Eastern sinks 9-of-10 free throws in the final 41 seconds despite three players fouling out and Collin Chiverton playing sparingly
A trio of players combined to make 9-of-10 free throws in the final 41 seconds as Eastern Washington University clinched a postseason playoff berth with an 85-78 victory over Idaho State Thursday (Feb. 23) in a key Big Sky Conference game at Reed Gym in Pocatello, Idaho. Northern Colorado lost 88-71 to Weber State, helping EWU clinch a berth to the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
The Eagles earned a spot in the Big Sky Tournament for the 12th time in school history, but last year’s berth was its first in five seasons. Eastern can still finish as high as third in the league standings.
“It was a great win for us,” said first-year Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team improved to 7-7 in the Big Sky and 13-15 overall. “We’re just glad we had a big enough lead down the stretch.”
True freshman Parker Kelly came off the bench to equal his career high with 17 points and lead a barrage of 3-pointers by the Eagles. Eastern made 9-of-21 in the first half and sank 10-of-26 in the game, as Kelly made five of his first six and finished 5-of-7.
Senior point guard Cliff Colimon added three baskets beyond the 3-point arc and finished with a game-high 21 points. Senior forward Laron Griffin scored four baskets early in the second half when Eastern opened its biggest lead of the game, and finished with a season-high 15 points to go along with seven rebounds. Jeffrey Forbes chipped in 13, but Eastern leading scorer Collin Chiverton played just three minutes because of a back injury suffered early in the game.
Colimon, Griffin and Kevin Winford all fouled out, but a trio of Eagles came through from the line in the clutch. Cliff Ederaine made a pair with 41 seconds left, and Johnson made one with 31 seconds to play. After ISU cut the lead to one, Forbes hit a pair before ISU missed its last two shots of the game. Johnson closed out the win with a pair of charity shots with 12 seconds remaining, and two more with one tick of the clock left.
After leading 42-39 at intermission, the Eagles used a 6-0 run early in the second half to take a 50-43 advantage, and moments later the lead bulged to eight on a 3-pointer by Kelly.
Eastern held the lead the rest of the game as it made 14-of-22 shots from inside the 3-point arc in the second half. The Eagles finished the game making 52.7 percent of its shots from the field -- its best against a NCAA Division I opponent this season.
“We shot the ball great in the first half with nine threes,” explained Hayford. “They extended their defense in the second half and we kept telling our team at media timeouts to keep going at them inside. Our players made that mental switch and that was really, really good. We haven’t always been able to make those adjustments.”
Griffin, who entered the game averaging 7.1 points per game, made 5-of-8 shots from the field. He made all five of his field goal attempts and scored 10 of his points in the second half. Ederaine chipped in seven points, six rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots.
“Laron came up with just a great night,” praised Hayford. “We were able to run a lot of our offense through Ederaine – he had six assists tonight. Everybody has something to be proud of.”
Eastern is now fourth in the league standings, tied with ISU at 7-7 and just behind PSU at 8-6. The Eagles and Bengals are just ahead of Montana State (6-8), Northern Colorado (5-10) and Sacramento State (4-11). Portland State knocked off the Hornets 94-88 to eliminate Sac State from the conference race.
“We want to get a home game in the tournament, but we also have it in our hands to work really hard and get a winning record,” added Hayford.
Eastern and ISU were two of the six teams who entered Thursday’s action battling for the final four berths in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. With the five of the six tourney teams now finalized, the Eagles close the year with a pair of games that will determine seedings, including a road game at Portland State on Saturday (Feb. 25 at 7:05 p.m. Pacific).
The Eagles return home to wrap-up the season against Idaho State on Tuesday (Feb. 28) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Other key league games include Saturday’s Sacramento State at ISU match-up and next Tuesday’s Northern Colorado at PSU contest.
“I hope we can translate this win to our remaining home game,” Hayford said of his team’s fourth win in seven league road games thus far. “Eastern was 2-14 on the road last year, so for us to have six this season is great. If you want to be in the postseason, you have to get road wins and we have four in the conference this year. That’s fantastic – now let’s try to get five.”
The Big Sky Conference Tournament is at campus sites on March 3 (No 3 seed and No. 4 seed host games). The site of the semifinal and championship games will most likely be decided on Feb. 28 when Weber State (13-1 in the league heading into tonight’s game at Northern Colorado) plays at Montana (12-1), as those two teams are the only schools still in contention to win the regular season title and host status for the league’s “Final Four.”
The radio broadcast of Saturday’s game, featuring play-by-play announcer Dennis Patchin, may be heard on 700-AM ESPN, via the web at 700espn.com and via iPhone application (search for “700 ESPN” and download the free app).