Eastern Washington’s first home stand of the basketball season ended just as it started: with a young team still aiming to improve.
And if their aim had been a bit better, the Eagles might have come away winners Monday night instead of dropping a 75-69 nonconference decision to Seattle University at Reese Court.
As it was, the Eagles shot 37 percent from the field and hit just six of 27 shots from three-point range in falling to 2-7.
“I don’t think any one of the 21 misses from three were bad shots,” said Hayford, whose club plays its final nonconference game on Monday at UC Davis. “We just have to make them.”
The Big Sky Conference season beckons Dec. 20 at home against traditional power Weber State; with that in mind, Hayford said the young Eagles are still learning what it takes to win.
On Monday, that included some tough lessons against the full-court press, which Seattle employed all night. Eastern handled it well for the most part, but Hayford said, “I thought our preparation was good for it (the game), but as we went through a couple sub-rotations a few guys made a few mental errors, and they made us pay for that.”
But the Redhawks didn’t cash in, shooting just 42 percent from the field and missing five of six free throws in the first half, which ended with Eastern trailing 33-30.
Unlike Eastern’s wild overtime loss to Idaho four days earlier, Monday’s game was almost devoid of big runs for either team. Seattle took its biggest lead of the game, 63-51, with just over nine minutes left, but the Eagles closed to 66-60 on Parker Kelly’s two free throws with 4:13 left.
The teams traded turnovers, setting Kelly up to cut the lead in half, but he misfired. Seattle’s Chad Rasmussen, who finished with a game-high 16 points, hit a three-pointer at the other end to boost the lead to nine.
“It was a very rough night, needless to say, but I’m still as confident as ever,” said Kelly, who finished with 14 points but was 1 for 8 from long range. “I put in the work, they’re going to fall.”
It didn’t help that Seattle shot 56 percent from the field in the second half and outrebounded the Eagles 43-37 while picking up 20 assists, mostly in transition off the press.
The Redhawks also outscored Eastern 38-28 in the paint while barely losing the turnover battle, 18-16.
Guard Justin Crosgile led the Eagles with 15 points, while Venky Jois added 14, plus a game-high 12 boards.
Against a Seattle starting lineup that included four upperclassmen, the Eagles’ lack of experience showed.
“We are playing a lot of underclassmen,” Hayford said. “They are playing a lot harder than they did in high school so they are growing.
“The difference between that and what you need to do to be successful to be on the other side of these wins has to happen to you a few times for you to realize you have to play harder than that.”
The Eagles are still without the services of senior forward Collin Chiverton, last year’s Big Sky Newcomer of the Year, who is on indefinite personal leave.
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