Eastern Advances to Semifinals in BSC Championship With 81-75 Win

Trio of Eagles combine for 64 points in third meeting in 10 days, as Eastern now plays Tuesday in Missoula

Junior guard Jeffrey Forbes was up to the task. So was senior point guard Cliff Colimon. And ditto for senior forward Laron Griffin.

Idaho State stole a page from EWU’s book, but Eastern Washington University’s trio of players all scored at least 21 points to lead the Eagles to an 81-75 victory over the Bengals in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Men’s Basketball Championship Saturday (March 3) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

“It is a great win and it is a great day to be an Eagle,” said first-year head coach Jim Hayford. “I’m very proud of our team.”

Forbes had a season-high 21 points, and had a steal and assist on a key basket with 37 seconds to play as the Eagles advanced to the semifinals on Tuesday (March 6) against either Montana (15-1, 23-6) or Weber State (14-2, 23-5) in Missoula, Mont. Eastern improved to 15-16 on the season with its third victory in as many tries against ISU, while the Bengals ended their season 9-21.

Griffin had a career-high 21 points and had 11 rebounds for his sixth career double-double. Colimon, who two days earlier was selected as first team All-Big Sky Conference selection, finished with 22 points, seven assists, two steals and four rebounds.

The Eagles had their second-best shooting night of the season at 52.8 percent, led by Griffin (8-of-12), Forbes (8-of-12) and Colimon (8-of-13). Eastern is now 9-0 this season when it makes at least 45 percent of its shots from the floor.

The fourth-seeded Eagles survived a 3-point onslaught by the fifth-seeded Bengals, who made 14 out of a tournament record 33 3-point attempts. Kenny McGowan hit five 3-pointers on a record 19 attempts, and finished with 28 points. Melvin Morgan had six treys and finished with 22.

 “We played one of our finest offensive games of the year,” said Hayford. “We shot really good percentages and we had a good mix of going inside and outside. Jeff Forbes stepped up and had a great night -- he is a winning player. Offensively he scored 21 points, but he also was the guy guarding McGowen, who got off 28 shots. People might look at that and say McGowen had 28 points, but I look at that and say Forbes held him to 30 percent field goal shooting (9-of-28 for 32 percent).’’

And for only the fourth time this season, Eastern had more turnovers than its opponent. Idaho State had 12 compared to 14 for the Eagles, with the Bengals turning those miscues into 22 points. Eastern entered the game ranked fifth in NCAA Division in 3-pointers per game (9.1) and 10th in turnover margin (+4.2 per game).

“They were making some really deep, tough looks,” said Hayford. “And when you are able to still win when stuff like that is happening, then good for us. I think that both teams left it all out on the floor -- that’s to be expected. My hat is off to Idaho State. They played really well, and it is tough to beat a team three times in a season.”

The Eagles were hosting their first postseason playoff game in six years, the first since March 4, 2006 when the Eagles knocked off Portland State in Cheney -- by the same 81-75 score as the ISU game. Rodney Stuckey scored 38 points in that game – the second-most in the career of the current Detroit Piston and the sixth-best performance in school history.

Eastern had an seven-point lead early in the second half, but Idaho State came back and led by six with 9:02 to play. Eastern followed with a 10-0 run – on a pair baskets by Griffin and 3-pointers by Forbes and Colimon – to regain a 65-61 lead.

But the Bengals tied it before EWU took the lead for good on a basket by Griffin at the 4:33 mark. However, ISU had a chance to tie or take the lead when Forbes snatched the ball from Morgan and fed teammate Kevin Winford for a layin and a four-point advantage. A pair of free throws by Parker Kelly, one by Colimon and a dunk by Griffin on an assist from Winford closed out the win for EWU.

“I think our team knows how to play the same when we’re up six and when we’re down six,” added Hayford. “Getting some important stops was key -- it helped us get some separation. The moment of the game was Jeff Forbes getting that steal and feeding Winford for the easy layup.”

