With 74-68 Road Win at NAU, Eagles Move into Fifth

Eagles rally from nine-point second-half deficit as true freshman Parker Kelly hits big shots down the stretch

Eastern Washington University moved up one position in the Big Sky Conference standings by rallying from a nine-point second half deficit to knock off last-place Northern Arizona 74-68 in a college men’s basketball game Thursday (Feb. 2) at the Rolle Activity Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.

With a balanced scoring attack paced by 11 second-half points by true freshman Parker Kelly, the Eagles improved to 5-5 in the Big Sky Conference and 11-12 overall with their second-straight win. Eastern moved past Portland State, a 92-79 loser at league-leader Weber State on Thursday, into fifth in the league standings. Only the top six teams at the end of the regular season advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

Northern Arizona, meanwhile, fell to 1-10 in the league and 5-18 overall with its 10th-straight loss under interim head coach Dave Brown. On Monday, the Lumberjacks fell to Northern Colorado in overtime 64-62. Earlier this season on Jan. 7, Eastern used another big second half to pull away from the Lumberjacks 76-59.

The win snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Eagles in Flagstaff, Ariz., dating back to Jan. 15, 2004, when Eastern was victorious 63-57.

“I’m really happy we could get a win down here,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team returns home to face red-hot Sacramento State on Saturday (Feb. 4). “They took Northern Colorado to overtime last week, and it’s scary to face a team as loose as Northern Arizona is right now. For us to be down by nine in the second half and win shows a lot of character. Things weren’t going our way, but our players kept battling.”

The Eagles trailed 39-30 with 17:52 to play in the game, but rallied back to take its first lead of the half with 8:43 left on a 3-pointer by Jeffrey Forbes. Down the stretch, Kelly made a basket with 4:06 remaining to put the Eagles up by seven, then made a trey with 1:18 to play to enable EWU to maintain a six-point advantage. The 2012 graduate of Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep High School then knocked down 4-of-4 free throws in the final 51 seconds to ice the win for the Eagles.

“The player that came up with the most clutch plays was our only true freshman on the team,” praised Hayford. “Parker hit a big clutch shot with the shot clock going down and then made those big free throws. He had a lot of courage tonight.”

Besides Kelly’s 11 points, Collin Chiverton scored 13, Cliff Colimon had 12 and Cliff Ederaine added 11. Forbes and Jordan Hickert each chipped in eight.

“We had 25 bench points tonight – that was something we needed,” Hayford said. “This was one of our most balanced scoring games of the season. I want to give them credit for playing smart with the basketball too – we had only nine turnovers and forced 17. Those eight extra possessions were the difference in the game.”

Ederaine also had 13 rebounds to finish with his fifth double-double of the season and sixth of his career. He added six assists and four steals while making 2-of-6 shots from the floor and 7-of-12 from the free throw line. Laron Griffin added seven rebounds, as Eastern finished with 12 offensive boards. Despite NAU’s 46 percent shooting night to EWU’s 35 percent, the Eagles were only out-rebounded by one, 38-37.

“Ederaine was a beast on the boards,” Hayford said. “Laron was too, but unfortunately, was only able to play 22 minutes because of foul trouble. We’re giving ourselves extra possessions and that’s one of the reasons why we can shoot 35 percent and win.”

Sacramento State won 73-62 at Northern Colorado Thursday, giving the Hornets a two-game winning streak coming to Cheney, where they haven’t won since 1995. The game starts at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time, with all Eastern fans encouraged to wear white on “White Out Reese” night.

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 “Spokane Radio” and download the free app).

The Hornets, who lost to EWU at home 65-60 on Jan. 12, are now 7-14 on the season and 2-8 in the Big Sky. After losing its first eight league games of the season, Sac State registered a 77-43 home win over NAU on Jan. 28.

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