Hot First Half Doesn’t Hold Up as Eastern Falls at Portland State 92-83

Freshman Ognjen Miljkovic scores 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting, but Vikings score 62 points in the second half to rally from deficit

Even as good as the Eagles were in the first half, the Vikings were better in the second half.

Despite 70 percent shooting and a double-digit lead in the first 20 minutes, Portland State rallied to score 62 points in the second half and knocked off the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team 92-83 Monday (Jan. 27) at the Stott Center in Portland, Ore.

Freshman Ognjen Miljkovic had 17 of his career-high 32 points in the first half to help EWU to a 10-point halftime lead, but the Eagles went nearly five minutes without a field goal to open the second half and let the Vikings back in the game. Thanks to 66 percent shooting in the second half by PSU and another more than four-minute stretch without a field goal by the Eagles, the Vikings pulled away for their seventh-straight victory in Portland over EWU.

The Vikings closed out the win by making 14-of-16 free throws in the last 2:22 of the game, in which EWU finished with a season-high 19 turnovers leading to a 35-11 PSU advantage in points off turnovers. Eastern finished at 49 percent for the game and lost for the first time in nine games when making at least 45 percent of its shots.

“Give them credit,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “It’s hard, it’s really hard, so we’re here learning a lesson instead of celebrating a win. We have to hold the game plan for a full 40 minutes, and we’re not doing that right now.”

Eastern fell to 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference and 8-11 overall with its 10th loss in 10 tries on opponent home courts this season. The Vikings improved to 9-8 overall and 4-4 in the league with their second-straight win.

Eastern now returns for a pair of home games at Reese Court versus North Dakota on Thursday (Jan. 30) and Northern Colorado on Saturday (Feb. 1). The Eagles are unbeaten at home and winless on the road in conference play, and are 6-1 overall at home this season. The first half of the league season comes to a close this weekend with the Eagles currently in an eighth-place tie with Montana.

Miljkovic made 11-of-14 shots with four 3-pointers, and has now averaged 18.7 points in the last three games he has played. His 32 points eclipsed his previous career high of 15 set at Connecticut on Dec. 28, his last game before missing the next six because of an ankle sprain. He added five rebounds and a pair of assists, but also had seven turnovers.

“Obviously O.G. is back and healthy with 32 points,” said Hayford. “I don’t like the seven turnovers too much, but that was because they got into him and pressured him.”

Sophomore Tyler Harvey, the leading scorer in the Big Sky Conference with an average of 21.2 points per game entering the game, scored 18 for the Eagles. He also made 4-of-9 3-point attempts, but was just 1-of-7 from inside the arc.

Sophomore Venky Jois chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds, giving him his seventh double-double of the season and 16th in his career. Junior point guard Drew Brandon finished with eight assists, eight points and seven rebounds.

However, Harvey was just 1-of-10 from the field in the second half, and Brandon and starter Parker Kelly were a combined 2-of-9 after intermission. Kelly was held scoreless for the first time this season.

“We didn’t have an answer for their pressure,” said Hayford. “We wanted to go inside more, but you have to defend them too. At the end of the day, our starting backcourt in the second half went 3-of-19 from the field.”

The Eagles used an 11-0 run in the first half to open an early nine-point lead, as Miljkovic hit a pair of 3-pointers and a layup to ignite the run. Harvey ended it with a trey to give EWU an 18-9 lead with 13:20 left.

A 6-0 run led to a 10-point lead, then Miljkovic’s layup at the 5:30 mark gave EWU its biggest lead of the night at 33-21. A late 9-0 run pulled the Vikings with three, but the Eagles score the last seven points of the half, including the last five by Miljkovic.

Eastern made 16 of 23 shots in the first half for 69.6 percent, including one stretch in which the Eagles made nine of 10. The Eagles sank 6-of-10 3-point attempts.

Four early turnovers in the second half helped PSU hold EWU without a field goal for 4:52. As a result, the Vikings were able to pull within 42-40 and eventually used 1-of-9 shooting by the Eagles to take the lead.

The Eagles regained a pair of four-point leads, but an 11-0 PSU run gave the Vikings the lead for good at 59-52 with 9:51 to play.

Later, EWU went 4:41 without a field goal and the Vikings opened up a 72-61 advantage with a 13-3 run. The Vikings closed out the win victory at the free throw line.

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