The Eastern Washington men’s basketball players showed a lot of heart on Valentine’s Day.
The other body parts? Not so much.
Living on the edge with injuries for the past month, Eastern finally lost its footing in a stunning 68-66 Big Sky Conference loss to Portland State at Reese Court. A 5½-minute scoring drought in the second half was too much to overcome, although the Eagles closed within a field goal several times in the last three minutes.
“I think that our injuries and not having people practicing together probably caught up with us a little bit today,” said Eastern coach Jim Hayford. “At the end of the day, Portland State was just a little too good for us.”
More to the point, PSU’s second-half shooting – 16 of 23 – was too much to overcome for a squad that’s still trying to get healthy.
As the Eagles took the court Saturday afternoon, national scoring leader Tyler Harvey was still on the mend from a bruised thigh, point guard Drew Brandon was battling recurring back spasms and Venky Jois didn’t even play, the victim of an ankle injury aggravated two nights earlier.
The Eagles still managed to hang tough, closing to within three points on several occasions. Harvey scored the last of his game-high 22 points on a pair of free throws with 3:04 to play, but after forcing a turnover, the Eagles returned the favor, and the Vikings’ Zach Gengler drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner to push the lead to 64-59 with 1:48 left.
After trading buckets, EWU closed to 66-64 on a three-point play from Bogdan Bliznyuk with 42 seconds left, but Tiegbe Bamba hit two free throws to make it 68-64 with 17 seconds left.
“The player we did want to foul did get the inbounds pass, and credit him, he made both,” said Hayford, whose team dropped to 19-6 overall and 10-2 in the Big Sky – still good for first.
“He makes one of those and maybe we go into overtime,” Hayford said.
Parker Kelly’s layin came with just 2 seconds left – too little, too late. Gengler missed a foul shot with 1 second to play, but Harvey’s desperation full-court heave was well off the mark.
So were most of his shots; Harvey was 5 of 15 for the game, including 2 of 12 beyond the arc.
“Tyler is a great player, but he has also only had one practice in the last three weeks and I probably asked more of him today than I should have,” said Hayford, whose team dropped its first home game in 13 outings.
The bigger loss was Jois, who suffered an ankle injury against these same Vikings on Jan. 15, and hasn’t been the same since.
Jois aggravated the injury on Thursday against Sacramento State, and was forced to watch Saturday’s game in street clothes. Garrett Moon pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds in his first career start, but wasn’t able to make an impact on offense. EWU was outscored 32-22 in the paint.
The Eagles got off to a strong start and took their biggest lead of the game, 24-12, on Harvey’s 3-pointer with 6:27 left in the first half.
Eastern led 32-26 at halftime, but the Vikings (12-11 overall, 6-7 Big Sky) forged a 38-all tie 5 minutes into the second half.
They didn’t stop there. DeShaun Wiggins gave PSU the lead for good with two free throws, then drilled a 3-pointer that made it 49-43 with 10:40 to play.
Meanwhile, the Eagles went scoreless for 5½ minutes. “We had a hard time for about eight or nine minutes in the second half offensively where we just didn’t have the rhythm and flow, and teamwork, that I would have liked to see,” Hayford said.
Eastern finished 21 of 55 from the field, its worst shooting effort of the year at home.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.