Shades of last season. With a few differences.
That was the overwhelming theme Thursday night at Reese Court in Cheney, where the Eastern Washington Eagles dominated Northern Arizona 82-59 in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game played before 1,010.
In the similar vein, senior forward Collin Chiverton, who missed six games, from Thanksgiving to after Christmas, dealing with personal issues, was nearly unstoppable on the offensive end, hitting 8 of 14 shots, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.
His 22 points were a season high and just four off his career best, set last season.
“It’s been an interesting ride for Collin,” said Eastern coach Jim Hayford, who saw his team raise its record to 2-3 in conference play and 4-11 overall. “It definitely looked like the Collin we saw last year, when he was at his best.
“What I liked most was seeing him play with a smile on his face and just enjoying playing basketball.”
Chiverton smiled a lot last season, when he led the Eagles to 15 wins and a Big Sky tournament semifinal berth, averaging 13.9 points.
Included in that win total were two over the Lumberjacks, who struggled to a 5-24 record, 1-15 in the Big Sky.
But put Northern Arizona, under first-year coach Jack Murphy, into the dissimilar category. The ’Jacks have been better this season, already equaling last year’s win total and splitting their first four conference games.
And they started quickly in this one, scoring the game’s first seven points, before leading 10-2 less than four minutes in. It was 5-foot-11 freshman DeWayne Russell sparking them early, hitting two quick jumpers.
Then Chiverton came in.
“Collin all summer was like ‘Hey, I can be a lockdown defender,’” Hayford said, smiling because Chiverton wasn’t that last season.
But his 6-6 wing was this night, and Hayford felt his size bothered Russell, who had most of his team-high 17 points after the game was decided.
Though Russell was his main target (the guard got off just two shots in the first half while Chiverton was in the game), Chiverton also made the play of the night at a key time.
The Eagles, behind Chiverton outside and Vinky Jois inside – Jois earned his seventh double-double of the season with 14 points and 14 rebounds – chipped away at NAU’s early advantage, before putting together an 11-0 run after the Lumberjacks’ last lead at 17-16.
They stretched that to 16-1 before the ’Jacks caught their breath. When Stallon Saldivar stole the ball at midcourt and raced toward the basket with 3:20 left in the half, it looked as if NAU would cut the lead to single digits.
But Chiverton flew down the court and blocked Saldivar’s layup high off the backboard. The ball caromed out, the Eagles took off, and Chiverton, trailing the play, got the ball back at the top of the key. Swish.
“I just figured if I got the ball within range and I was open enough, I was probably going to shoot it,” Chiverton said, smiling. “I was feeling good after the block.”
Reese Court exploded, three minutes later so did Murphy – earning a technical – and Eastern took its largest halftime lead of the season, 18 points, into the locker room.
The Eagles, who have wasted double-digit second-half leads three times this season, weren’t about to blow this one. Not when they shot 51.4 from the floor after halftime and limited NAU to 38 percent, 34.9 for the game.
Many of Eastern shots came inside, with the 6-7 Jois and 6-10 starting center Martin Seiferth (13 points) the recipient of most of 6-6 freshman forward Thomas Reuter’s season-best seven assists.
But the best assists may have come from Chiverton – and to him, as his teammates have been there for him since his personal hiatus.
“It’s been a tough road,” he admitted. “I love my teammates. … I just feel great that I get to be a leader on this team, keep everybody smiling, keep everybody happy.”