Defending the home court takes on a new meaning tonight for Eastern Washington.
By defeating Idaho State at Reese Court, the Eagles will stay at home for a rematch Saturday with even bigger stakes – a spot in the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball semifinals.
A loss would mean that the first-round tournament game would be played in Pocatello, Idaho. The Eagles won there 85-78 just four days ago, but head coach Jim Hayford would rather not make another trip to eastern Idaho.
“It’s great that we’re playing for an opportunity to host a playoff game,” said Hayford.
“This was one of the goals the guys set out to achieve.”
Tonight at 6:05 the Eagles, 7-8 in the Big Sky and 13-16 overall, will be playing for a chance to host their first postseason playoff game in six years.
Rodney Stuckey scored 38 points in that game – the second-most in the career of the current Detroit Piston and the sixth-best performance in school history.
Senior Night will add to the stakes. Four will be honored in pre-game ceremonies, including point guard Cliff Colimon and forwards Cliff Ederaine, Laron Griffin and Tremayne Johnson. The four have combined for 171 career starts and 262 total games played.
To the seniors, Hayford says he’ll exhort them to “play well so we go can play another game at home.”
Forward Collin Chiverton, the team’s second leading scorer at 15.1 per game, suffered a back injury early in the Idaho State game. He played just three minutes in that game and played nine at Portland State on Saturday, but is a “full go” for tonight, Hayford says.
That 69-64 loss at PSU cleared up most of the Big Sky race: regardless of tonight’s games, Portland State (9-6) clinched the third seed, and will play sixth-seeded Montana State (7-9) in a first-round game Saturday.
The site of the semifinal and championship games will also be decided tonight when Weber State plays at Montana for the regular-season title and host status for the league’s “Final Four” on March 6-7.
Northern Colorado (5-10), Sacramento State (5-11) and Northern Arizona (1-15) have been eliminated.
In Thursday’s game at ISU, the Eagles made 9 of 10 free throws in the final 41 seconds, helping Eastern clinch a playoff berth.
True freshman Parker Kelly came off the bench to equal his career high with 17 points.
Colimon added three baskets from long range and finished with a game-high 21 points, with senior forward Griffin chipping in 15 points.
“We’re like a team with nine lives,” said Hayford.
“We have something big to play for – a chance to host a home playoff game. That will get all of our attention and we’ll keep building on the positives – that seems to be working.”