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No. 17 Huskies rally to beat EWU 81-77

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 14, 2014, 8:18 p.m.

SEATTLE – An early barrage of outside shots wasn’t enough to sustain Eastern Washington once No. 17 Washington started hitting its free throws. The Huskies won 81-77 on Sunday night despite trailing nearly the entire second half.

The loss drops the Eagles to 8-2 and the program to 1-13 all-time against the Huskies.

Having already beaten one power conference team on the road, Indiana, Sunday night’s game was a chance for EWU to gain an even bigger signature win. While the Eagles now won’t have a win over a Top 25 opponent in the regular season, they showed that they could outplay one for nearly 40 minutes.

“No moral victory but if they’re the No. 17 team in the nation, we obviously gave them all they can handle,” EWU coach Jim Hayford said. “This game will never get played in Cheney so we’ve got to figure out a way to finish it out here.”

The Huskies missed all six of their first-half free throws but made all six in the game’s final three minutes, as well as a pair of 3-pointers to complete a comeback that encompassed nearly the entire second half.

The Eagles dominated the Huskies early on the way to a 43-31 halftime lead.

EWU was able to simply shoot over UW’s defense, which entered the game ranked sixth nationally in field-goal percentage defense and eighth nationally in defending 3-pointers.

Tyler Harvey led the Eagles with 21 points while making 5 of 12 3-pointers. Brandon Drew chipped in 16 points and nine rebounds while Venky Jois added 13 points and eight boards.

Jois is now just 37 points away from 1,000 in his career. He had back-to-back games with 38 points earlier this season.

Harvey played all 40 minutes and four Eagles finished with at least 32. UW switched to zone late in the second half, trying to take advantage of tired EWU shooters, but Ognjen Miljkovic punished them with a quick 3-pointer.

“We’re in great shape; we’re physically fit,” Hayford said. “My guys can play all night.”

The Eagles made their first three outside shots – including a pair from Miljkovic – and connected on 6 of 13 attempts in the first half.

EWU entered the game with the 25th-best outside shooting percentage, hitting 41 percent of their 3-point attempts.

The effective outside shooting somewhat neutralized the defensive advantage UW gains by the presence of 6-foot-11 Robert Upshaw, who leads the country in blocks per game.

But the Eagles shot just 4 of 17 beyond the arc in the second half and had to challenge Upshaw inside, and he finished with six blocks.

“He’s athletic, too, he’s not just 7-foot,” Hayford said. “He’s tall, he changes the game at the rim and I thought that had a difference on our field-goal percentage in the second half.”

Upshaw also paced the Huskies offensively with 21 points, making 8 of his 10 shots over the smaller Eagles defenders. To counter, EWU was physical with the UW center and sent him to the free-throw line, where he made just 5 of 14 attempts.

The Eagles will travel to Texas for Tuesday’s game against Sam Houston State before getting one more shot against a Pac-12 team at California. They will return to Cheney to wrap up their nonconference schedule against Lewis-Clark State.

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