After a two-game hiatus, the defense has returned for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
With sophomore Ty Gibson scoring a career-high 21 points in his first start of the season, the Eagles also had their best defensive performances of the season in scoring and percentage in a 70-44 victory over Northern Colorado Saturday (Feb. 11) in Greeley, Colo.
A 15-2 run in the second half helped open up a big lead for the Eagles, who led by as many as 27. In holding UNC to 44 points and 28 percent shooting from the field, Eastern had its best defensive performances of the season after having allowed its two highest point totals in its last two outings. The victory helped Eastern improve to 9-4 in the Big Sky Conference, including a 4-3 road record, with five league games to play.
"I am just really proud of our team," Eastern head coach Jim Hayford said. "Our players just executed well and that is how you get the win. They responded to the challenge. We are very fortunate to get a road win like this -- it was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. We played really well."
Gibson made just his third career start and eclipsed his previous high of 19 by tying his career-high of with six three-pointers made on eight attempts. Gibson entered the game with the second-best three-point field goal percentage in the Big Sky at 51.9 percent.
Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley also had 21 points in the game, making 7-of-13 shots from the field. He also picked up eight rebounds and had three blocked shots.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 17-9 in their 34th season as a member of NCAA Division I and 9-4 in the league as they continue their 30th season as a member of the Big Sky. Eastern, which has won six of its last eight games, is now 12-1 at home and 5-8 on the road. Eastern's four league losses entering the UNC game were by a combined 19 points (6, 3, 1. 9).
* Northern Colorado is currently 4-9 in the conference standings and 8-16 overall following its 88-76 home loss Thursday versus Idaho. Ineligible for the post-season tournament, the Bears suffered an 87-77 overtime loss at UND on Feb. 4 -- the same day EWU played an epic three-overtime game versus Portland State in a 130-124 win.
What It Means . . .
* The Eagles entered Big Sky action Saturday in a third-place tie with Idaho in the Big Sky standings at 8-4. Weber State (9-2) and North Dakota (9-3) held down the top two positions, while Montana (7-5) and Montana State (7-6) are in the two places behind EWU and Idaho. Montana State defeated Southern Utah Saturday afternoon 83-76. Later Saturday, Weber State (9-2) plays at Portland State (5-6), Idaho (8-4) is at North Dakota (9-3), and Montana (7-5) is at Northern Arizona (4-8). The top five teams secure first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament March 7-11 to Reno, Nevada. There are still five games left to play for the Eagles in the league season.
What's Next . . .
* A 1,000-mile trip home from Greeley is next for EWU, but then the Eagles will play their final three home games at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 17 (Idaho), Feb. 23 (Weber State) and Feb. 25 (Idaho State). Eastern closes out the regular season at Southern Utah (March 2) and Northern Arizona (March 4).
Keys to Game . . .
* Going into the game, Northern Colorado had three players averaging in double figures (collective average of 45.0), led by sophomore guard Jordan Davis at 19.7 per game. Eastern held those three players to 29 points total – including 15 by Davis – and just nine in the first half when EWU took a 28-20 lead. Collectively, those three players made only 8-of-32 shots from the field (25 percent) and 1-of-11 from the 3-point stripe (9 percent).
Top Performers . . .
* Sophomore Ty Gibson made just his third career start – and first this season – and he set a new career high for points in a game with 21. His previous career high was 19 against Great Falls on Dec. 8. He also tied his career high for made 3-pointers, going 6-for-8 from beyond the arc. Gibson entered the game with the second-best three-point field goal percentage in the Big Sky at 51.9 percent.
