BOZEMAN – Jim Hayford, Eastern Washington University’s first-year head men’s basketball coach, did what he could to prepare his Eagles for Big Sky Conference play by putting together one of the most challenging nonconference schedules in school history.
Hayford’s strategy seemed to pay off in a big way Wednesday night when Eastern went on the road and opened Big Sky play with an impressive 82-66 win over Montana State at Worthington Arena.
Senior point guard Cliff Colimon scored 22 points and senior center Cliff Ederaine added 16 – along with a team-high seven rebounds, as the Eagles (7-6, 1-0 Big Sky) gave Hayford his first conference win in one the Big Sky’s toughest venues.
“What a great way to start a conference season,” Hayford said. “Road wins are hard to get, especially against a well-coached team like Montana State. So, I’m a very grateful coach, and a very proud coach.
“I thought my team showed great poise on the road in the second half.”
Eastern, which also got 12 points from Collin Chiverton and 11 from Jeffrey Forbest, never trailed after sprinting to a 14-3 lead. The Eagles never let MSU (5-7, 0-1) mount any kind of second-half charge.
“Credit the guys,” Hayford said. “That’s the textbook way to go, is to come out, execute the game plan, get a lead and take control of the game and say, ‘You can’t have it back.’
“I’m really pleased, and really proud of our guys.”
Montana State was paced by Christian Moon, who finished with 20 points, and Tre Johnson, who added 11.
Eastern made 50 percent (27 of 54) of its field goals, including 11 of 27 3-point attempts, and made 17 of 24 free throws to offset a 35-31 rebounding deficit.
“We won the percentage game, and hit the percentages we wanted to offensively and defensively,” Hayford said. “And we did a really good job of taking away Montana State’s 3-point shot.”