Eagles Turn Great Start Into Triumph in Big Sky Opener

Led by Cliff Colimon and Cliff Ederaine, Eastern is now 1-0 in the league and 7-6 overall heading into Friday's game at Montana

Jim Hayford, meet first place in the Big Sky Conference.

A composed Eagle squad turned an early 25-10 lead into a 16-point victory, as the first-year head coach of the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team made his league debut with an 82-66 win at Montana State on Wednesday (Dec. 28) at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, Mont.

Senior point guard Cliff Colimon had 15 first-half points and 22 in the game to lead the Eagles, who entered the game just 8-27 all-time in Bozeman versus the Bobcats. Senior forward Cliff Ederaine added 16 points and seven rebounds, junior guard Jeffrey Forbes had 11 points and four steals and junior forward Collin Chiverton chipped in 12 points

"What a great way to open the Big Sky Conference schedule," said Hayford. "There is no better way to start league play than with a road win, especially at such a tough place to play as Bozeman. I'm very proud of our team.

"Credit the players -- that's a textbook way to play a game," he continued. "You come out, execute the game plan, get a lead, take hold of the game and then you don't give it back. That's what our team did and I'm very, very pleased."

The Eagles now take their 1-0 Big Sky record and 7-6 overall mark to Montana on Friday (Dec. 30) in a game that starts at 12:05 Pacific time at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.

The radio broadcast of Friday's game, featuring play-by-play announcer Dennis Patchin, may be heard on 700-AM ESPN, via the web at www.espnnorthwest.com and via iPhone application (search for "Spokane Radio" and download the free app).

The Bobcats are now 5-7 overall while the Grizzlies opened league play with a 75-64 home victory over Portland State Wednesday and improved to 8-5 overall. Montana State was picked to finish seventh in the preseason Big Sky Conference media and coaches polls, and the Grizzlies were picked second. Eastern was selected third by the coaches and sixth by the media.

Most of all, Hayford was pleased his team was rewarded for its hard work on the practice floor before and after Christmas. With a team of players from throughout the country, they remained in Cheney between road trips on the schedule as the Montana game ends a stretch in which EWU will have played five of six games on the road.

"You have to make sacrifices to win," he explained. "Our team stayed in Cheney through Christmas. We had two practices Christmas Eve and we practiced Christmas Day -- we had like a team Christmas retreat. It's neat when those sacrifices can be rewarded with a road win. And I know there aren't going to be a lot of road wins in this gym."

The Eagles overcame a season-high 20 turnovers (their previous high were 15) by making 50 percent of its shots from the field (27-of-54), including 11-of-27 3-pointers. Montana State made only 21-of-54 of its shots for 39 percent, and was just 4-of-11 from the 3-point arc.

"We won the percentage game tonight and hit the percentages we wanted to offensively and defensively," Hayford said. "Credit our guys – they made winning plays. And we did a really good job of taking away Montana's State's 3-point shot. Coach (Craig) Fortier put in a great defensive game plan and the players did a great job of executing it."

Eastern also forced 22 turnovers and had 12 steals, marking the 12th time in 13 games this season the Eagles have forced more turnovers than they've committed. The Eagles are forcing an average of 16.2 per game to lead the Big Sky.

"We have a quick team so we want to play to our strengths," Hayford said. "We want to have tremendous ball pressure, and one pass away there should never be an easy catch in our defensive philosophy. When our team is doing that it looks good. We are forcing the most turnovers in the conference and that's an indication of what we are capable of doing."

Colimon finished the game making 8-of-16 shots from the field, including 4-of-9 3-pointers, and added three assists and had five turnovers in 38 minutes of action. In his most recent game, Colimon made only 2-of-11 shots with five assists and four turnovers in 37 minutes of a 77-61 loss at Saint Mary's on Dec. 20.  

In Eastern's victories this season, Colimon is averaging 16.6 points per game on 46 percent shooting, but in losses he is averaging 11.5 points on 28 percent shooting. Ederaine has similar statistics – in wins he is averaging 15.4 points on 75 percent shooting, but only 5.8 points on 25.5 percent shooting in losses.

After EWU took an early 8-1 lead, Colimon hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give EWU a 14-3 advantage. The Eagles made eight of its first 14 shots as the lead ballooned to 25-10, before making six of their last 17 to settle for a 37-29 halftime lead. Colimon hit 5-of-10 shots in the first half.

In the second half, the Eagles scored the first seven points and took a 44-29 lead. The Eagles were able to maintain the double-digit lead for the rest of the game, and Hayford credited senior forward Laron Griffin for some of that.

"Laron Griffin took some huge charges with four fouls, and they weren't able to make a run at us in the last seven or eight minutes," he said. "That's an unsung statistic – he's out there with four fouls and takes two charges. And we hit a few dagger threes. Again, let's credit the players – they stepped up and made winning plays."

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