Jim Hayford is quick to admit he still doesn’t have a great read on his Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team.
That’s why he was also quick to admit he had some troubling questions about how his Eagles would respond in their home opener against the University of South Dakota – especially in the wake of Friday night’s emotional season-opening loss at Gonzaga.
But those questions were answered empathically Tuesday night at Reese Court as Eastern rode an abundance of early energy to a 70-61 nonconference win over the Coyotes (0-2), giving Hayford his first win as an NCAA Division I head coach.
“I was really concerned going into this game that we’d be flat,” Hayford said, after watching first-year junior college transfer Collin Chiverton torch USD for a game-high 25 points and send most of those in a crowd of 1,851 home happy. “That was one big thing after getting so up for that game (against GU) on Friday and for them to play that hard.
“I mean, I don’t have a lot of experience with these guys, so was really curious how we’d come out. And these guys earned some trust from me tonight.”
Although the Eagles, who also got 15 points, 14 rebounds and five assists from senior forward Cliff Ederaine, did not finish as well as Hayford would have liked, they did enough with their early burst of intense effort to withstand a mild late-game charge by the Coyotes.
Chiverton, a 6-foot-6 wing out of San Francisco City College, hit two of his six 3-pointers in the first 7 minutes to give Eastern an early 13-8 lead that was extended to 38-24 at intermission.
The Eagles went up 68-52 on Jeffrey Forbes’ 3-pointer with 3:10 remaining, but they were outscored 9-2 the rest of the way, making the final score deceivingly close.
“I can’t say we finished the game off the way I’d have liked, but I’ll take the result,” Hayford said. “And I’m really glad that my players could taste a win.”
When asked about the performance of Chiverton, who is still recovering from offseason foot surgery, Hayford added, “I had the (Eastern) job, and the first thing I did was sign Collin. We’re really fortunate to have a player of his ability, but we haven’t seen him at his best yet.
“He’s got a two-point game that’s as good as his 3-point shooting. We just haven’t seen it yet. And I’m kicking his butt every day to make sure we get to.”
Chiverton, who, by his own estimation, is still only about “80-85 percent” healthy, said getting Hayford his first D-I victory was a treat for everyone on the team.
“We feel great about it,” he said. “He’s our head coach, he puts in a lot of time for us, he loves us and we love him back.
“So we played out hearts out to get him a win tonight.”
But the Eagles won’t have long to savor the moment, with their next challenge coming Thursday, when they travel to Eugene, Ore., to take on the Oregon Ducks.
S. Dakota (0-2)—Andreotti 2-5 1-2 5, Saint-Gelais 1-4 0-0 3, Gruis 0-0 0-0 0, Westbrook 6-14 4-4 16, L. Krogman 4-10 0-0 9, Boots 2-6 0-0 5, Tecker 2-4 2-2 7, Bos 3-8 2-2 10, Mabbutt 2-4 0-2 6. Totals 22-55 9-12 61.
E. Washington (1-1)—Chiverton 9-21 1-2 25, Ederaine 6-6 3-4 15, Griffin 3-8 1-2 7, Colimon 2-8 0-0 4, Forbes 2-6 0-0 6, Hankins 0-6 0-0 0, Kelly 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 2-5 0-0 4, Winford 2-5 0-0 6, Hickert 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 27-67 5-8 70.
Halftime—E. Washington 38-24. 3-Point Goals—S. Dakota 8-23 (Mabbutt 2-4, Bos 2-6, Tecker 1-1, L. Krogman 1-2, Saint-Gelais 1-2, Boots 1-5, Westbrook 0-3), E. Washington 11-30 (Chiverton 6-13, Winford 2-4, Forbes 2-6, Hickert 1-2, Hankins 0-1, Colimon 0-1, Johnson 0-3). Fouled Out—Griffin, Gruis. Rebounds—S. Dakota 37 (Andreotti 9), E. Washington 40 (Ederaine 14). Assists—S. Dakota 13 (Boots, Mabbutt 4), E. Washington 18 (Ederaine 5). Total Fouls—S. Dakota 18, E. Washington 16. A—1,851.