Eastern Washington lost its grip on the basketball Thursday night, and perhaps the season.
The Eagles lost the ball 22 times in a costly 88-80 overtime defeat against Northern Colorado at Reese Court, and are now grasping at a slim chance of reaching the Big Sky Conference tournament.
With three games left in the regular season, the Eagles (6-11 in the Big Sky and 9-19 overall) probably need to win them all to reach the tournament, and that includes a difficult season finale at Weber State. They could still make the postseason with a Senior Day win over North Dakota on Saturday and at Idaho State on Thursday, but would need at least two other teams to lose their remaining games.
“I told our guys (our season) is not over,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford said. “Obviously, this means we cannot lose another one. We will have to see where we are at going into the last game of the year, if we can get two wins. I think we will come back and show great pride and poise when we put on our uniforms Saturday afternoon.”
It would have been much easier with a win against Northern Colorado (10-17, 8-10), but the Eagles faded down the stretch in regulation. After trailing 60-52 with 11:18 left, Eastern got a trio of 3-pointers from Jeffrey Forbes, Tyler Harvey and Parker Kelly to cut the lead to a single point with less than 8 minutes left.
The next rally was capped by a trey from Collin Chiverton that put Eastern ahead 68-67 with 5:12 left. The teams combined for two points over the next 3:40 – a layup by Venky Jois that put the Eagles up 70-69.
With 1:12 to play, Jois made a pair of free throws to give the Eagles a 72-69 lead, but the Bears’ Tate Unruh hit a 30-footer off the backboard with 57 seconds left. With the score tied, Jois lost the handle on the ball, but the Bears missed two short jumpers at the end of regulation.
Northern Colorado scored the first five points of overtime and never led by less than three points the rest of the way. Chiverton’s layup with 2:17 left cut the UNC lead to 79-76, but reserve guard Paul Garnica hit a layup, Chiverton missed a long 3 and the Bears pulled away.
“It was a great game,” Hayford said. “They just had a little more in the tank than we did in the overtime.”
Eastern shot 3 for 10 from the field in overtime; the Bears were 4 of 5. UNC’s Derrick Barden scored a game-high 28 points, including a 35-foot bank shot at the end of the first half.
The loss offset a career-high 21 rebounds – third-most in school history – by center Martin Seiferth, who also scored 11 points while going 4 for 5 from the field and 3 for 3 at the free-throw line. “Coach told me before the game that I have to have a rebounding mentality,” Seiferth said.
“That’s what I was looking for – rebounds.” Overall, Eastern outrebounded the Bears 46-38.
The Eagles also got a big game from Harvey, who led the Eagles with 22 points while hitting 9 of 15 field-goal attempts, but also committed six turnovers.
“I have to take care of the ball better,” Harvey said. “Those turnovers were costly, and six turnovers is unacceptable.
“If I took care of the ball I felt like we would have had a better chance.”