Hornets use hot shooting to open big advantage before lead is cut to six by Eastern, which is still looking for elusive road win
Some timely shooting helped the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team rally from a 21-point deficit, but Sacramento State’s own hot shooting propelled the Hornets to a 75-64 Big Sky Conference victory Saturday (Jan. 18) at “The Nest” in Sacramento, Calif.
Sac State made 50 percent of its field goal attempts for the game, but at one point made 11-of-17 shots from the field to propel the Hornets to a 56-35 lead. Eastern rallied to pull within six, but the Hornets made nine free throws in the final 1:43 to secure the victory.
“We dug ourselves a big hole at the beginning of the second half,” explained Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “Our team showed tremendous pride, and I thought our staff coached a great game. Our guys kept fighting and I liked that.”
Now 0-9 on opponent home courts this season, the Eagles are 2-4 in the Big Sky and 7-10 overall. Sac State is now 2-4 in the league and 6-9 overall.
The Eagles return home to face Southern Utah on Thursday (Jan. 23) at 6:05 p.m. at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., then play at Portland State on Monday, Jan. 27. The Thunderbirds are now 0-6 in the league and 1-14 overall after falling at Weber State 65-59 on Saturday.
“I want to give Sacramento State credit for winning the game -- they really competed hard,” said Hayford. “If Sac State would have lost, they would have been 1-5 with two home losses. They put it all out there and I give them credit.”
Four Eagles scored in double figures, led by the 17 points and seven rebounds of sophomore Venky Jois. Point guard Drew Brandon finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists, with most of those stats keeping the Eagles in the game in the first half.
Eastern scoring leader Tyler Harvey and junior Parker Kelly had 15 and 11 points, respectively, but combined for just 5-of-21 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from the 3-point stripe.
It was their combined 3-of-13 shooting on 2-point shots that had Hayford most concerned, as well as defensive rebounding from the small forward position and offensive rebounding at center. Eastern was out-rebounded 37-28.
“Their 2-point shots have to be a higher percentage than their threes – just by nature of where they are shooting them from,” Hayford explained. “We have to find ways to coach them better so they can finish those drives. We can’t be mid 20-percent in our drive game. We are going to have to do better there.
“The bottom line is we need to make more baskets in our drive game, we have to get a little better rebounding at the three spot and we are going to need more offensive rebounding at the five spot,” he added. “If we get those things we’ll get over this hump.”
The game was tied four times and had two lead changes early, including a 25-all deadlock late in the first half. But Sac State ended the game with a 13-3 run and led 38-28 at intermission.
The Hornets continued their run in the second half, and scored 18 of the first 25 points of the second half to open a 56-35 advantage with 14:10 left. Sac State made seven of its last 11 shots of the first half and six of its first seven shots coming out of halftime.
“The key point was the last two minutes of the first half and the first two minutes of the second half when we got beat by about 20,” said Hayford. “We won the other 36 minutes of the game.”
Of Eastern’s next 19 points, Harvey scored 11 and Kelly had five. Eastern held the Hornets without a field goal for seven minutes, and a free throw by Jois pulled EWU to within six at 60-54 with 4:42 to play.
A 5-0 run helped the Hornets re-gain a double-digit advantage. Then, two offensive rebounds helped Sac State hold the ball from the 3:40 mark to the 2:25 mark and all but ended EWU’s comeback hopes. Sac State’s 9-of-12 free throw shooting in the last 1:43 did the rest.
After both teams had horrific 3-point shooting last Thursday in losses, both improved on Saturday. Eastern made 6-of-17 treys for 35 percent, and Sac State made 6-of-15 for 40 percent. In Thursday’s 68-64 home loss to Portland State, the Hornets were 0-of-14 from 3-point range, ending the school’s streak of 561 consecutive games with at least one trey, dating back to Nov. 28, 1993.
Eastern was coming off an 84-64 loss to Northern Arizona in which the Eagles equaled its season low at 17 percent (4-of-23) shooting from 3-point range against the Lumberjacks. The Eagles had entered the NAU game ranked 23rd in NCAA Division I in 3-pointers made per game (8.5) and 82nd in percentage (36.9 percent).
Eastern made only 30.4 percent of their shots from the field overall – its second-worst performance of the year. The Eagles improved to 40.8 percent against Sacramento State, led by the 7-of-10 performance by Jois.