The Eastern Washington basketball season isn’t over, not by a long shot. But if the Eagles are to find their way back into playoff contention, they’ll have to find their range in a hurry.
Their long-range shooting slump reached five games Thursday night as Eastern lost its first Big Sky home game of the season, 73-61 to North Dakota.
The Eagles were 6 of 22 from beyond the 3-point line, but two of those makes came after the game was already decided by a late flurry of North Dakota fastbreaks that broke open a tight game.
In their last five games – four of them losses – the Eagles are 29 for 99 (29.2 percent) from 3-point range.
“We got some good looks, but they didn’t go down,” coach Jim Hayford said after the Eagles fell to 3-6 in the conference and 8-12 overall despite a defensive effort that Hayford said was “good enough to win it.”
Indeed, the Eagles held UND (9-10, 6-3) to 5 for 20 from long range and 26 for 57 overall, but were undone on the offensive end.
While the outside shots wouldn’t fall, UND made Eastern forward Venky Jois work hard for every one of his team-high 15 points, which came on 7-for-16 shooting.
“I think it was maybe they got a way with a couple of fouls, but 90 percent of it is just on me,” Jois said. “At times I was thinking it was going to be a foul, so I left it up there.”
Meanwhile, conference scoring leader Tyler Harvey of EWU was 3 for 12 from the field and just 1 for 8 from long range.
“Tyler’s in a bit of a struggle - he’s a marked man right now,” Hayford said.
Despite all that, it was Harvey’s 3-pointer that gave the Eagles a 45-44 lead with 12:30 left in the game. North Dakota answered with a pair of buckets and what followed was nearly three minutes of frustration for both teams.
Neither team scored until the 8:38 mark, when Jois committed one of 14 Eastern turnovers, and UND converted at the other end with a layup by Josh Huff.
At that point the game literally got out of hand for the Eagles, who gave up 18 fastbreak points while scoring none. Eastern also went almost 6 minutes without scoring. By the time Martin Seiferth converted a layin with 6:39 left, the Eagles were trailing 54-45.
“Instead of us playing in a grind-it-out, one-possession game in four minutes, we had those empty trips where they scored on the other end,” Hayford said.
“That is how they got separation, and that is how this close game turned into a 10-point loss.”
North Dakota’s game-closing 19-4 run was one of several for the winners, who trailed 7-2 early in the game, but pulled into a 15-15 tie midway through an offensively challenged first half.
UND fashioned another run late before intermission, turning a two-point lead into a 37-31 advantage at halftime.
“I think we need to come out and fight the whole game,” said Eagles point guard Drew Brandon, who finished with 9 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
“We know this is a game of runs, but we need to learn how to weather their runs, and I need to do a better job of controlling the game at times.”
Next up: Northern Colorado, which fell out of first place after an 80-57 drubbing at Portland State Thursday.