Forgive Venky Jois is he’s feeling a bit confident these days.
Three slam dunks and a 9-for-9 night from the floor will do that for you, not to mention another big win for Eastern Washington.
After the Eagles’ not-that-close, 95-85 win over North Dakota at Reese Court, the senior forward from Australia allowed himself to soak in how far Eastern basketball has come in his four years in Cheney.
From two non-playoff seasons to the NCAA Tournament appearance last year to what is turning into an epic final year.
Noq only 76 points from the EWU career scoring record, he added to his records for blocks (229) and dunks (144). And he did it with flair, fist-pumping after every play as the crowd roared its appreciation.
And that was only a few hours after the pre-med major was named to the Academic All-District 8 Academic team.
After the game, coach Jim Hayford joined in in the praise.
“The reason is our program is better is that we were able to build on his back,” Hayford said. He’s that good of a player and a person. He loves Eastern – he sweats it.
He said, ‘I will turn this around with you Coach Hayford,’ and he’s done it. That’s why we’ll see his number retired in this gym some day,” Hayford said.
In the meantime, Jois and graduate transfer point guard Austin McBroom are carrying the Eagles forward. On Thursday night, they combined for 59 of the Eagles’ points, and built a 17-point lead that was never seriously threatened.
That, too, is progress: being good enough to avoid even the hint of a late-game meltdown.
“The difference is we’re not having to close – we’re going to finish the game in the first 30 minutes.”
The Eagles have been making a habit if that lately since an 0-2 start to the league season. EWU has won eight of its last 10. Another win on Saturday against Northern Colorad would boost toward the goal of finishing with a winning record and earning one of four first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament March 8-12 in Reno.
At 8-4 in the Big Sky and 14-10 overall, the Eagles are in strong position to accomplish both – thanks in part to Jois.
“In the second half, Venky was just unstoppable,” Hayford said.
The Eagles return to Reese Court to face Northern Colorado on Saturday at 2 p.m. in a rematch of EWU's league-opening 96-90 loss at UNC on Dec. 31. The Bears made 62 percent of their shots for the game and scored 78 points in the final 27 minutes.