Off to their best start in five years, Eagles play 6-0 Gaels on Sunday in opportunity for “program-defining win”
Sunday, Dec. 8 - McKeon Pavilion
(3,500) - Moraga, Calif.
5:30 p.m. Pacific - Eastern Washington (5-2) vs. Saint Mary's (6-0)
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Tuesdays from Nov. 26 to Jan. 7 (no shows Dec. 24 and Dec. 31) and
Mondays Jan. 13 to March 10 (no shows Jan. 27 and Feb. 24), and
feature head coach Jim Hayford and host
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Webcast: http://www.smcgaels.com; The UC Irvine game on Dec. 15 may be watched via: http://www.watchbigsky.com
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After a month of progress, the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team will follow that with a month of opportunity.
Unbeaten West Coach Conference powerhouse Saint Mary’s will usher in a challenging month of December for the Eagles when they travel to Moraga, Calif., on Sunday (Dec. 8). Tipoff is 5:30 p.m. Pacific time for the game against the Gaels, who were 28-7 overall and 14-2 in the WCC a year ago.
At 5-2, EWU is off to its best start in five years, and are two months ahead of its winning pace from a year ago. The Eagles finished 10-21 last season and didn’t win their fifth until Jan. 28 and their sixth three days later.
“We look at it as a great opportunity to go in there and get a program-defining win as a program,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, who grew up just a few miles away from Moraga and watched Saint Mary’s games regularly.
Eastern’s December schedule also includes games against UC Irvine, Seton Hall and Connecticut before opening Big Sky Conference play Jan. 2. Eastern fell to UC Irvine 81-58, and the Eagles and Anteaters will meet in a rematch Dec. 15 in Cheney as a return game for EWU’s appearance two seasons ago in Irvine in the ESPN BracketBusters series of games.
“It will be a very, very difficult month of December,” said Hayford. “I’m sure we’ll be the underdog in all four games, but with that comes the opportunity to gain more and more respect. That’s one thing we are doing, at least with our work in November. We’ve gained respect and that is something we need to go out and do every day.”
The Gaels are 6-0, and defeated Murray State 89-64 on Saturday (Nov. 30) in their last outing. All six of those games were at home. Eastern is 2-5 all-time against Saint Mary’s, including an 0-4 record in Moraga.
“Saint Mary’s does a great job of defending their home court,” said Hayford. “Of all the mid-major programs in the country, they are one of the top five who resist the level of mid-major and want to be one of the big boys. They have done that by playing really well at home.”
One of the victories for the Gaels this season was a 67-63 win over Drake (now 7-1), coached by former Eastern head coach and Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti. The Gaels, who are coached by Randy Bennett, are led by 6-foot-9 Brad Waldo (17.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 blocks per game) and guard Stephen Holt (12.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists).
“They are obviously a very well-coached team and a talented team,” said Hayford. “They have one of the best post players on the West Coast and we’ll have to contend with that. They are getting great play out of their guards, particularly Holt. It’s a solid team with no weaknesses, so you have to play your very best basketball.”
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* Head coach Jim Hayford returns to his roots this week, having grown up less than 10 miles away from Moraga and graduating in 1985 from Berean Christian High School in Walnut Creek, Calif. Hayford also attended nearby Diablo Valley College and coached at the high school level at Contra Costa Christian High School in 1987 and Berean Christian from 1988-1990.
* In defeating Seattle 82-75 on Nov. 29, Eastern improved to 5-2 on the season for the first time since 2008-09 when EWU started 6-2. The Eagles are 3-0 at home, 0-2 on the road and 2-0 on neutral courts. Eastern is nearly two full months ahead of last year’s win total. The Eagles, who were 10-21 a year ago, picked up their fifth victory on Jan. 28, 2013, with a 76-65 victory over Portland State and their sixth victory three nights later.
