Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford was so ready for the coming nine-day break his Eagles men’s basketball team has beginning today that he made a quick change out of his three-button, gray pin-striped suit into a red, long-sleeved T-shirt and sweat pants immediately after his Eagles’ 82-75 victory over Seattle University on Friday night on Reese Court in Cheney.
In keeping with the season, he broke into a humble smile and pronounced himself “a very, very grateful coach.”
“I’m thankful that my team is 5-2 right now,” he said. “It’s … gratifying that we were able to get to 5-2 tonight because this group has been through so much and they’ve matured.
“But there’s still a long way to go. … and we don’t have any seniors.”
Grateful, too, for a 30-point performance by Tyler Harvey and a double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds) from Venky Jois, both of whom were named to the all-tournament team at last week’s 2K Sports Classic in Irvine, Calif.
Harvey drilled a half-dozen 3-pointers, half in immediate response to a number of 3s by the Redhawks, and was 9 of 15 from the field as the Eagles hit 30 of 59 shots from the floor.
“It was important for us to come out and defend our home floor,” Hayford said. “This team, Seattle U, is a team that came in here and beat us last year. We’re 3-0 now at home and those are the wrongs we want to right.”
Just like the step up to the program’s best start since 2008-09, when the Eagles started 6-2. That team, however, won just six more games and finished 12-18.
The Eagles took control of Friday’s game early, going on a 12-0 run that started with a Parker Kelly 3-pointer for a 10-8 lead, and was fueled by three powerful plays in the low post by Jois, the last of which made it 28-18.
Still, Seattle U. hung close, trailing by just three at halftime and opening a five-point lead early in the second half.
Jois led the Eagles as they clawed back, hitting 3 of 4 from the line and scoring inside on back-to-back possessions in fierce battles underneath the basket.
Ognjen Miljkovic added some spark off the bench with three straight baskets, putting the Eagles ahead for good with 6:34 left to play.
Isiah Umipig led Seattle with 16 points.