and they executed.”

Jois went into the game ranked 21st in NCAA Division I in double-doubles, 33rd in rebounding and 37th in blocked shots, while leading the league in all three categories. He had 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists in the second half alone as he came two points and a rebound away from his season highs.

“Venky has been our most consistent player,” said Hayford. “He is a great leader even though he is only a freshman. The biggest compliment (I can give him) is that I expect him to play that way.”

Led by Jois, Eastern made 57 percent of its shots in the second half and had a 19-12 rebounding advantage. Eastern also had only eight turnovers in the game, including just five versus PSU’s full-court pressure in the second half.

“We shot 57 percent in the second half and we kept our turnovers low,” Hayford said. “They had an advantage on us on the boards in the first half, but we turned that around and cleaned up the boards in the second half. We did not give them second chance points, and we played a complete half.”

The game was tied at 2-2, but the Eagles then took the lead for the rest of the first half. Eastern used an 11-2 run to take a 28-17 advantage with 6:31 left in the half. Four Eagles scored in the run, including 3-pointers by Kelly, Jordan Hickert and Collin Chiverton, as well as a dunk by Seiferth on a feed from Daniel Hill.

The Eagles led at intermission 33-25, with Kelly scoring nine of EWU’s points. Eastern made just 38 percent of its shots, but held the Vikings to 36 percent. Eastern made 6-of-16 3-pointers, compared to a 0-of-3 performance by the Vikings.

The Eagles have now enjoyed halftime leads in 10 games this season, but have lost six of them.

Eastern pounced on the Vikings to begin the second half, opening on a 9-2 run to take its biggest lead of the night at 15 points with 17:01 left on a 3-pointer by Kelly. Seiferth had a pair of baskets in the early run.

Portland State came within seven, but Eastern regained control with a 9-4 run. Eastern led by 12 again with 6:23 left on a basket by Jois, and led by no fewer than eight the rest of the way.

Tipoff in Thursday’s and Saturday’s games is 6:05 p.m. Pacific time, with the Montana game televised live in the Eastern Washington region on SWX. Earlier this season, EWU lost to UM in Missoula 81-66 and to MSU in Bozeman 70-68 in overtime.

The radio broadcast of all Eastern games is on 700-AM ESPN, via the web at www.700espn.com and via iPhone application (search for “700 ESPN” and download the free app). The broadcast is also available via www.tunein.com and tunein’s mobile phone app. Larry Weir returns for his 20th year as the play-by-play voice of the Eagles.

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