* Eastern guard Tyler Harvey was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after his 30-point performance against Seattle in an 82-75 victory last Friday (Nov. 29). In recording the 49th performance of 30 points or more in school history (currently tied with nine others for 39th), Harvey sank four crucial free throws in the final three minutes to help Eastern improve to 5-2 on the season. It’s the best start in five seasons for EWU, which was 6-2 to start the 2008-09 season. Harvey made 9-of-15 shots from the field, including 6-of-9 3-point attempts, and also sank all six of his free throws. He has now averaged 18.6 points per game in his last 15 games as an Eagle after averaging 1.3 points in his first 13 outings. “Tyler obviously had a tremendous game,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “He is an extremely talented offensive player, and he has improved in every level of his game. For him to come and get 30 points tonight shows that he is a great guy to coach, and he is a great person.” For the season, Harvey is averaging 20.3 points per game to rank 52nd in NCAA Division I and second in the Big Sky. He is fourth nationally in 3-pointers per game with a league-leading average of 4.0 per game. A year ago, Harvey scored 132 points (16.5 average) on 55 percent shooting from the field (52-of-94, including 20-of-44 3-point attempts) in EWU’s last eight games. In the first 13 games he played in the 2012-13 season, Harvey scored just 17 points. For the season, he played in 21 of EWU’s 31 games and averaged 14.0 minutes and 7.1 points per game.
* In NCAA Division I statistics through games of Dec. 1, Eastern ranks 28th among 345 schools with an average of 8.7 3-pointers made per game and is 53rd in scoring with an average of 81.6 points. Eastern is also 28th in 3-point field goal percentage (41.5 percent), 35th in field goal percentage (49.8 percent) and 83rd in fewest turnovers per game (11.3). Individually, Tyler Harvey is fourth in 3-pointers made per game (4.0) and 31st in 3-point percentage (50.9 percent), with Drew Brandon 12th in assists (6.4).
* The Eagles are an early Big Sky Conference leader in scoring offense at 81.6 points per game and scoring margin at a plus 11.9 per game. The Eagles are also leading the league thus far in assists (15.0), assist-to-turnover ratio (plus 1.3) and field goal percentage defense (.400), and are second in 3-pointers made per game (8.7) and 3-point field goal percentage (.415). Eastern is also second in rebounding margin with a plus 4.6 for the season thus far. A year ago, Eastern was 10th out of 11 teams with a minus margin of 4.2 per game.
* Individually, Tyler Harvey is second in the Big Sky in scoring (20.3) and Venky Jois is seventh (15.6). Drew Brandon leads the league in assists (6.4), Martin Seiferth leads in field goal percentage (.700) and Harvey leads in 3-pointers made per game (4.0).
* Point guard Drew Brandon, a transfer from Sierra College in California, is averaging 11.3 points, a team-leading 8.0 rebounds, a league-leading 6.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game after his first seven games in NCAA Division I. He already has a pair of double-doubles, including 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against Boston University. He equaled the 15th-most assists in school history with 10 assists against Walla Walla, becoming the 28th Eastern player to finish in double figures in assists in a game. He also had nine rebounds, four steals and three points, just two nights after finishing with 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists versus Washington. He is the lone newcomer to EWU’s starting lineup.
* Four Eagles are already ranked among Eastern’s career leaders, including shot-blockers Martin Seiferth and Venky Jois. Seiferth’s 80 blocks ranks third in school history, seven behind Brandon Moore (2007-10) and 19 behind the school record of 99 (Paul Butorac 2004-07). Jois has 75 to rank fifth. Seiferth also currently ranks No. 1 in career field goal percentage (.639), ranking just above Ron Cox (.629 from 1974-77). Tyler Harvey is currently ranked second for 3-point field goal percentage (47.2 percent), ranking only behind the school-record of 50.3 percent held by Marco Quinto (1999-02). Kelly is eighth in percentage (41.4 percent) and 10th in 3-pointers made with 101. Ranking just ahead of him on the 3-point list is Alvin Snow (2001-04) with 104.
* In Eastern’s most recent game, sophomore Tyler Harvey scored a career-high 30 points to lead Eastern past Seattle of the Western Athletic Conference 82-75 on Nov. 29 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Sophomore Venky Jois had a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and also added three blocked shots, a pair of assists and two steals. Junior point guard Drew Brandon chipped in 12 points and seven assists, and Ognjen Miljkovic came off the bench to score 10. The Eagles led by as many as 11 in the first half, but fell behind by six in the second half. There were eight ties and six lead changes in the second half alone, and 10 and nine in the game, respectively. Eastern eventually took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Harvey with 5:25 left to play, then he gave Eastern a 3-point advantage with another trey at the 4:56 mark. He closed his scoring with free throws – two at the 3:00 mark that gave EWU a 72-69 lead, and two more with 14 seconds to play to give EWU a five-point bulge. Jois closed out the scoring with a pair of free throws with three seconds left, and Brandon and Miljkovic also made big baskets down the stretch.
