Badly in need of a stress-reliever, Eastern Washington received a megadose of it in the second half of Saturday night’s Big Sky basketball game against Northern Arizona.
Leading scorer Collin Chiverton was held out of the first half with a stress fracture in his left foot, but played through the pain in the second half to help the Eagles to a must-have, 76-59 win over the Lumberjacks.
Chiverton almost didn’t play at all.
“We were going to see if we could make it through without him,” said Eagle Head Coach Jim Hayford. “But at halftime (when the Eagles trailed 31-27) we made the decision to let him play and obviously we were a better team with him on the floor.”
Chiverton opened the second half with a long 3-pointer, and four minutes later scored his 10th point on a layup that put the Eastern ahead for good at 37-35 with 16:09 remaining. Suddenly the stress was on the Lumberjacks, who couldn’t handle it; they shot 57 percent from the field in the first half but just 36 percent in the second.
And it didn’t hurt that NAU made just 8 of 15 free-throw attempts in the second half while EWU was 7-for-8.
The victory evened the Eagles’ record across the board at 8-8 overall and 2-2 in the conference going into a three-game road trip that begins Thursday night at Sacramento State. Next Saturday, the Eagles visit Northern Colorado, and two days later are at Seattle University. EWU’s next home game is Jan. 21 against Portland State.
Despite the pain, Chiverton was grateful for the chance to contribute.
“Offensively it feels good,” Chiverton said, “and to play good defense along with the offense feels good as well.” “Now I’ll try to get as much rest as possible.”
So will the Eagles, who received a two-day reprieve from practice. “We needed momentum going into the road,” Hayford said. “If we went two weeks into the league with a 1-3 record with two home losses, it doesn’t matter who we play, you need to win.”
Losing this one “would have been devastating,” Hayford added. “Instead we’re 2-2, and the two teams that were picked above us (Weber State and Montana), we’ve already seen them.”
Chiverton played on and off the rest of the way to preserve his foot, but the rest of the Eagles were rejuvenated as guard Cliff Colimon scored a game-high 22 points and forward Laron Griffin grabbed nine rebounds, including two big putbacks midway through the second half.
Badly outrebounded two nights earlier in a loss to Weber State, the Eagles won that battle against NAU, 31-26.
“Coach emphasized that the main part of us winning was controlling the boards,” said Griffin, who finished with 11 points. “I couldn’t get them all in the first half, but if I keep battling, maybe I can help the team win.”
They also tightened their defense. Northern Arizona led for most of the first half as guards Douglas James and Stallon Saldivar passed on the long shots and drove. James led all scored at halftime with 15, but was held to two in the second half.
“I thought we did a much better job of guarding their dribble penetration in the second half,” Hayford said. “They were picking us apart … we did a lot better job of containing the dribble and supporting the dribble in the second, which was what got our run going.”