MORAGA, Calif. - The first 16 minutes went extraordinarily well for the youthful Eastern Washington University men's basketball team, and Jim Hayford can live with that.
Eastern led 31-16 late in the first half, but a 9-0 run and a 16-3 surge to open the second half helped the Saint Mary's Gaels roll past the Eagles 85-66 in a non-conference men's basketball game Sunday (Nov. 18) in Moraga, Calif.
"I saw a team on the court in Eastern uniforms that I know will come to fruition," said Hayford, whose team includes eight newcomers. "And we can build on that. We'll keep building this team -- that's what it's all about right now."
The Eagles are 0-3 this season as they continue its difficult six-game road stretch to start the 2012-13 season by playing four opponents in the span of six days in California. The Gaels are now 3-0, and last year were 25-9 overall last year and 11-3 in the West Coast Conference, and went on to lose 72-69 to Purdue in the NCAA Tournament.
"Full credit goes to Saint Mary's – they are a really, really good squad," praised Hayford. "They are going to have a great season. Their run at the end of the first half obviously hurt us."
Junior Justin Crosgile led the Eagles with 13 points, making 5-of-13 shots from the field (3-of-8 from the 3-point stripe). Freshman Venky Jois added nine points, five rebounds and two blocked shots as 13 Eagles played and 11 scored.
Senior Collin Chiverton, last year's Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year, scored seven early points for the Eagles, but was saddled with foul trouble after that and was limited to 15 total minutes.
"Collin got off to a great start, then foul trouble limited his night," said Hayford. "But it was nice to see him get some positive minutes on the court."
The Gaels made 51 percent of their shots from the field, but made 64 percent after intermission. At one point in the second half, Saint Mary's made 14-of-17 shots, as point guard Matt Dellavedova finished with eight assists and nine points in the game.
"They are one of the best ball-screen offensive teams I've ever seen," said Hayford. "Dellavedova is special. They made some great adjustments in the second half, and that was the difference. You have to pick your poison – they shot the ball well from the outside and they loaded up on the inside. They executed very well and they were the better team tonight."
The Eagles led much of the first half, and led 31-26 when Jordan Hickert made a 3-pointer and Ivan Dorsey followed with a field goal with 4:12 to play. But a 9-0 run led to a 37-33 halftime lead for the Gaels.
Saint Mary's opened a 17-point lead with a 16-3 run to begin the second half. The Gaels led by as many as 28 and no less than 14 the rest of the way.
Eastern had just eight turnovers in the game, but had 22 in its previous outing versus Cal State Northridge in a 96-79 loss. The Eagles made 37.5 percent of their shots against Saint Mary's after making 41.4 percent against the Matadors, but Hayford was pleased with his team's shot selection in the first half.
"We took care of the ball a lot better," he said. "Against a good defensive Saint Mary's team we only had eight turnovers. Our shot selection was a lot better, although it lacked a little bit in the second half."
Eastern now plays three games in Santa Clara, Calif., as part of the 2012 College Basketball Experience (CBE) Hall of Fame Classic, which is hosted by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Eastern will play Utah Valley on Nov. 20 at approximately 8:15 p.m., then plays South Carolina Upstate the next night at 6 p.m. After a day off for Thanksgiving, Eastern plays host Santa Clara at approximately 4 p.m. on Nov. 23.
The radio broadcast of each game will air on 700-AM ESPN, via the web at www.700espn.com and via iPhone application (search for "700 ESPN" and download the free app). The broadcast is also available via www.tunein.com and tunein's mobile phone app. Larry Weir returns for his 20th year as the play-by-play voice of the Eagles.
Including Saint Mary's, 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 doesn't play at home until Cal State Fullerton visits on Nov. 30.