* The Eagles played three games in three nights on Nov. 22-24 in Irvine, Calif., as part of the of the 2K Sports Classic benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project. They came away with a 2-1 record, beating Boston University 80-68 and LIU Brooklyn 102-70 before bowing to host UC Irvine 81-58 in the finale. In Eastern’s 80-68 win over Boston University, four players scored in double figures on a hot-shooting night against the team picked to win the Patriot League title. Eastern made 54 percent of its shots while holding the Terriers to 38 percent. Six players scored in double figures the next night in a 102-100 victory over LIU Brooklyn, as Eastern had five 3-pointers in the first seven minutes to open a 28-1 lead. The 102 points Eastern scored was its most against a NCAA Division I opponent since beating Cal State Fullerton 110-70 on Nov. 27, 2006. Eastern finished the game making 11-of-17 3-pointers for 65 percent, and sank 64 percent of its shots overall. Eastern held the Blackbirds to 35 percent shooting and dominated rebounding by a 40-29 margin. The Eagles led 54-29 at halftime and led by as many as 37 in the second half. The third night, in an 81-58 loss to UC Irvine, Eastern fell behind by 21 points at halftime. UC Irvine made 11-of-19 3-point shots (58 percent) and 40 percent overall in the game, while Eastern made only 26 percent and was 4-of-21 from 3-point range.
* Sophomore Tyler Harvey was named to the All-Tournament team at the 2K Sports Classic in Irvine, Calif., where EWU went 2-1. Harvey led the Eagles in scoring against Boston University and UC Irvine with 21 points in each game, and also led EWU in rebounding with eight versus LIU Brooklyn. He followed that performance with a career-high nine boards against the Anteaters. He averaged 18.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game in the tourney while making 52.8 percent of his shots from the field including 7-of-15 from the 3-point stripe, as well as 11-of-13 free throws for 84.6 percent.
* Sophomore Venky Jois, the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year a year ago, joined Harvey on the All-Tournament team at the 2K Sports Classic. He averaged 15.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while making 56.3 percent of his shots from the field. For the season, Jois is EWU’s second-leading scorer through six games with a 15.0 average, and is also averaging 6.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game. So far with one double-double this season (22 points and 11 rebounds against Pacific), he had nine double-doubles as a freshman to rank among the leaders in NCAA Division I.
* Six-foot-10 junior Martin Seiferth finished with 24 points and 18 rebounds against Walla Walla, as he equaled the fifth-best rebounding performance in school history. He came close to his career highs of 27 points and 21 rebounds set in separate games last season. The last time EWU had a 20-20 performance was Paul Butorac against Lewis-Clark State College on Nov. 18, 2006.
* Eastern returns four starters and seven total letterwinners from last year’s team, which finished 10-21 overall and 7-13 in the 11-team Big Sky under head coach Jim Hayford, who is in his third year at the helm of a squad with no seniors. A year ago, Eastern finished with four wins in its last eight outings, but came up short in qualifying for the seven-team Big Sky Conference Tournament. However, three of those late losses included an overtime loss to UNC, a four-point setback to North Dakota and an eight-point loss at Weber State.
* Eastern’s lone remaining non-conference home game is against UC Irvine (Dec. 15). Big Sky Conference play begins on the road, but the Eagles host Montana in their league home opener on Jan. 9. Home games will begin at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time for weekday games and Sunday and Saturday games will start at 2:05 p.m.
* In all, Eastern’s 2013-14 schedule includes 10 games versus six schools who participated in national postseason tournaments a year ago. Eastern will play six games against those opponents on the road, and four games at home. Three appeared in the NCAA Tournament – LIU Brooklyn (Nov. 23 in Irvine), Saint Mary’s (Dec. 8 on the road) and Montana (Jan. 9 at home and Feb. 8 on the road). UC Irvine (Dec. 15 at home and Nov. 24 in Irvine) played in the College Basketball Invitational Tournament, and won a game before falling in the quarterfinals. The other three postseason opponents on EWU’s schedule were also in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). Weber State (Jan. 2 on the road and March 8 at home) won four games to advance to the championship, where it lost to East Carolina 77-74. North Dakota (Jan. 30 at home and March 1 on the road) played in the first round, as did Boston University (Nov. 22 at UC Irvine Tournament).
