North Dakota didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team on Thursday (Jan. 17) in Grand Forks, N.D.
The home team went on runs of 8-0 to start the game and 13-0 to begin the second half as the shorthanded Eagles lost 65-47 to UND in a the first-ever Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game between the two schools.
In Eastern’s first trip to Grand Forks since 1982, the Eagles had a season low point total as they fell to 2-5 in the league and 4-13 overall. North Dakota improved to 3-4 and 6-15 on the season. Entering Thursday’s action, just one game separated third from 10th in the league standings.
Eastern’s 6-foot-10 center Martin Seiferth had14 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in just 26 minutes to lead the Eagles, and Venky Jois added his eighth double-double of the season with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Seiferth made 6-of-7 shots from the field after entering the game leading the Big Sky in field goal shooting at 64.9 percent for the season. Jois also added a pair of blocks and two steals.
The Eagles played the game without a pair of senior starters who were injured Wednesday in Grand Forks in an accident involving one of EWU’s team mini-vans. Senior starting point guard Kevin Winford (concussion) and senior shooting guard Jeffrey Forbes (knee) sat out, and EWU played without their combined 212 games worth of experience (136 starts) in their careers.
“With the adversity we were going through, I thought our guys did really well,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “We had control of the game in the first half and made it a game that was winnable. In the second half, North Dakota was fired up and we didn’t match their intensity.”
The Eagles, who return to action Saturday at Northern Colorado, made just 25 percent of their shots in the second half after making 12 of their last 24 shots in the first half. Eastern finished at 34 percent, including a season-worst 13 percent from the 3-point line (3-of-23). The Eagles entered the game ranked seventh in NCAA Division I with an average of 9.3 treys per game.
Eastern held North Dakota to 36.7 percent shooting – the sixth-straight game EWU has held its opponent to 44 percent shooting or less. The Eagles were out-rebounded 44-38, and North Dakota forced 16 EWU turnovers leading to a 20-12 advantage in points off turnovers.
Eagle true freshman Daniel Hill started at point guard in place of Winford and went scoreless, but he had a season-high five assists, four rebounds and a steal. Sophomore Parker Kelly came off the bench to add eight points and three rebounds.
Eastern made only 1-of-7 shots and trailed early 8-0, but responded with a 12-2 run to take a 12-10 lead. Neither team led by more than three points the rest of the half, and EWU led at intermission 29-27. There were seven ties and five lead changes in the first half alone.
But EWU’s advantage was quickly wiped out by UND’s 13-0 run to start the second half. It was similar to EWU’s 60-53 loss last Saturday to Sacramento State, which outscored EWU 21-4 to begin the second half, including a 15-0 run in which EWU was held scoreless for 6:37.
“When you take a couple of punches, you don’t fold – that’s when you get tougher,” said Hayford. “We have to get our players to a place with their confidence where they know if they work hard enough, good things will come. We did have some players who kept their heads up and kept fighting, and I have to recognize them for that effort.”
After UND took a 40-29 lead with 16:05 left, North Dakota led by as many as 17 at the 13:16 mark. Eastern followed with a 9-4 run, as Jois scored the first six points of the spurt. A 3-pointer by Jordan Hickert cut the lead to 53-41 with 7:44 remaining.
But that was the closest EWU could get, as EWU managed only two more field goals the rest of the way.
Eastern is now 1-2 all-time against North Dakota, but hadn’t played UND since EWU moved to NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season. Eastern hasn’t played North Dakota since Dec. 11, 1982 when EWU lost 75-71 in Grand Forks. A year earlier, the Eagles beat North Dakota 81-72 in Cheney in the only other meeting between the two schools.