Eastern Washington basketball coach Jim Hayford tried earlier this week to inject a little mathematical humor into the Eagles’ season-opening road trip.
Call it subtraction by addition.
“Ten new players plus six straight road games equals a 1-5 record,” said Hayford, whose club endured six games in 13 days against the likes of Washington State, Cal State Northridge, Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara.
The Eagles will face three more quality opponents in a homestand that begins tonight against Cal State Fullerton and continues against Idaho on Dec. 6 and Seattle on Dec. 10.
Fullerton is picked second in the Big West Conference and “is as big and fast as any team I’ve seen in two years.”
Hayford said he half-expected a tough start with a team that includes just two starters in Collin Chiverton and Jeffrey Forbes; 60 percent of the minutes are coming from players wearing an Eastern uniform for the first time.
“I have never started a season as a coach with a 1-5 record,” Hayford said. “It is not easy, but I knew it would not be.”
The hardest game to watch was an 86-83 loss to Utah Valley last week in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Santa Clara, Calif. The Eagles led by 11 at halftime but missed 15 of their next 16 3-point shots. “That one hurt,” Hayford admitted.
The lone win came one night later, 75-70 against South Carolina Upstate.
In the final game of the trip, the Eagles led early at Santa Clara, but committed 17 turnovers, allowed the Broncos to shoot 50.8 percent and pull away to win 89-74.
For the season, Eagle opponents are hitting 49.2 percent from the field.
“We have to play better individual defense and better team defense,” Hayford said. “You can’t let teams run their offense against you and get comfortable in their offense.”
The tough start is nothing new at Eastern, which traditionally plays a challenging, budget-driven pre-season schedule, most of it on the road. In the four years before Hayford took over, the Eagles were 4-29 in road nonconference games.
It’s the same story across the conference: The Big Sky is 9-29 this year against Division-I opponents.
“Most of our competitors are in the same situation as us,” said Hayford, whose club will open conference play Dec. 20 at home against Weber State.
Three newcomers are making a big impact. Transfer Justin Crosgile, a junior point guard, leads the Eagles in points (14.2 per game) and assists (3.5); redshirt freshman forward Venky Jois is shooting almost 51 percent from the field and averaging 12.2 points; and post Martin Seiferth is shooting 62.5 percent and averaging a team-high seven rebounds.
Another big positive against has been the recent play of senior forward Chiverton, who scored 51 points in his last three games after scoring just 15 in the first three.
Chiverton, whose mother died last month, “did some really good things, and I’m proud of him with all the adversity he’s been going through,” Hayford said of the 2011-12 Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year.
“That’s a big plus for our team,” added Hayford, who hopes the numbers will add up a bit differently at Reese Court.