Eastern Holds Late Second-Half Lead, But Falls to 23rd-Ranked Bulldogs, 77-69

Cliff Colimon and newcomer Collin Chiverton combine for 42 points as Jim Hayford era begins

It was a good starting point, but very nearly a remarkable one.

After responding time and time again from Gonzaga scoring runs, Eastern Washington University opened the 2011-12 season with a respectable 77-69 loss to the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs Friday (Nov. 11) at the McCarthy Center in Spokane, Wash.

Eastern held four leads in the second half – its last with 6:48 to play -- and nearly pulled off an upset in the EWU coaching debut for Jim Hayford. The game was the season-opener for both the Bulldogs out of the West Coast Conference and the Eagles from the Big Sky, as the Bulldogs won for the 24th-straight time over EWU.

“I know we earned some respect, but I wanted to win,” said Hayford. “Our fans should be proud of our players. We showed some tremendous resolve – this is a tough place to play.”

Eastern opens its home schedule on Tuesday (Nov. 15) when South Dakota visits Reese Court in a game that begins at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time.

Senior point guard Cliff Colimon and junior college transfer Collin Chiverton led the way by combining for 42 points for the Eagles. Chiverton, a former redshirt at GU rival Saint Mary’s in California, made 6-of-12 shots from the 3-point arc and 8-of-24 shots from the field to finish with a game-high 25 points.

“He’s working his way into shape,” said Hayford of Chiverton, who was slowed this past summer and fall by a foot injury. “He shot the ball well from three, but he was only 2-of-12 inside the stripe. He’s also as good off the drive as he is off the shot.”

Colimon made 3-of-7 treys and finished with 17 points to go along with a game and career-high eight assists. However, Colimon hardly played in the final 10 minutes after picking up his fourth and fifth fouls down the stretch. In fact, five players fouled out for the Eagles, who were whistled for 33 fouls in the game.

 “I thought he was the best guard on the court and I was extremely proud of him,” added Hayford of Colimon, who helped Eastern finish 13-of-29 as a team from the three-point line. “I would like a couple of his fouls back, but I was extremely proud with the way he began his senior year.”

Gonzaga made 36-of-51 free throws in the game, including a 14-of-18 performance by 7-foot Robert Sacre, who finished with a team-high 22 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulldogs also had a dominating 50-29 rebounding advantage, including 22 offensive rebounds.

The game featured an early 10-all tie as both teams combined for paltry 5-of-24 shooting with 11 turnovers in the opening minutes. Chiverton hit a pair of treys, and Eastern took a 16-13 lead with 9:05 left.

But the Bulldogs followed with 9-0 run to begin to pull away after a half that featured five ties and four lead changes. Another 6-0 run put the Bulldogs up 28-18, and eventually GU would take a 12-point lead. Gonzaga followed its 2-of-13 start by making 10 of their next 12 attempts.

But Eastern stayed close, using a pair of baskets by Colimon and a pair of 3-pointers by Chiverton to pull within 38-35 at halftime. The Eagles made 7-of-14 treys and all six of their free throws in the first half, but EWU was whistled for 15 fouls as GU sank 12-of-19 shots from the charity stripe.

Chiverton made a pair of baskets to pull Eastern within two early in the second half, then GU went on a 6-0 run to take a 47-39 lead. But the Eagles kept making shots, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Jordan Hickert and Jeffrey Forbes gave EWU a 52-48 advantage with 13:25 to play.

The lead changed hands several times before Jeffrey Forbes hit a trey to put Eastern up 65-64 with 6:48 to play. But EWU went the next five minutes without a field goal, and GU responded by making 8-of-10 free throws in that stretch to regain an insurmountable 72-65 lead. A field goal by Willie Hankins cut the lead to six with just under two minutes left, but a basket by Sacre and two more GU free throws put the game out of reach.

Eastern is now 7-53 all-time versus Gonzaga, and hasn’t defeated the Bulldogs since Jan. 8, 1990, in Spokane by a 70-55 score. Also last season, the Eagles lost 78-72 versus South Dakota on Dec. 20, 2010, in Vermillion, S.D., in the only previous meeting between the two schools.

The Eagles play a total of seven games in November, including three in a seven-day span from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17. After the South Dakota game, Eastern plays at Oregon on Nov. 17. After two weeks of practices and scrimmages, Hayford is seeing progress.

Hayford, who compiled a gaudy 217-57 (.792) record in 10 seasons at NCAA Division III Whitworth University in Spokane, inherited an EWU team that finished the 2010-11 season with a 10-20 record overall. The Eagles finished 7-9 and in a fifth-place tie with Montana State in the Big Sky Conference standings, advancing the Eagles to the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the first time in five years.

His first Eastern team features eight returning letterwinners, including six who combined to start 125 games a year ago. He also has available five newcomers, plus three players who will redshirt the 2011-12 season.

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