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley scored 21 points in the game before collecting five fouls at the end of regulation. He led the team in rebounds by collecting eight and had three blocked shots. He entered the game ranked eighth nationally in field goal percentage (.649), 10th in NCAA Division I in blocked shots (2.8), 31st in scoring (20.4), 66th in rebounding (8.6) and 126th in free throw percentage (.821). In league only statistics, he entered leading the Big Sky in scoring (27.7), field goal percentage (.684) and blocked shots (2.3), and ranking second in rebounding (9.8), 14th in assists (2.8) and 11th in free throw percentage (79.6 percent),
* Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk scored in double digits with 10 points. He led the team with two steals and collected six rebounds. He entered the game ranked 64th nationally in scoring (19.1).
* Junior Sir Washington made his fifth start of the season and had two points, five rebounds and four assists.
Turning Point . . .
* There was only one lead change early in the first half before the Eagles took command and led the rest of the way. After leading 28-20 at halftime, EWU's 15-2 run extended its lead to 52-26 with 7:55 to play. The Eagles held UNC without a field goal for 10:04 in that stretch, and for the half the Bears made only 7-of-25 field goal attempts for 28 percent. Northern Colorado was 0-of-9 from the 3-point stripe in the second half, and just 3-21 for the game (14 percent).
Key Stats . . .
* Of pressing importance for the Eagles against UNC was to get its defense back on track after allowing 219 points in the last two games, which includes a triple-overtime game. Those are the two highest scoring games against the Eagles this season, after defensively having their top six performances versus NCAA Division I foes in their first 10 league games. The 44 points UNC scored bested the previous fewest EWU allowed in a 70-47 win over Linfield, and was the best versus a Division I opponent since giving up just 60 to Montana on Jan. 26. The 28.3 shooting percentage for the Bears bettered EWU's previous best in holding Idaho to 30.5 percent on Dec. 30.
* The Eagles out-rebounded UNC 40-32, giving Eastern a 9-2 record when they out-rebound opponents. Eastern has advantages in eighth of the last 11 games, but in its first 15 games, Eastern had a rebounding advantage just three times.
* Eastern's offense has clicked along, entering Saturday's game having made at least 50 percent of its shots in six of the last seven games and nine of 12 league games overall. They finished just under that at 48 percent against the Bears.
Team Highlights . . .
* After giving up 95 points in its last outing, Eastern's defense was impressive out of the chute at UNC. The Eagles held the Bears without a point for 6:48 and opened an early 11-4 lead. Eastern led by as many as 11 at 28-17 late in half and led 28-20 at intermission. Jacob Wiley scored 15 of EWU's first-half points, while EWU's defense held UNC to 29 percent shooting. The top three scorers for the Bears entered the game averaging a collective 45.0 points per game, but were held to just nine in the first half.
Notables . . .
* The Eagles are 11-10 all-time versus UNC (7-3 in Cheney, 4-7 in Greeley), with the first meeting taking place on Dec. 20, 1971, when Eastern beat the Bears 76-68 in Greeley, Colo. Since then, all of the meetings have been with EWU as a member of NCAA Division I (since 1983-84), starting in the 2006-07 season when the Bears became a Big Sky Conference member.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Ty Gibson and Sir Washington: "Ty did a great job in his first start of the year. He just shot the ball really well. I have asked Felix (Von Hofe) to guard some people and be more into rebounding, and I think that has been hurting his shooting a little bit. I wanted to add one more shooter out there. And then we thought Sir was the right matchup on Jordan Davis, and I thought Sir did a fantastic job."
On Traveling to a Different Time Zone: "It was hard earlier in the year, but I think the players are more used to it now. The other thing is that it is easier when you get the chance to play them a second time and of course we only play Northern Colorado once this year."
On Bears: "Northern Colorado is going to have a really good program here. It is hard when they don't get to be a part of the postseason, but their guys are still playing really hard and right down to the last whistle."
On Rebounding: "I thought we did offensive rebounding better. They are the top defensive rebounding team in the conference so we have to give them credit."
On Next Three Games at Home: "We will see what we do with this homestand. We will keep their bodies fresh and their minds alert. Friday is going to be fun just for Beau Baldwin to be able to say goodbye to everyone."
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