After Promising First Half, Eagles Succumb to Seton Hall 92-70

Eastern trails by just two after a see-saw first half, but Pirates surge past Eagles in the second half in Newark, N.J.

It was a first half that made head coach Jim Hayford proud.

But the second half was a different matter and the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team opened a two-game East Coast road swing with a 92-70 loss to Seton Hall on Sunday (Dec. 22) at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

After a first half that featured seven ties and eight lead changes, the Pirates out-scored EWU 54-34 in the second half to break open a game they led 38-36 at intermission. Seton Hall made 61 percent of its shots in the second half while the Eagles struggled to 34 percent after a 45 percent first half.

“It’s a 40-minute game, but we had a really good first half,” explained Hayford. “We had a little lack of offensive success to start the second half, and I thought that carried over to us losing a little bit of our defensive edge that we had. That’s a bad combination if you are gauging your toughness and your energy off of scoring baskets. If you make it easy for them on the other end, that’s how you get separation, and that’s exactly what happened.”

The Eagles now play 10th-ranked Connecticut on Dec. 28 before opening Big Sky Conference play on Jan. 2. The game against the 10-1 Huskies begins at 10 a.m. Pacific time and is televised on SportsNet New York (SNY), and may also be heard on ESPN 700-AM.

Seton Hall, a member of the Big East Conference, is now 8-4 on the season after the first-ever meeting between the Eagles and Pirates. Eastern is now 5-5 on the season.

Sophomore Venky Jois had the 12th double-double of his career and third this season with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Parker Kelly scored 17 points to lead the Eagles, and sophomore Tyler Harvey scored 16. Junior point guard Drew Brandon chipped in eight points, five rebounds and five assists.

Eastern also received career-high scoring performances from freshman Felix Von Hofe (8) and junior Garrett Moon (5). The Eagles out-rebounded the Pirates 38-29, but EWU was guilty of 16 turnovers which led to 22 Pirate points. Seton Hall made 57 percent of their shots in the game.

“We did a really good job on the boards -- we had 17 offensive rebounds,” said Hayford. “But of course you are going to get a lot of offensive rebounds when you don’t put the ball in the basket, so we have to shoot the ball a little better. We’ll build on the positives. We received two really good bench contributions from Garrett and Felix, particularly in the first half.”

Eastern led for a good portion of the first half, and took its biggest leads at 12-6 early in the game and 26-20 with 6:55 left. Eastern’s last lead was 26-23, then the game was tied at 36 just before halftime.

In the second half, Seton Hall had runs of 8-0, 8-0, 7-0 and 7-2 to take a 73-54 lead with 7:27 to play. In all four runs, Eastern went at least 2:18 without a field goal, including stretches of 2:45 and 2:25 without points.

“Our players really tried hard to re-group,” said Hayford. “When we got it down to 10 (57-47 with 12:46 remaining), I used my second-to-last timeout. We went zone, but credit them, they made the next run that made the difference too big.”

The Pirates led by as many as 27 points at the 4:11 mark by an 83-56 score.

Six players scored in double figures for the Pirates, who played without injured leading scorer Sterling Gibbs (16.1 points, 4.0 assists per game). Because of injuries, a total of 10 players have started games for Seton Hall. By contrast, EWU has used the same starting lineup in all 10 of its games.

“We’ll keep building on things,” said Hayford. “I don’t think they were 20 points better than us. I think the final score should have looked a lot like the first half. But we didn’t dig in and rely on toughness when we needed to. That is something we need to keep developing in our team.”

Connecticut won at Washington 82-70 on Sunday after losing its first game four days earlier to Stanford 53-51. A year ago, UConn finished 20-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big East Conference, while Seton Hall was 15-18 overall and 3-15 in the league. However, Seton Hall and six other teams in the so-called “Catholic 7” broke off from the league, but retained the Big East tag. The remaining Big East teams, plus others in the expanded conference, are now named the American Athletic Conference.

Eastern opens league play on the road at Weber State (Jan. 2) and Idaho State (Jan. 4) before hosting Montana (Jan. 9) and Montana State (Jan. 11).

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