Going into the weekend, Saturday afternoon’s BracketBuster men’s basketball game at Reese Court looked like more of a momentum-buster.
Instead, Eastern Washington made the most of its only game over a 10-day span, defeating Sam Houston State 81-76 and reaching some milestones along the way.
EWU set school and Big Sky Conference records with 16 blocked shots, and senior guard Jeffrey Forbes surpassed 1,000 points for his career on a crucial 3-pointer with 2½ minutes left.
A bigger milestone would be reaching the conference tournament. While that cause wasn’t advanced on Saturday, the Eagles (9-18 overall 6-10 in the Big Sky), picked up some intangibles ahead of this week’s season-defining homestand against Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
“It is neat to see that our team is playing complete games toward our most important games of the season,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford said. “I thought today was a complete game.”
The Eagles certainly got a complete 34 minutes Saturday, leading 69-53 with 5:52 left before Sam Houston began to press with some success. “We felt a little rushed; tentative when it came to attacking the press,” said forward Venky Jois, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Bearkats (14-13) never had a chance to tie or go ahead, but they cut the deficit to 76-74 with 34 seconds left. Collin Chiverton responded with a pair of free throws to restore a four-point advantage, and after a missed 3 by Sam Houston State, Parker Kelly iced the game with two more free throws to make it 80-74 with 16 seconds left.
“I thought our guys were playing a very athletic team, but they kept enough poise to finish it out,” Hayford said.
Along the way, the Eagles hit a season-high 60.5 percent of their field-goal attempts even as they got off a season-low 38 attempts. Sam Houston hit 26 field goals on 78 shots, the most by an Eastern opponent this season, while outrebounding EWU 45-29.
“Obviously, (it helps) when you block 16 shots,” Hayford said. “I’ve never been a part of that in my life.”
The old school and conference records were both 13 blocks.
Half of those 16 were a career-record eight by Eastern center Martin Seiferth, who played a season-high 36 minutes. “It’s a great accomplishment and I’m proud of it,” Seiferth said.
The game marked the starting debut of redshirt freshman Tyler Harvey, who replaced injured Kevin Winford at point guard. Harvey had eight points, four assists and two big blocks with just over a minute to play and the Eagles clinging to a 74-67 lead.
The Bearkats’ Aaron Harwell was set to score after stealing the ball from Kelly at midcourt, but Harvey chased him down and swatted the ball out of bounds. Two seconds later, Harvey blocked a jumper by James Thomas, grabbed the rebound and drew a foul.
“Tyler continues to step up and seize the opportunity,” Hayford said. “There is a lot of pressure on a freshman point guard who started off as the fourth-string point guard at the beginning of the year.”
The Eagles got a game-high 20 points from Chiverton, who was 7 of 10 from the field. Kelly added 17 points and Forbes 11 – including his 1,002nd career point on a 3-pointer that helped stall the Sam Houston State rally.