The Eagles have won the last six games in the series, and Eastern has also won the last 10 meetings in Cheney, dating back to a 65-63 Bengal win at EWU on March 1, 2003.

A 77-64 victory over the Bengals on Feb. 28 clinched the No. 4 seed in the Big Sky Conference Championship for the Eagles, who finished the regular season 8-8 in the Big Sky and 14-16 overall. The win completed a season sweep in the league for the Eagles versus ISU, having defeated the Bengals in Pocatello 85-78 on Feb. 23.

Eastern will play in the semifinals on March 6 against either Montana (15-1, 23-6) or Weber State (14-2, 23-5) in Missoula, Mont. The Grizzlies wrapped-up the regular season league title on Feb. 28 with a 66-51 over the Wildcats in Missoula, Mont. Portland State (10-6, 16-13) finished third and will host the Bobcats in Saturday’s other quarterfinal game. The championship game in the tournament is March 7 at 6 p.m. Pacific time and will be televised on ESPN2.

The Eagles are making their 12th appearance in the Big Sky Conference Tournament, and second-straight after a string of four-straight misses.

Now 2-4 in six quarterfinal games, Eastern has advanced to the Big Sky semifinals on seven occasions (record of 5-2) and the championship game five times. Eastern’s only league title came in 2004 when they beat Northern Arizona 71-59, as EWU made its first and only NCAA Tournament appearance.

The radio broadcast of Tuesday’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). The game is also televised live by Altitude Sports and Entertainment.

Colimon and Griffin had had big nights before versus the Bengals.

Versus ISU on Senior Night in Cheney, Colimon had a career-high 28 points to eclipse his previous high by one. He also added four assists versus the Bengals – all in the second half when he scored 20 of his points. Colimon had a four-point play with 53 seconds left in the first half to give EWU a five-point lead, then EWU out-scored ISU 44-35 after intermission, including a 30-15 run in the first 10:38 of the second half.

Griffin finished with 18 points in that game, just one behind his career high set on Nov. 18, 2010, versus Northwest University, but it was a career high versus a NCAA Division I opponent. Griffin also had 12 rebounds for his fifth career double-double, and added four steals and two blocked shots.

In the meeting versus ISU in Pocatello, a trio of EWU players combined to make 9-of-10 free throws in the final 41 seconds, helping Eastern clinch a postseason playoff berth. Kelly, a true freshman, 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. Colimon added three baskets beyond the 3-point arc and finished with a game-high 21 points, with Griffin chipping in 15 points.


Ticket Information for Big Sky Semifinals/Championship

Eastern Washington University has a limited number of all-session tickets available in the EWU cheering section for the semifinals and championship game of the Big Sky Conference Championships in Missoula. Those tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and cost $45 each. Orders will be taken immediately after today’s game at Reese Court, and then any remaining tickets will be sold Monday 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the EWU Ticket Office at Reese Court, or via phone at 509-359-6059. Tickets will also be available through The University of Montana ticket office, however, they will not be in the EWU cheering section and a sell-out is extremely possible.

Montana is hosting the Big Sky Conference Basketball Championship for the first time since 2000. Semifinals will take place Tuesday, March 6, with Weber State facing with lowest remaining seed at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time and the Griz facing the highest remaining seed at 7 p.m. The championship game will be at 6 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday March 7.



Comments From Eastern Washington Head Coach Jim Hayford

“Down six in the second half is nothing for us. Our guys don’t look at the scoreboard until there’s about three minutes to go. They’ve come back from big deficits before, and they knew that whether we were up six or down six we needed to play great defense. And we did that. We were wearing them down with foul trouble which gave us some pretty high percentage looks down the stretch.”

“Laron has been playing like a senior should. Every night he is super consistent and he has found a nice offensive touch to his game. He is producing at a high level and I am really happy for him. When you get to the end of your career you want to be able to say I left it all out on the floor, and I think Laron can certainly say that. We’ll celebrate tonight. And then we’ll wake up tomorrow and try to do something real special in Missoula.”

