EWU men’s basketball beats Idaho State to pull within one win of Big Sky tourney

Eastern Washington University logo (Courtesy)
Eastern Washington University logo (Courtesy)

Now it’s one for the road.

After a gritty win Thursday night over Idaho State, the Eastern Washington basketball team needs just one more to reach the postseason – and realize a big dream at the same time.

“Every basketball dream you want to come true is in your hands right now, so let’s go play for that,” coach Jim Hayford said after a 77-69 win at Reese Court that put the Eagles within a game of returning to the postseason after a one-year absence.

But the road to the next week’s Big Sky Tournament at Weber State will go through Weber State, which visits Reese Court Saturday afternoon.

Win that one and the Eagles are guaranteed a spot in the Big Sky tournament; lose it and they’ll need some help later that night.

But there was no scoreboard-watching Thursday night.

“I think just focusing on the positive is so much better than saying don’t lose or all heck will break loose,” Hayford said. “We want to realize our dreams, and we don’t have to wait until we are juniors or seniors – we can do it right now.

“That has been our focus,” Hayford said.

And just that quickly, Hayford shifted his focus during the post-game interview.

“After we’re done talking to you guys, we’re going to put our attention on Weber State,” Hayford said.

But Hayford and his players spent a few minutes savoring their win over the Bengals, who trailed the entire game but kept things interesting until the final two minutes in front of a crowd of 2,004.

The Eagles (10-9 Big Sky, 15-15 overall) led by as many as 14 points in the second half but by only 8 with three minutes left before they put the game away at the free-throw line. The Bengals (8-11 and 11-17) twice cut the lead to 8 points in the final minute, but Tyler Harvey sandwiched four free throws around a breakaway slam-dunk from Venky Jois to seal the deal.

Along the way, the Eagles got double-digit scoring from five players, including a game-high 22 from Harvey, 16 from guard Parker Kelly.

Harvey also contributed a career-high 10 rebounds – his first double-double – while starting at point  guard for injured Drew Brandon.

The Eagles also got solid inside play from Venky Jois (12 points, seven rebounds) and post Martin Seiferth (14 points, 10 boards).

“Our veterans stepped up,” praised Hayford. “This is a really solid team win, and I am really proud of our team. We advanced our program tonight.”

Reserve Felix Von Hofe scored a career-high 11 points while delivering a trio of 3-pointers; and Brandon played seven minutes despite a severely sprained right hand.

“He’s limited, but he has great heart,” Hayford said. “It kills him not to play.”

Besides his 4-for-6 shooting night from beyond the arc, the Eagles also got a stellar defensive effort from Kelly, who held ISU star Chris Anderson to 11 points. Hansen was 4 for 17 from the field.

“I couldn’t give him any room to breathe or I was going to pay the price,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s defense set the tone; ISU missed nine of its first 10 shots and trailed 19-6 before getting back into the game.

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