As cool in the interview room as he was at the free-throw line, Eastern Washington guard Tyler Harvey offered some foreboding news for the rest of the Big Sky Conference.
“I feel like the game is slowing down for me,” said Harvey, who scored 36 points to help the Eagles outlast Southern Utah 90-83 on Thursday night at Reese Court.
Already the leading scorer in the conference, Harvey burnished his reputation with a complete-game effort that was the main reason Eastern avoided an embarrassing loss to the last-place Thunderbirds.
Harvey was 7 for 9 from the field – including 2 for 2 from long range – grabbed eight rebounds and dished out three assists.
But what he’ll remember most – “it’s something I can tell my family when I’m old,” he quipped – Harvey was perfect at the line.
His 20-for-20 performance not only broke the single-game school and conference record (16-for-16 by Jason Lewis against Weber State in 2001), but helped the Eagles set a team record at the line.
Eastern’s 49 attempts broke a 19-year-old record of 48 against Sacramento State in 1995, and its 38 makes topped the 34 made against Whitman in 2009.
“They were going to foul, so we had to make our free throws,” said Harvey, whose 36 points are the ninth-most in school history.
The most important record: Eastern is 3-4 in the Big Sky and 8-10 overall going into a pivotal game at Portland State on Monday.
“Our focus as a program is already at Portland State,” coach Jim Hayford said of the importance of breaking an 0-for-9 skid on the road.
“I’m glad we took care of business; we should have and we did,” Hayford said.
It wasn’t easy. Apart from Harvey, the Eagles didn’t find their comfort zone until the final buzzer against the poorest-shooting (36 percent going into Thursday) and lowest-scoring team (53.9 points a game) out of 351 schools in Division I.
Eastern jumped out to a 19-4 lead, but spotty defense from bench helped the Thunderbirds (0-7 Big Sky, 1-15 overall) take a 39-38 lead at halftime.
“I wanted to play our bench more,” Hayford said. “We have to develop our bench if we are going to develop our program. I thought the starting five did a great job of setting the tone for the night. Unfortunately, we played really poorly when we got into our bench.”
But freshman center Ognjen Miljkovic, making his first start of the season, opened the second half with a 3-point shot, and the Eagles seized the momentum. They built a 10-point lead, 59-49, with just over 11 minutes to play, but the T-Birds closed to within five on three occasions.
Miljkovic finished with 13 points, while forward Venky Jois had 19 points and nine rebounds.
The last threat came on a layup by Trey Kennedy that made it 80-75 with 1:07 left, but Hayford continued to put the ball in the hands of Harvey, who was immediately fouled. Guards Parker Kelly and Drew Brandon also hit free throws in the final minute to put the game away.
Eastern made 16 of 17 free throws in the final two minutes, 48 seconds.
Meanwhile the Thunderbirds were 32 for 59 (54 percent) from the field, but just 11 of 19 from the line.
In other words, one fewer attempt than Harvey. Not that he knew he was close to breaking the conference record.
“I had no clue, and I’m glad I didn’t,” Harvey said.