Suddenly, the long-range outlook looks bright for the Eastern Washington basketball team.
While it rained outside, the Eagles unleashed a monsoon of 3-point shots on hapless Northern Arizona in an 84-65 win Saturday afternoon at Reese Court.
The Eagles were accurate and prolific at the same time, drilling 16 out of 30 treys in a wire-to-wire win against a team that held them to one of their worst shooting days of the season last month in Flagstaff.
“We felt like the biggest learning lesson we had of our season was our offensive performance in Flagstaff,” said Hayford, whose team was 4 for 23 from long range in losing by an identical 84-65 score on Jan. 16.
“We didn’t show patience, and we didn’t execute for shots,” Hayford said. “It is a month later, and we have made a big commitment to that. With that we are seeing our field-goal percentage keep increasing,”
Now, the Eagles’ patience will be tried only by a seven-day hiatus until their next game, Feb. 22 at last-place Southern Utah. With six games left, the Eagles (7-7 in the Big Sky, 12-13 overall) have matched last year’s conference win total as they chase a spot in the Big Sky postseason tournament.
“Our whole goal this year was to move this program forward. Our total wins are higher, our home wins are higher and our conference wins are higher,” Hayford said after his club’s fourth win in five games.
Likewise, sophomore guard Tyler Harvey’s reputation is getting ever higher after a 37-point effort that included a 9-for-16 day from 3-point range. After making 4 of 8 long-range shots in the first half, the conference scoring leader was even better in the second, finishing 13 for 22 from the field.
It didn’t hurt that the Eagles big men Martin Seiferth and Venky Jois led a dominant effort on the boards, outrebounding NAU 41-33.
“We executed so well as a team today,” said Harvey, who also plled down seven boards. “When Martin and Venky are doing so well, it opens it up for us.
“It’s hard to guard is when we’re hitting like that,” added Harvey, who shrugged off NAU’s box-and-one defense in the second half. Meanwhile, junior guard Parker Kelly added four more treys, including three straight that put Eastern ahead 70-51 with 8:22 to play.
“We recruit to shoot. If players are 3-point shooters, they want to come here,” said Hayford, whose team was two 3-pointers short of the school record.
On this day – and especially in the first half – the Eagles were so good at shooting 3s, their other stats paled in comparison. The first 20 minutes were full of statistical anomalies: Eastern was 8 for 13 from 3 and 6 for 19 elsewhere – and just 3 for 11 from the free-throw line.
It didn’t matter. NAU made just 10 of 31 shots in the first half, and never got within single digits after EWU reserve Ognjen Miljkovic drained a 3 that put Eastern ahead 24-12. The lead ballooned to 18 before NAU closed the gap to 39-26 at halftime.
But unlike Thursday’s win over Sacramento State, there was no second-half drama. Harvey drained two more treys in the first 2:11 of the second half, boosting the lead to 46-26, and the Lumberjacks never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
NAU continued to press, but for the second time in as many nights, point guard Drew Brandon put up nine assists and just one turnover.
And the Eagles finally hit their free throws, making 11 of 12 in the second half as NAU began to foul.
“We played a complete game,” Hayford said.