“We have been doing the same preparations for free throws now as at the beginning of April. You don’t become a better free throw shooting team at the last minute. Where Laron deserves a ton of credit is his improvement at the free throw line.”

“Jeff had a huge night -- he received the game ball for really stepping up. He is a winning player -- he had a great high school career and was part of a great high school program. He is our most steady player and he knows how to play winning basketball. I’m extremely proud of him tonight.”

“This win means that we’re raising the bar for our program. We’re saying Eastern Basketball is a player in our conference. We wanted to be counted in when people are talking about the good programs. “

“We gave Forbes the game ball. This is a big one for us and I think this will really mean something to him. I think he’s got great character and has really pushed through some early bad shooting this season. I want to thank everyone who came out tonight. I know tickets cost a little more during the post season as they do normally. We may have not had as many fans out but it sure was loud. It was a neat home court environment for our team to play in.

 “Laron is solid. He is an extremely coachable player and he is definitely our most improved player. He’s improved his field goal percentage by at least 25 percent over last season. He is a great teammate and it is a real joy to be Laron’s coach.”


Quotes From Idaho State’s Head Coach Deane Martin

On the Loss: “There are three guys in that locker room having a tough time. They deserved the win. I told them that once it (the loss) sinks in, they are three guys that should be proud for what they’ve done for the Idaho State program.”

On Coming Out of Half: “We were down by five coming out of half, and we knew they were going to get Colimon some looks. We did okay, but Colimon is a good player and he’s tough to stop. We talked about how we had 20 minutes to play and how we are in a big playoff game. We just came out and took it possession-by-possession.”

On Gameplan: “We wanted the ball in Kenny’s (McGowen) and Chase’s (Grabau) hands as much as possible to get a two-man game going. It was working for us. Kenny was making plays and we had Chase we could play off of too. It was a lot of fun to watch those two go at it. They’re the two best guys to have the ball in their hands; I made the decision to roll with them a couple days ago. We’re going to live and die by that. Once Chase got in foul trouble, we sent in Sherrod (Baldwin) and he gave us good minutes and hit a couple shots.”

On Melvin Morgan’s late-game turnovers: “He’s had a few of those this year, but bless his heart, he gives everything he’s got. I know he probably feels bad, but hey, like we’ve said before, you’re going to get to that point where you might not play the perfect game. He just has to pick himself up and go from there.”

On Eastern: “Eastern was really good tonight. You got to give them credit. When we subbed, they subbed. We’d get matchups, then they would go big. When we went big, they went small. Every time we subbed, they had something to match it with. We had them on the run with Kenny and Chase. Then at the seven-minute mark, they started going to (Laron) Griffin and we couldn’t get him contained. We can’t get our help defense over there and can’t double off on Griffin because of their shooting on the perimeter. There just wasn’t a lot we could do with Griffin. He’s a good post player. He backs them down and scores. They hit us with that in the last three or four minutes; there wasn’t anything we could do.”

On ISU’s Season: “It’s been great for me. The best part of it is to see the players turn things around. That’s absolutely the first and most important thing in my mind. When I first accepted this interim job, I told (ISU athletic director) Jeff (Tingey) that I’m going to do everything that I can do to turn this program around and try and be successful. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we made progress. Then we made a little more progress and the next thing you know we’re being expected to do well. We put ourselves in that position. Everyone forgot about the team that was picked to finish last (in the Big Sky).”

“We saw players have success. That was the best thing for me. I just wanted to concentrate on the team. I committed myself to that and I got the players going and think we all did a pretty good job.”

“We are all happy to be Bengals. I don’t know if they felt like that before, but now I know they’re happy for what’s going on. The underclassmen will be back next year and they’re going to push to get better. Hopefully this same thing can happen next year.”

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