The Eagles were hoping for their first road win of the season, but a road rout was a bonus.
The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team opened up an early double-digit lead and dominated in all facets of the game to win for the first time in 11 tries on an opponent home court with a 79-50 romp past Montana State Thursday (Feb. 6) at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, Mont.
“Somebody asked what happiness is, and tonight happiness is a road win,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team had its best defensive performance – by 12 points -- against a NCAA Division I opponent this season.
Big Sky scoring leader Tyler Harvey had 19 points, and career highs of eight assists and four steals to lead Eastern’s all-around team effort. Venky Jois had 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals, and Martin Seiferth came off the bench to finish with 12 points and nine boards. Parker Kelly also came off the bench and chipped in 11 points and five rebounds.
All nine Eagles who played scored in the game and eight had at least one rebound. The only defensive performance this season that was better was holding Walla Walla to 44 points, and the previous best versus a DI opponent was 62 versus Montana in January. Eastern entered the game allowing a league-worst 76.8 points per game.
“We played a really complete game, especially on defense and on the boards,” praised Hayford. “We shared the ball very well on offense. They were really keying on Tyler and he was able to run offense that got other guys baskets off the pressure they were putting on him.
“And he had only one turnover,” Hayford added. “He did a really good job of not forcing things. He did what he needed to do.”
Eastern had a 38-22 rebounding advantage, its best margin against a NCAA Division I opponent this season. The previous best was 12 against Boston back on Nov. 22. The Eagles had a rebounding advantage in only four of their last 16 games entering Thursday.
The Eagles also made 53 percent of their shots from the field, compared to only 39 percent for the Bobcats. Eastern, the second-best team in the Big Sky in 3-point shooting defense (.342), held MSU to 24 percent (4-of-17) from beyond the arc.
“We wanted to exert our will, and make it a game of our size over their speed,” explained Hayford. “We established Martin early in the first half with 10 points, and he played really big. We followed a game plan for 40 minutes.”
Eastern has now won two games in a row and is 5-6 in the Big Sky and 10-12 overall. Overall, the Eagles are 1-10 on opponent home courts, having not won on the road since beating Idaho State in Pocatello 87-73 on March 7, 2013. Eastern is 7-2 at home and 2-0 on neutral courts.
The Bobcats, who lost to Montana 70-66 in Bozeman on Monday, are also now 5-6 in the league and 10-12 overall. Eastern is now a perfect 5-for-5 in football and men’s basketball games against the Bobcats and Grizzlies during the 2013-14 school year. Eastern has never won more than four of the six meetings in any previous season.
The Eagles remain on the road to face Montana on Saturday (Feb. 8) at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula. The game begins at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time and will be carried live on ESPN 700-AM and www.watchbigsky.com. The Grizzlies defeated Portland State 82-76 in overtime on Thursday in Missoula, and are now 11-9 overall and 6-5 in the league.
Earlier this season, the Eagles beat Montana 69-62 and Montana State 77-72 at home. Besides facing the Grizzlies on Monday, the Bobcats also had a road game last week.
“Maybe they were a little out of gas, but we’ll take it,” Hayford said. “At the end of the year you have 20 Big Sky games, and it doesn’t matter where you win them and if you win them by one or 30. And here we are at 5-6.”
Led by Harvey’s early assists and steals -- and Seiferth’s 10 points -- the Eagles opened a 17-6 lead just nine minutes into the game. Eastern continued to pour it on, and led 36-18 just before halftime on a 3-pointer by Harvey.
After leading 36-20 at intermission, Kelly hit a pair of 3-pointers in an 8-2 run to start the second half and open a 22-point lead. The advantage ballooned to 27 with a 10-2 run later in the half. The Eagles took their biggest lead of the game at 29 with 1:01 left on a 3-pointer by reserve Felix Von Hofe.
“Our players didn’t let any drama enter the game,” added Hayford. “They came out and beat them in the first half and beat them in the second half.”