The new-look Eastern Washington basketball team relied on some old hands Sunday afternoon at Reese Court.
Amid all the fresh faces in the lineup, it fell to senior guards Kevin Winford and Jeffrey Forbes to spark the Eagles to an easy 96-70 exhibition win over NAIA Concordia.
It didn’t start easily – the visitors from Portland, playing their fourth game of the season and fresh off a three-point loss to Portland State, led by a point halfway through the first half. But the Eagles outclassed the Crusaders the rest of the way in their first game of the season.
“I just keep the locker room optimistic and positive,” said Winford, who finished with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting and had seven assists. “They look up to us, and they listen to us.”
Several hundred fans got a free look at an Eastern team that includes 10 players who’ve never played for the Eagles before. That included forward Venky Jois, a 6-foot-7 Australian who showed good athleticism en route to eight points and 10 rebounds; Oregon transfer Martin Seiferth, a 6-10 post who added 11 points and 10 boards; and point guard Justin Crosgile, a transfer from Saint Joseph’s who had a game-high eight assists.
Still, the Eagles needed 10 minutes to overcome a sloppy start. Concordia led by as many as four points early in the game and 19-18 with 10:20 left in the first half, but Winford took over the game before intermission, scoring seven straight points as Eastern stretched a two-point lead to nine.
Eastern outscored Concordia 29-7 the rest of the first half to take control.
“I thought we started out sloppy, but once we got through that, we looked more like the team I saw in practice,” said second-year head coach Jim Hayford, who added that he’s still settling on a starting lineup.
“I haven’t even figured out who I’m going to redshirt,” he said.
Winford was 6 for 10 for 15 points in the first half; Forbes was 4 for 5 for 10 points, and finished with 15. Eastern led 47-26 at halftime.
Eastern took 41 shots from 3-point range, making 14.
The learning curve gets a bit steeper Saturday, when the Eagles play their season opener at Washington State for the first of six straight road games. Eastern returns home Nov. 30 against Cal State Fullerton.
“That’s a hard road, especially for a team that hasn’t played together,” Hayford said. “But that kind of adversity can pay off in the long run.”
Forward Collin Chiverton, last year’s Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year, scored 18 points off the bench after being out of town following the recent death of his mother, Vanessa.
Transfer Lexie Nelson had 19 points and seven rebounds to lead the Eagles to a 68-45 exhibition win over Carroll College.
Laura Hughes joined Nelson in double figures with 12 points, eight of which came in the second half. She had eight rebounds and blocked two shots in 23 minutes on the court.
Sophomore Melissa Williams and juniors Chenise Pakootas and Aubrey Ashenfelter each chipped in eight points, and combined for 10 of Eastern’s 14 assists in the game. Williams also led the team on the glass with 11 rebounds. Altogether, Eastern outrebounded Carroll 56-27.
The Eagles will officially kick off the season Sunday with a home game against Pacific. Tipoff from Reese Court is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.