Big First Half Lead Holds Up for ISU in 83-72 Loss for Eastern

Eagles pull within six in the second half after falling behind by 17 early in the game, as four-game road stretch ends

Finally, the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team can put recent stops in New Jersey, Connecticut, Utah and Idaho in its rearview mirror.

Idaho State jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first half and held off the Eagles after halftime for an 83-72 Big Sky Conference basketball victory Saturday (Jan. 4) at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.

Eastern made only three of its first 15 shots of the game to put the Eagles in a hole they could never get out of. Led by the 19 points of sophomore Tyler Harvey, four Eagles scored in double figures as they combined for all but eight of EWU’s points for a team battling a recent rash of illness and injuries.

“When you are missing shots, that’s when your defense has to be at their best,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “Unfortunately, our lack of offensive success I thought stopped some of our defense and we dug too big of a hole.”

Eastern sophomore Venky Jois finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds for the 13th double-double of his 41-game career, and fourth this season.

Eastern ended a four-game road stretch and will now host Montana (Jan. 9) and Montana State (Jan. 11) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Eastern hasn’t played a home game since Dec. 15.

The Eagles are now 5-8 overall, while the Bengals are 5-6 on the season. Idaho State is 2-0 in the league after winning its Big Sky opener 87-76 against Portland State on Thursday, and EWU is 0-2 after the loss to ISU and a 74-67 setback at Weber State in which the Eagles jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead.

Eastern missed its first seven 3-point attempts against ISU, but finished with a season-high 14 treys on 38 attempts. Eastern finished at 39 percent shooting from the field overall, while ISU was significantly better at 48 percent.

“We made enough threes to win, even though we missed our first seven,” said Hayford. “We were basically 50 percent from three the rest of the night. The scheme was good and we had a good plan to score on them.”

The loss snapped EWU’s eight game winning streak in the series versus the Bengals, dating back to the last win for ISU on Jan. 22, 2010 (79-71 in Pocatello). The two teams meet again in Cheney on March 6 on the final weekend of conference play.

Hayford said all but three of his players have been fighting through food poisoning the last three days, including a missed game on Thursday for backup point guard Daniel Hill. Also, key reserve Ognjen Miljkovic missed his second-straight game with an ankle sprain and Thomas Reuter continues to battle the effects of Crohn’s Disease.

“I give Idaho State credit – they won the ballgame,” Hayford said. “But they shouldn’t have scored 83 points on us. It’s a growing up night. We only get 20 conference games, so for those 40 minutes we have to be ready.”

Harvey, who equaled his career high with 30 points one game earlier against Weber State, missed his first five shots against the Bengals. But the No. 2 scorer in the Big Sky finished 6-of-20 from the field with five 3-pointers and five assists as he nearly hit his season average of 20.2 points per game.

Junior Parker Kelly had 16 points and made four 3-pointers, and Drew Brandon also had four treys to finish with 14 points. Brandon contributed six rebounds and three assists, but played sparingly in the second half before fouling out with 4:35 to play. He scored 11 of EWU’s 32 points in the first half.

Eastern led early 6-3, but then ISU took command with a 19-2 run to open a 22-8 advantage. Another 8-0 run helped the Bengals open a 17-point lead at 30-13 with 6:53 to play.

The Eagles closed the half by making eight of their last 14 shots, but Idaho State led at halftime 44-32. Eastern is now 1-7 this season when they’ve allowed 71 points or more.

The Eagles pulled within six at 52-46 on a 3-ponter by Kelly with 13:49 remaining. But over the next 6:23, Idaho State out-scored EWU 15-5 to regain a 67-49 advantage and put the game out of reach. EWU hit four treys in the 15-8 run that followed to cut the lead to 11 before bowing by that margin.

“We dug a big hole and pulled within six in the second half,” Hayford explained. “If we don’t dig that big hole initially, we’re up five or six in and have momentum at that point of the game.”

Four Bengals scored in double figures, led by the 27 points of Andre Hatchett. Tomas Sanchez added 15 points and 11 assists.

“They had two players on the court who did what they wanted to do,” added Hayford. “You are not going to win games if you don’t impede what the other team is doing.  So that was a tough lesson learned by us tonight.”

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