CHENEY, Wash. - For a brief time in recent weeks, Parker Kelly and Martin Seiferth were given a sixth-man role for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
But they came on like gangbusters as starters Thursday (Feb. 13) against Sacramento State, helping the Eagles open a 21-point lead in the first half en route to an 85-72 Big Sky Conference men's basketball victory over the Hornets at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The Eagles led from start to finish, but had to withstand a second-half rally by the Hornets. Eastern closed out the game by making 9-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes.
"I thought we had a great week of preparation for this game and put together a really solid plan for how we could be successful," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "We really studied what happened in the game at Sacramento, and we had everybody on the same page. I thought that was what we saw in the first half."
All five starters scored in double figures, led by Kelly's 18 points and a double-double for Seiferth of 16 points and 11 rebounds. They combined for 25 first-half points as the Eagles opened an early 37-16 advantage.
Point guard Drew Brandon finished with 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Venky Jois had 12 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Jois also had a blocked shot against Sacramento State, giving him 100 in his career to take over sole possession of the school record. Seiferth and Paul Butorac (2004-07) have 99 each.
Big Sky Conference leading scorer Tyler Harvey added 16 points, including 11 in the second half, as he eclipsed the 500-point mark for the season. Now with 503 on the year, Harvey is just the 10th player in school history to hit that milestone.
The Eagles are now 6-7 in the league and 11-13 overall, and are in the middle of a logjam from second to 10th in the league standings. The Hornets fell to 10-12 overall and are also 6-7 in the Big Sky as their four-game winning streak came to an end.
The Eagles next host Northern Arizona Saturday (Feb. 15) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., at 2:05 p.m. in a game carried live on ESPN 700-AM and www.watchbigsky.com. Earlier this season, the Eagles lost on the road to NAU (84-65) and Sac State (75-64). Northern Arizona defeated Portland State 65-63 Thursday to improve to 8-5 in the league and 11-13 overall.
The Eagles had its third-best shooting night of the season and best in conference play, making 55.8 percent of their shots. Sacramento State sank 44.4 percent, and the Eagles had a 34-26 rebounding advantage. The Hornets made 17-of-18 free throws and the Eagles converted 18-of-27.
"It was a good thing we shot 55 percent because they were the world's greatest free throw shooting team today," said Hayford.
The Eagles jumped out to and early 13-2 lead, and made nine of their first 13 shots to open a 20-7 advantage with 12:39 left in the first half. Eastern led by as many as 21 at the 4:48 mark on a 3-pointer by Kelly, then settled for a 45-29 halftime lead.
Eastern made 57 percent of its shots in the first half compared to 46 percent for the Hornets. Kelly scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting and Seiferth added 10 with seven rebounds. Kelly has come off the bench in EWU's last three games, and Seiferth came off the bench in four games from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1.
"The difference is if you take them, you have to make them," Hayford said of EWU's first-half shooting. "Parker had a really good first half shooting the basketball, and that is why we put him in the starting lineup for this game. I thought he played like a veteran should, and I was really pleased."
The Hornets hit a trio of 3-pointers early in the second half, and quickly cut EWU's lead to six. A pair of treys by Harvey helped EWU regain an 11-point advantage.
Sac State managed to cut the lead to four, but big baskets by Kelly, Brandon and Jois helped regain a double-digit lead, and a dunk by Seiferth at the 2:55 mark helped maintain it.
Eastern then made 9-of-10 free throws in the final 1:55 – including 6-of-6 by Brandon and 3-of-4 by Jois – to finish with a 13-point victory. Jois had made only one of four free throws to that point.
"Venky was a little bothered, but he made them when it was really important with three of four down the stretch," said Hayford. "I liked that Drew wanted the ball in his hands and made the free throws."
Overall, the Eagles are now 8-2 at home, including a 5-1 mark during Big Sky play. The Eagles are 1-11 on opponent home courts, with the lone victory a 79-50 romp in Bozeman last Thursday (Feb. 6). The Eagles hadn't won on the road since beating Idaho State in Pocatello 87-73 on March 7, 2013. Last season, EWU was 7-7 at home, including just 5-5 in league games.