CHENEY, Wash. - The more rested team prevailed.
With both teams coming off road trips to Southern Utah, Eastern Washington University couldn't match the energy of Portland State and fell to the Vikings 87-76 Monday (Feb. 24) in a key Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Portland State converted 11 3-pointers compared to just four for the Eagles, including eight in the second half to out-score the Eagles 56-46 after intermission. Earlier this season, the Eagles lost on the road to Portland State 92-83 as Eastern allowed 62 second-half points after owning a 10-point halftime lead.
The home loss creates a four-way tie for sixth place in the league standings between EWU, PSU, Northern Arizona and Montana State. Had EWU won, they would have moved into a tie for third.
"I credit our opponent for a well-played game, and make no excuses," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "We looked tired. I don't know if that had to do with getting back from Utah after a Saturday night game with a Monday game turnaround. We are young and strong, and we need to be better for that. We didn't handle that well. I credit them, and I wish we were a little bit fresher tonight."
Sophomore Tyler Harvey led the Eagles with 23 points, three assists and four rebounds, and Venky Jois scored 18 points and had nine rebounds, three blocks and four assists. Martin Seiferth chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds as EWU had a 46-34 advantage in points in the paint.
"We went inside and our two starting bigs had a great night," said Hayford. "We need to find ways to get them the ball more. We did get Venky 15 shots."
Junior point guard Drew Brandon had eight points, five assists and four rebounds, but also had six of EWU's turnovers.
The Eagles made 50.9 percent of their shots from the field compared to 48 percent for the Vikings. It was the first time in 13 games this season Eastern has lost when it has out-shot an opponent, and EWU is now 13-2 when making at least 45 percent of its shots.
Eastern had 13 turnovers leading to 14 PSU points. In the earlier meeting, PSU's small lineup forced Eastern into season highs of 19 turnovers and 35 points allowed off those miscues. The Eagles haven't had more than 16 turnovers in any game since then, and were averaging 9.3 per game in their last four outings until Monday.
"In both games their athleticism bothered us," Hayford explained. "The turnover differential in both games speaks about their athleticism, and they had great guard play in both games. I give them credit.
The Eagles have still won five of its last seven games and are 8-8 in the Big Sky Conference and 13-14 overall. Prior to the three-game winning streak that ended with the loss to the Vikings, Eastern was ninth in the league standings
The Vikings are now 8-8 in the Big Sky and 13-12 on the season. The Vikings won at Southern Utah on Thursday by an 86-79 score, followed by EWU's 85-74 win in Cedar City on Saturday. The Big Sky is a jumble right now, with just three games separating second (Northern Colorado) from 10th (Idaho State) in the standings. Weber State leads at 12-4, but has lost two of its last three.
"Sometimes in the sport you need to credit the other team," said Hayford. "Portland State came in here and they knew that if they lost they were out of the race. They played with great urgency, and they shot the ball very well. They executed their offense and they earned a win tonight."
The Eagles now must head back on the road for its most difficult, if not the most important, road trip of the league season. Eastern plays at Northern Colorado on Thursday (Feb. 27) at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time, then plays at North Dakota on March 1 in a game that begins at 12:05 p.m. Pacific time and is broadcast by the MidCo Sports Network. Earlier this season at Reese Court, Eastern fell to UND 73-61 before knocking off UNC in overtime by a 94-90 score.
Portland State used a 10-0 run to open an early 20-11 lead, and led by as many as 11 on two occasions in the first half. But the Eagles made their last six shots of the half and ended it on a 12-2 run, including a four-point play by Parker Kelly that cut the lead to 31-30 at halftime.
The Vikings missed their last four shots of the half and went the last 3:27 without a field goal. Eastern finished at 46 percent in the first half, but made only 1-of-6 3-point attempts. Portland State made 38 percent and forced six Eagle turnovers.
The Eagles took a pair of one-point leads to open the second half, and then the Vikings got hot. At one point they made five-straight shots, including four 3-pointers, to take the lead for good at 46-38.
Eastern pulled within 52-49 on a 3-pointer by Harvey with 12:54 to play, and four free throws by Drew Brandon cut the lead to one. But Eastern would have just one field goal in a span of 7:04, and Portland State used a 15-2 run – including four more 3-pointers – to take a 69-55 lead with 6:25 to play.
"We just cut it to one, had some defensive breakdowns, they made threes and we couldn't overcome that separation," explained Hayford. "We needed some more urgency once we cut it to one. After we got within one we acted like it was going to go our way instead of digging in and making those stops you need to make on the home court."
The closest EWU came after that was five with 1:09 left, and the Vikings closed out the win by making eight free throws in the final 1:07.