For the Big Sky Conference leader in offense, defense is sometimes an afterthought.
But Eastern Washington University held Idaho State to 34 percent shooting from the field – including just 5-of-26 3-point attempts – and the Eagles bolstered their postseason hopes with a wire-to-wire 77-69 Big Sky Conference men's basketball victory Thursday (March 6) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
A trio of players – sophomore Tyler Harvey, junior Parker Kelly and freshman Felix Von Hofe -- combined for 11 3-pointers for Eastern. Martin Seiferth added a double-double and Harvey and Kelly combined to make 6-of-6 free throws in the final 36 seconds to clinch the win.
“That was a great home win,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, who team is on the cusp of a berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. “We defended our home court against a veteran Idaho State team that gave it all they had. Our game plan was solid and our guys executed it.”
Now 14-15 overall and 10-9 in the league, Eastern can wrap-up a postseason berth when they end the regular season against struggling Big Sky Conference regular season champion Weber State on Saturday (March 8) at 2:05 p.m. The final regular season game of the season for the Eagles will be carried live on ESPN 700-AM and www.watchbigsky.com. At halftime, the No. 30 jersey of Eagle legend Ron Cox will be retired.
Eastern is now in a three-way tie for fifth in the Big Sky at 10-9, but only three games separate first through seventh place in the standings – and four from first to ninth. The Eagles can finish anywhere from a fourth-place tie (fifth after tiebreakers) in the league to a tie for seventh (eighth after tiebreakers).
In the event of a loss to WSU, the Eagles won’t know if they’ve advanced to the seven-team Big Sky Conference Tournament until about five hours later, after the rest of the league games conclude. EWU can still advance with a 10-10 record, but would need a combination of help involving a Portland State win over Idaho State, a victory by Montana State over Sacramento State and a Northern Colorado loss at Southern Utah.
Idaho State was in a must-win and hope situation entering Thursday’s game, and is now eliminated at 8-11 in the league and 11-17 overall.
Despite falling at Portland State 66-59 on Thursday, Weber State still leads the league at 13-6 and is 16-11 overall. But WSU has lost four of its last six heading into Saturday’s game at EWU. The Wildcats have clinched at least a share of the league title, and have also wrapped up host status of the tournament taking place March 13-15.
Harvey, ranked 10th in NCAA Division I with a 21.8 scoring average, took over the role at point guard Thursday in place of Drew Brandon, who missed the last 1 1/2 games with a hand injury suffered against UNC. Although the hand is not broken, Brandon played only seven minutes against ISU.
Harvey made only 5-of-18 shots overall and 4-of-14 from the 3-point stripe, but finished with 22 points and a career-high 10 rebounds to finish with his first career double-double. He also tied his career highs with eight assists and four steals.
Kelly added 16 points, seven rebounds to equal a career high, and three assists, but he also did a great job on defense against ISU leading scorer Chris Hansen. He made only 4-of-17 shots in finishing with 11 points – five below his season average of 16.7.
Eastern lost the rebounding battle 43-41 and had twice as many turnovers as ISU (16 to eight). But EWU out-shot the Bengals 47 percent to 34 percent and had six more 3-point baskets.
“Their best offensive player (Hanson) was not able to get going because Parker played locked down on him,” said Hayford. “It is rare that you play a team and they miss 48 shots. You look at the rebounding -- 43-41 -- and that is a lot of rebounds. So I guess we were playing pretty good defense to make them miss so many (shots).”
Seiferth closed the game with 14 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. Venky Jois chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds, and neared career highs with six assists and six blocked shots.
“Our veterans stepped up,” praised Hayford. “This is a really solid team win, and I am really proud of our team. We advanced our program tonight.”
Also providing a boost was Von Hofe, who played 16 minutes off the bench. He hit a trio of 3-pointers and scored 11 points, eight in the first half.
“We recruited Felix to be a three-point-shooting specialist,” said Hayford. “He is a really good shooter. He has really come on, particularly in the second half of league. He may be a freshman, but he has a lot of international experience so being in a big game is something he looks forward to. Especially with Drew’s injury, we knew he was going to get looks.”
Eastern jumped out to a quick 16-4 lead as the Eagles made eight of its first 16 shots and ISU made only 1-of-11. After the Bengals cut the lead to six, Eastern ended the half on a 16-8 run to take a 37-23 lead at intermission. Von Hofe had two of EWU’s four 3-pointers in the run, and the freshman equaled his career high with eight points in the first half alone.
The Bengals cut the lead to five in the second half, but in a 24-second span Harvey hit a triple, Jois had a block and Harvey fed Seiferth for a dunk that regained a 48-38 lead with 13:03 to play. Eastern led by no less than eight the rest of the way.
“We had a great first half,” said Hayford. “Credit Idaho State because at halftime they came out knowing their season was on the line. We took their best punches. They would cut it we would come back. They cut it and we would come back.”
Eastern played three games in six days last week, starting with a disappointing 87-76 home loss to Portland State. But the Eagles came back three days later to knock-off then-second place Northern Colorado 80-66 on its home court, then lost to the new owner of second place, North Dakota, 69-67 on a rebound basket at the buzzer.
Harvey set the school’s single season record for 3-pointers made on Feb. 27 against UNC, giving him 104 for the season to eclipse the previous record of 103 set by Shannon Taylor in the 1998-99 season. Now with 109 after the ISU game, Harvey is second in Big Sky Conference history and 15 behind the league record of 124 (Stephen Sir, Northern Arizona, 2006-07).
Harvey entered this week ranked in the top 10 nationally in three categories, and his combined ranking of 12th in 3-pointers per game (6th, 3.62) and 3-point shooting percentage (6th, 45.3) is second in NCAA Division I. His 21.8 scoring average ranks 10th.