For starters, Martin Seiferth said he doesn’t need to be one.
He wouldn’t admit it, but the Eastern Washington center relished his role from start to finish in the Eagles’ wire-to-wire, 85-72 Big Sky Conference victory over Sacramento State on Thursday night at Reese Court.
“As long as I can do something for my team, it’s all good,” said Seiferth, whose 16 points and 11 rebounds were a big factor in a game the Eagles had to win to stay in the race for a spot in the Big Sky postseason tournament.
Even better, the win put Eastern into a three-way tie – with seven games to play – with Sacramento State and Portland State for the seventh and final spot in the tournament.
The start – for both Seiferth and the rest of the Eagles – was sublime. With Seiferth breaking loose underneath and guard Parker Kelly hitting from outside, Eastern (11-13 overall, 7-6 in the conference) quickly broke out to double-digit lead.
Kelly, who finished with a game-high 18 points, put the Eagles ahead 40-21 on a 3-point shot with 2:37 left in the first half. He also drove for several key layins against the smaller Sacramento State guards.
“I got a lot of good looks, and that’s my job – to make them,” said Kelly, who was 5 for 9 from the field to lead the Eagles to their third best shooting night of the season and their best in conference play. For the game, Eastern was 29 for 52 (55.8 percent) while Sacramento State was 24 for 54.
Despite trailing by as many as 21 points in the first half and 37-18 at intermission, the Hornets (10-12 overall, 7-6 Big Sky) needed just five minutes to cut the Eastern lead to seven.
“Sac State has some mental toughness and they have a great backcourt, so you knew they were going to come out in the second half and make it a fight,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford said.
“I don’t think it was as much as us being bad as they were just good to start the second half,” Hayford said.
Eastern’s hot-shooting performance came in handy on a night that saw the best free-throw shooting performance by an Eagle opponent this season; the Hornets were 17 for 18, while at one time Eastern was 9 for 17.
“That was a tough stretch there to keep maturing and becoming a better team,” said Kelly, whose clutch 3-pointer with 6:17 left gave the Eagles a 68-60 lead and a bit of breathing room.
The final crisis came just after Seiferth’s third alley-oop slam gave Eastern a 74-64 lead with 2:55 left. Sacramento State’s Dylan Garrity answered with a 3-pointer and Zach Mills hit a short jumper to make it a 5-point game.
With 2:05 left and trailing by five, the Hornets began to foul, and the Eagles responded by hitting nine of 10 free throws down the stretch. Point guard Drew Brandon started to parade by making a pair, and Sacramento State got no closer than 7 in the final two minutes.
Along the way, Eastern forward Venky Jois became the Eagles’ all-time leader in blocked shots. He had just one, with 7 minutes left, but it gave him 100 in his career to take over sole possession of the school record.
Meanwhile, Big Sky scoring leader Tyler Harvey added 16 points to top the 500-point mark for the season. With 503 on the year, Harvey is the 10th player in school history to hit that milestone.