* The schedule also features a trip to the East Coast to play Connecticut and Seton Hall. Connecticut finished 20-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big East Conference last season, while Seton Hall was 15-18 overall and 3-15 in the league. However, Seton Hall and six other teams in the so-called “Catholic 7” broke off from the league, but will retain the Big East tag. The remaining Big East teams, plus others in the expanded conference, will now be named the American Athletic Conference.
* Eastern has been picked to finish fifth by the coaches and sixth by the media in preseason polls announced by the Big Sky Conference on Oct. 17. EWU was picked to finish behind preseason pick Weber State, North Dakota, Montana and Northern Colorado in the coaches’ poll. The media picked Montana State to finish in fifth just ahead of the Eagles. Weber State was picked to win the league in both polls.
* Eastern will be trying for its third Big Sky Conference Tournament berth in the last four years in 2013-14, and its 13th in 27 years as a member of the league. Eastern has 12 previous appearances (1990, 98, 99, 2000, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 11, 12).
* The Big Sky Conference Tournament will take place March 13-15 at the site of the regular season champion. For the second-straight year, it will now include seven teams, with the regular season champion receiving a first-round bye. The tournament will include a quarterfinal round with six of the teams playing, followed by semifinals and the championship game.
* The Eagles hope a more experienced team will translate to winning more of the close games they lost in the 2012-13 season. Nine of EWU’s losses were one-possession games with less than four minutes remaining, and the Eagles finished 6-10 in games decided by 10 points or less.
* Hayford won for the 279th time in his 400th game as a collegiate coach on March 7 when the Eagles beat Idaho State 87-73. He entered the 2013-14 season with a 279-122 (69.6 percent) record in 14 seasons as a head coach, including a 25-38 mark at Eastern. He was 217-57 (79.2 percent) in 10 seasons at Whitworth (2001-2011), and before that was 37-27 in two seasons at the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.).
Quoting Coach Hayford
On Returning to Childhood Roots in California: “When I was growing up I would always go over to Saint Mary’s and watch college basketball games. One of my friends, Steve Coccimiglio, who is now the head coach at Diablo Valley, was an assistant at Saint Mary’s under Lynn Nance. I watched his career develop, so going to a lot of those Saint Mary’s games helped me decide to be a college basketball coach. It’s neat to go back home and see friends, and Coach Coccimiglio, who has had a great influence in my life, will be at the game. That’s neat.”
On 5-2 Start: “We’re pleased with where we are with this team, but there is a long, long way to go. We wanted to get through November based on the carryover of returners from last year, and put the emphasis on blending a new point guard into that mix of players. The bonus of that is to incorporate O.G. (Miljkovic) into the mix. In December, with a week of preparation for each game, we need to develop a little bit more of the bench. It is my intention to play seven or eight guys a game and give some more minutes to them. When you look at the development of our team, we have players who fill roles, but you want them to never be content with the role and you want them to want more.”
On Offense: “Right now we’re playing the most efficient offensively since I’ve been here. The offense we’ve wanted to put in place we are now putting in place. We are on our third point guard in three years, and now we get Drew Brandon for two years. That’s a big part of being the kind of offensive team we want to be. He’s picked that up and that’s a credit to Drew. And we’re getting a better balance of shooting the outside shot and having inside threats. We’re playing offensive basketball the way we want to play.”
On Seattle Victory: “It is a very satisfying win. I remembered at the end of my last year at Whitworth being told your team is 50-2 in your last 52 games. I told myself it is just as satisfying to get our team to 5-2 against Seattle because these guys have been through so much. They have matured, and they had a great offseason. I am just a very proud coach.”
On Drew Brandon and Rebounding: “He’s a really good player. He went to the same junior college that Craig Fortier played at, so that’s how Craig knew about him. What I like about him is he is really unaffected – he’s going to play at his own speed and he plays hard. He’s one of the best rebounding guards I’ve ever coached. Drew is obviously a great addition to our program. We had all these pieces coming back, but we needed to go find a point guard. He certainly is meeting our expectations. Rebounding is something we better improve on from last year, or we will have the same results. Drew really helps us. He really helps us on the boards, and he knows how to run the offense. As he gets more comfortable, we are going to get better and better.”
