SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Its 0-16 record in the West Coast Conference a year ago can be deceiving.
Unbeaten Santa Clara used a 21-7 run to end the first half to pull away from the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team for an 89-84 victory Friday (Nov. 23) at the Leavey Center in Santa Clara, Calif. The game was part of the 2012 College Basketball Experience (CBE) Hall of Fame Classic, which is hosted by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
Senior Collin Chiverton led the Eagles with 19 points, but EWU couldn't overcome a 17-9 disadvantage in turnovers. Eastern was also out-shot 51 percent to 42 percent, and the Eagles were just 12-of-21 from the free throw line, compared to 17-of-21 for the Broncos.
"Santa Clara is going to have a good season," praised Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "If they can rebound from an 0-16 conference season and start the year 5-0, I know we can get our team together too. The hard part about experience is getting it. But we just went on the road and came away with a lot of experience together."
Santa Clara was led by the 25 points of Tournament MVP Marc Trasolini, who made 9-of-16 shots from the field with a pair of 3-pointers. Trasolini, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound senior forward, injured his knee in September 2011 and missed the entire 2011-12 season. The Broncos were just 8-22 overall and 0-16 in the WCC a year ago.
"Santa Clara shot and executed very well," said Hayford. "Trasolini is one of the premier power forwards on the West Coast. He deserves to have a special season. When he's making it from three, it makes it really hard on opponents. A lot of credit goes to him."
Eastern, which was coming off its first victory of the season with a 75-70 win two days earlier over South Carolina Upstate, is now 1-5 this season. Opening with its first six games of the season on the road, Friday's outing ended a six-day stretch with four games for the Eagles.
"I don't like being 1-5 – that's new ground for me," said Hayford, who is in his second year at EWU and 14th overall as a head coach. "But I really think this team is going to come together."
Chiverton, whose mother recently passed away, has scored 51 points in his last three games after scoring just 15 in EWU's first three outings. He made 7-of-15 attempts from the field, including 4-of-12 3-point attempts, versus the Broncos.
"Collin did some really good things, and I'm proud of him and all the adversity he's been going through," said Hayford of the 2011-12 Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year. "That's a big plus for our team."
Freshman Venky Jois, coming off back-to-back double-doubles, had 11 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots versus the Broncos. He was selected to the All-Tournament team, but gave up size and strength to Tresolini.
Sophomore Martin Seiferth added seven points, six rebounds and a blocked shot.
"Venky looked tired, and Martin was tired and was playing on a bum ankle," said Hayford. "Venky had some good work on the boards, but there were other times when he was pushed around too."
Eastern hung with the Broncos early in the game, and took an 18-17 lead with 11:34 in the first half on a 3-pointer by Jordan Hickert. But Santa Clara scored seven-straight points to take the lead for good, then ended the half on a 21-7 run to take a 47-30 lead at intermission.
Eastern went the last 2:44 of the first half without a field goal, and made only 36 percent of its shots in the first half and had nine turnovers. The Broncos made 56 percent of their shots, including 9-of-18 shots from behind the 3-point arc, and had only five miscues.
The closest EWU came in the second half was 13 points, and Santa Clara opened its biggest lead of the night of 23 points at 54-31 with 17:47 to play.
Eastern now plays five of its next six at home, starting Friday, Nov. 30 when Cal State Fullerton visits Reese Court for a game that starts at 6:05 p.m. The Eagles open league play on Dec. 20.
Including Saint Mary's, who defeated EWU 85-66 last Sunday, three of Eastern's four opponents in California had 20-victory seasons a year ago. Utah Valley was 20-13 overall and 9-1 in the Great West Conference to capture the league title. USC Upstate was 21-13 and finished second in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 13-5 mark. Santa Clara was 8-22 overall and 0-16 in the WCC last season. Eastern defeated USC Upstate 75-70, but lost 86-83 to Utah Valley after holding an 11-point halftime lead.
"I watched Santa Clara destroy Saint Louis (74-62), so I knew they are really, really good," said Hayford of the Broncos. "They are coming back from last season with a vengeance. They were 0-16 in conference play last year, and now they are off to a great start. It shows how precious wins are. They are going to be good in the West Coast Conference."