Eastern opens Big Sky slate Thursday
If the Mayans are right and the world ends Friday, Jim Hayford is going out in style – his Eagles are shooting 3s like there’s no tomorrow.
Offense-loving basketball fans could do a lot worse than spend Apocalypse Eve at Reese Court, where the curtain will rise on the Big Sky season a few hours before it goes down on everything else.
And even if Eastern Washington and Weber State live to play another day, the forecast at Reese Court this winter will always be long-range. After putting up 41 3s at UC Davis on Monday, the Eagles lead the nation in 3-point attempts with 296.
But despite hitting 17 of those long-range shots on Monday, the Eagles were just 3 of 19 inside the arc, were outscored 40-4 inside the paint and lost 87-65.
“Our offensive balance is distorted, as those stats show,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford said. “We’ll keep our head up and use it to get better. But we are going to have to develop more of an inside presence here.”
That will have to begin tonight, when the Eagles face perennial conference power Weber State. Despite losing first-round NBA draft pick Damian Lillard, the Wildcats (4-3) own the conference’s signature win of the season with a 62-61 victory over Dayton.
“They’re a very well-coached, very solid team,” Hayford said, adding the Wildcats and Montana are the top teams in a conference that appears down this year.
On Saturday, the Eagles revisit their rivalry with Idaho State, whom they beat three straight times late last year to reach the semifinals of the conference tournament in Hayford’s first season.
“They’ve been playing slow ball, taking the air out, but they play a pretty good zone defense,” Hayford said of a team that’s 1-7. “The hard part is that you can’t be impatient against them.”
Patience may be the key to Eastern’s entire season. With a starting lineup of two freshmen, a sophomore and a first-year junior point guard, Hayford’s team has lost its last three games and is 2-8 overall.
“It’s early in the process – we are game 10 into 120 or 130 games with a majority of these players,” Hayford said. “But we can’t keep making the same mistakes. We have to learn from the positives.”
The team’s lone senior starter – guard Jeffrey Forbes – has a foot injury and played just seven minutes at UC Davis.
“We’re hoping he can give it a better go Thursday night,” Hayford said.
The Eagles will also be without senior forward Collin Chiverton, last year’s Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year who hasn’t played in Eastern’s last four games following the death of a close friend in San Francisco. Chiverton’s mother also died, just as the season began.
“He has gone through the most difficult two months of his life,” Hayford said of Chiverton, who was on the bench at Davis and is expected to rejoin the team for good when the Eagles travel to Montana on Jan. 3.
Chiverton hasn’t played since Nov. 23, as he has scored 51 points in his last three games after scoring just 15 in EWU’s first three outings.
Hayford said he’s impressed with newcomers Venky Jois and Justin Crosgile. Jois, a redshirt freshman from Australia, leads the conference in rebounds with a 9.6 average. Crosgile, a junior transfer from St. Joseph’s, ranks fourth in scoring (15.7 ppg) and second in assists (5.7).
The biggest priority is better inside play and defense – opponents are shooting 48 percent from the field.
“We need to improve,” Hayford said.