On Bench Play: “We need to keep getting them in. After you get past Thomas (Reuter), the rest of the bench is new and young. We need to keep developing that. Later in the year we are going to go deeper in the bench. I thought it would have been nice to go a little deeper in the Husky game. There were some things I saw from Felix (Von Hofe) and O.G. (Ognjen Miljkovic) against Walla Walla that I really like. We need Thomas -- he is our Swiss-army knife. He can play multiple positions and fix what is happening on the court. He is our sixth starter, and so we have to get Thomas going little bit more. Garrett Moon brings great energy off the bench. We had a couple of injured guys in Danny Powell (concussion) and Daniel Hill (calf). The bench is going to keep come along, and it will come.”
On Team Identity: “Our identity is that as we are going to play smart and hard basketball, and we are going to do it together. You are going to see an unselfish team that lays it out on the court every night and plays like the band of brothers they are. The biggest difference (from last season) is our players are all a little bit older. We were Eagles that were barely out of the nest last year, and now we can fly a little bit.”
On This Year’s Eagle Team: “We have a great chemistry – they really like each other. A year ago they didn’t know one another. They have been living life together and they do a lot of things as a group. They enjoy spending time with one another, and I think that will spill over into on-court success.”
On Playing at UConn and Seton Hall: “The East Coast trip jumps out at you -- it is an excellent opportunity for our guys to see a different part of the country and to experience playing against one of the nation’s elite programs. I know the guys are looking forward to that trip.”
On Big Sky Conference Race: “I think the Big Sky Conference is going to be more difficult -- there are many teams returning solid rosters. We have a very challenging preseason that will prepare us for a great conference season.”
On Competitiveness of Big Sky: “There were a number of close games. That is part of being in a competitive conference. The hard part about experience is getting it. Hopefully we got it, and we will win more than our fair share of those close games this year. I do like that our guys found ways to win some of those last year.”
On Playing Difficult Schedule: “You cannot be afraid of a tough schedule playing these bigger schools regardless of the outcome. You just focus on it making you better and better. I think we have a non-conference schedule that will put us in the fire. It will refine us, make us stronger and prepare us for Big Sky play. That is what this year’s schedule is, so we embrace it.”
EWU vs. Saint Mary’s Series Notes
* Eastern’s 2-5 all-time record versus Saint Mary's includes an 85-66 win by the Gaels last season and a 77-61 victory the year before in Jim Hayford’s first season as EWU’s head coach. The Eagles also lost 85-65 in Moraga on March 13, 2009, in a late addition to the schedule of both teams, who were one under the maximum number of games allowed by the NCAA. Saint Mary’s was looking for another game to help better prepare All-America candidate Patrick Mills, who had missed nine games prior to the WCC Tournament because of a broken hand, for the NCAA or NIT Tournament (they ended up in the NIT). He finished with 19 points against the Eagles on 6-of-14 shooting from the field. He had four three-pointers and added a pair of assists and four steals.
* Eastern is 2-0 in Cheney against the Gaels, winning 88-80 in Cheney on Nov. 26, 2002. The Eagles finished 18-13 and advanced to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) that season, a year before EWU advanced to its first and only NCAA Tournament.
* Eastern lost 73-67 in Moraga on Dec. 22, 2001, in Randy Bennett’s first year as Saint Mary’s head coach. Eastern’s head coach in the 2001 and 2002 meetings with the Gaels was Ray Giacoletti, who is now head coach at Drake after serving as an assistant coach at Gonzaga. The Eagles also beat the Gaels on Dec. 29, 1989, in Cheney and lost to them 76-56 on Dec. 19, 1988, on a neutral court. Here is the all-time list of games Eastern has played versus Saint Mary’s.
11/18/12 – L
– 66-85 – A
12/20/11 – L – 61-77 – A
3/13/09 - L - 65-85 - A
11/26/02 - W - 88-80 - H
12/22/01 - L - 67-73 - A
12/29/89 - W - 98-73 - H
12/19/88 - L - 56-76 - 9