Call them the near-miss kids.
The Eastern Washington basketball team nearly fashioned a miracle for the ages Saturday afternoon against Big Sky Conference champion Weber State.
But as luck would have it, Eastern Washington had none when it mattered most. With the Eagles trailing by two in the dying seconds at Reese Court, Parker Kelly unleashed a 3-point shot from the top of the arc.
“I thought I buried it,” said Kelly, who along with 2,058 screaming fans watched the ball roll in and out of the hoop. Three seconds later, Weber State escaped with an 82-78 win.
“We were that close to one of the greatest comebacks in college basketball,” said Eastern coach Jim Hayford, whose team trailed by 18 points with 8 minutes left before falling just short.
Five hours later, the Eagles (10-10 in the Big Sky, 15-16 overall) also fell just short of the postseason, as Northern Colorado, Portland State and Sacramento State grabbed the last three spots in the seven-team Big Sky tournament.
For the record, the Eagles finished tied for seventh with Sac State. The teams split their two games this season, but the Hornets won the next tie-breaker because they own a win over Weber State, the top team in the conference.
Eastern was unlucky even before the day began. Weber State (17-11, 14-6) came to Cheney having lost four of its previous six games. But after a stinging loss Thursday at Portland State, Weber coach Randy Rahe said he and his staff “challenged the kids pretty hard to get that edge back and get that hunger back.”
After trailing 9-0 and not getting a field goal until the game was 6 minutes old, Weber fashioned two monster rallies in the first half. The first was a 23-2 run built by perimeter defense and a stifling inside game that included a 21-14 advantage on the boards.
The Eagles got six points in less than 90 seconds from Ognjen Miljkovic and even took a 30-29 lead on a layin by Venky Jois, but Weber’s Davion Berry hit a pair of 3-pointers to fuel a 14-2 run to end the half.
Trailing 43-32 at halftime, the Eagles couldn’t make headway even with Weber big men Joel Bolomboy and Kyle Tresnak both on the bench with three fouls. Instead, Berry took over the game and finished with 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
“He’s probably going to be the Big Sky MVP,” Hayford said.
The Eagles trailed 69-53 with 5:51 left.
Then it happened. Weber State suddenly looked hapless against Eastern’s full-court pressure, while Kelly drained four free throws to cut the deficit to 73-63. Berry pushed the lead back to 10, but the Eagles forced back-to-back turnovers before Drew Brandon hit two more three throws to make it a 78-74 game with 1:50 left.
Weber responded with two free throws from Berry, but Felix Von Hofe shot a short jumper and Kelly drove the lane for a layin that made it 80-78 with 48 seconds left.
“We had a look to tie it, and then we had a look to win it,” Hayford said. “It was a great look – it just went in and out.”
Kelly finished with 20 points, while Tyler Harvey scored a team-high 24.
“Everyone got their money’s worth today, it was just that the right team didn’t win,” said Hayford.
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