Senior Night was so good, they’ll do it again Saturday afternoon.
In a game that combined emotional farewells and playoff intensity, Eastern Washington defeated Idaho State 77-64 Tuesday night to guarantee that the Eagles will host the Bengals in a Big Sky Conference quarterfinal game this weekend.
That game – Eastern’s first home playoff contest since 2006 – will tip off at 2 p.m. at Reese Court. The winner will advance to the tournament semifinals in Missoula on Tuesday.
“We’re excited, but we’ll be ready for Saturday,” said senior forward Laron Griffin, who brought his whole family from California, then brought down the house with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
“I had to leave it all out there, there was too much at stake,” added Griffin, whose family is flying back home to California this morning.
That’s about four days too early, Griffin said, “But I’m going to try to do everything to get them to fly back.”
Meanwhile, the Bengals, losers of four straight, will fly back to Pocatello this snowy morning and return on Friday. The Eagles will stay home and savor two straight wins over ISU in five days.
“And sleep in our own beds,” pointed out senior point guard Cliff Colimon, who scored a career-high 28 points on 8-for-15 shooting from the field and 10 for 11 at the foul line.
“And catch up on school work,” added Griffin, whose fifth career double-double sparked the Eagles on the defensive side in what Eastern coach Jim Hayford call the most complete game of the season.
“It was, from start to finish,” Hayford said, “and I’m really really proud of our guys sticking with the defensive game plan.
“ I thought Laron played an inspired game, particularly on the defensive boards. Cliff Colimon led us offensively and had a great combination of beating people off the pass, the dribble and the shot.”
Before the game, Eastern honored seniors Colimon, Griffin Cliff Ederaine and Tremayne Johnson.
The emotion of Senior Night quickly erupted on the defensive end with flying bodies and loose balls, most of which ended up the Eagles’ hands. Eastern forced 17 turnovers while committing only 11, and got five blocked shots along with five steals.
All that effort showed up on the scoreboard: Idaho State never managed better than an 8-2 run when it mattered.
“In basketball, generally, the team that’s more aggressive is the team that wins,” Hayford said. “And I like that we were the more aggressive team.”
The Eagles are 14-16 overall and 8-8 in the conference – their first non-losing season in conference play since 2006-7. Idaho State falls to 7-9 and 9-20 after its fourth straight loss.
Eastern led 33-29 at halftime, and then Forbes and Colimon each hit 3s to push the lead to 40-29 barely 2 minutes into the second half.
A 3-pointer from Parker Kelly stretched the led to 47-33, but Idaho State clawed back to close within 52-44 with 11 minutes left before the Eagles reeled off 11 straight points to put the game almost out of reach, 63-44 with 9 minutes left.
That was Eastern’s biggest lead of the game.
Hustle led to points for Eastern in the first half. With just more than 4 minutes left, after a wild scramble in which at least half a dozen players touched the ball, Ederaine drove the lane and was fouled.
In the final seconds of the half, Griffin soared for a highlight-reel rebound that helped Eastern lead at intermission despite shooting just 36 percent from the field.