There was no way to sugarcoat this one, and Jim Hayford didn’t even try.
His Eastern Washington men’s basketball team played perhaps its worst first half of the season en route to a 75-71 Big Sky Conference loss to Sacramento State on Saturday night at Reese Court.
The Eagles rallied in the second half, closing to within two points on three occasions in the final 16 seconds, but Sacramento State responded at the free-throw line to gain its first win at EWU since 1995.
“We have to find out why we don’t come to the first half of games with the same urgency as the second half of games,” said Hayford, whose Eagles also started slowly in home losses to conference rivals Weber State and Montana.
The loss dropped EWU to 5-6 in the conference and into a fifth-place tie with Portland State, which won 76-65 at Northern Arizona.
The Eagles, 11-13 overall, get a week off before playing at first-place Weber State on Saturday night, then come home for a rare Wednesday game on Feb. 15 against seventh-place Northern Colorado.
The loss came despite 18 rebounds by Cliff Ederaine, tying the fourth-highest total in EWU history, and a game-high 25 points from Cliff Colimon.
Collin Chiverton, the Eagles’ leading scorer, did not play in the second half “because Collin wasn’t emotionally able to help us,” Hayford said.
Sacramento State, a team that hadn’t won a conference game until eight days ago, overcame snowstorms in Denver and didn’t arrive in Spokane until early Saturday morning, but the Hornets were the only team to answer the wakeup call at Reese Court.
Sacramento State hit 50 percent of its shots from the field in a dominant first half. Eastern hit just 6 of 23 shots from the field and 1 of 6 from 3-point range.
“We were getting good looks that we were missing,” Hayford said, “and when we were getting fouled, we were missing our foul shots. You combine that with their hot shooting tonight and you dig yourself a deep hole.”
It was the Eagles’ second-lowest first-half output of the year, just ahead of a 20-point effort in a loss at UCLA in December.
Still, the Eagles slowly worked their way back in the second half. A steal led to a slam dunk by Ederaine cut the gap to 57-50 with 4 minutes to play. Colimon came back with a 3-pointer with 1:13 left to make it 64-59 before the Hornets made 12 of 14 foul shots in the final 1:08.
Eastern never had the ball with a chance to tie or go ahead.
Eastern’s rally was hurt by its poor free-throw shooting. The Eagles were 18 for 33 at the line for 55 percent.
Sacramento State (8-14, 3-8) shot 21 for 45. Joe Eberhard, the main target of Eastern’s fouls down the stretch, led the Hornets with 21 points – 12 of them at the line.