Eags crush Lumberjacks, advance to Big Sky quarters

Eags crush Lumberjacks, advance to Big Sky quarters

A new winning streak has begun for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team.

The sixth-seeded and defending champion Eagles used a late run in the first half to take the lead for good and went on to defeat 11th seeded Northern Arizona 74-52 in a Big Sky Conference Tournament game Tuesday (March 8) at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nevada.

“Any win in the postseason is a good win,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team snapped a four-game losing streak that included three losses by four points or less. “During this four-game losing streak, we were kind of like a snake coiling into perfect form ready to strike this week.”

Eastern, now 17-14, advances to play 20-11 Idaho in the quarterfinals on Thursday (March 8) at 8:05 p.m. Pacific time. With All-Big Sky Conference players Austin McBroom and Venky Jois leading the way, Eastern won its fourth-straight game in the league tournament and third in three tries this season against the Lumberjacks.

McBroom, a second-team all-league choice, had 16 points, a career-high five steals, and moved into fourth in Big Sky Conference history with 106 3-pointers this season. Jois finished with his 38th career double-double, and in the process went over the 1,000-rebound mark in his career. He finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

The 52 points EWU allowed was its best defensive effort of the season, and Northern Arizona’s 40.4 shooting percentage was the lowest against the Eagles since Idaho made only 31.3 percent on Jan. 9 in a 74-60 Eagle win.

“In some ways our team can be a fragile team,” explained Hayford. “Sometimes we get our energy from scoring, and that makes us play harder on defense. We got a little re-adjusted tonight – we didn’t make shots like we can, but we fed off our defense. Then our offense came into form and we shot the ball like we could. And we didn’t go down in our defense. That’s how we came away with a win.”

One of the losses for the Eagles during its four-game losing streak was a 66-62 loss to the Vandals. Prior to that, Eastern had a seven-game winning streak.

Won-Lost Records . . .

* The Eagles are now 17-14 overall and won for the first time since beating Sacramento State on the road 93-88 on Feb. 18. Eastern, which was in sole possession of third place in the conference after the win over the Hornets, finished 10-8 in league play.

* The Lumberjacks, who played without its top player, Kris Yanku, finished its season 5-25. Northern Arizona was just 3-15 in the Big Sky, but two of those wins came since Feb. 6 against Idaho and Idaho State, a pair of teams who defeated Eastern in back-to-back games on Feb. 27 and March 3, respectively. Yanku did not play in NAU’s finale because of conduct detrimental to the team. He averaged a team-leading 14.7 points and 4.8 assists per game, and was the team’s second-leading rebounder at 5.4 per game.

What It Means . . .

* Eastern (17-14) advances to the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament where it will play third seeded Idaho (20-11) at 8:05 p.m. Also winning in Tuesday’s opening round was #8 Portland State (74-67 over #9 Northern Colorado), #5 North Dakota (85-80 over #12 Southern Utah) and #10 Sacramento State (79-75 over #7 Montana State). The other quarterfinal games on Thursday will be #8 PSU (13-17) versus #1 Weber State (23-8) at 12:05 p.m., #5 North Dakota (16-14) versus #4 Idaho State (16-14) at 2:35 p.m. and #10 Sacramento State (14-16) versus #2 Montana (19-10) at 5:35 p.m. Eastern games may be heard on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com. All tourney games until the championship game will also be broadcast on www.watchbigsky.com.

What’s Next . . .

* Following the quarterfinal round, the semifinals take place on Friday (March 9) and will include games at 5:35 p.m. (first two quarterfinal winners) and 8:05 p.m. (second two quarterfinal winners). The championship game is slated for Saturday at 5:45 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU and via www.watchespn.com.