Jacob Wiley felt the emotion of Senior Day, all right.
Idaho State felt it too, as Wiley and his Eastern Washington teammates channeled those emotions into an 89-77 win over the Bengals at Reese Court.
After being honored along with fellow seniors Felix Von Hofe and Julian Harrell, Wiley rose to his own occasion Saturday afternoon with another dominating performance in his final regular-season home game.
“Every player is different, but I’m able to channel that into my game,” Wiley said after a 38-point, 15-rebound effort that fairly screamed “Big Sky Conference MVP.”
That will be up to the coaches – the same ones who picked Eastern to finish seventh. But Wiley is the biggest reason the Eagles are 20-9 overall and alone in second place in the conference at 12-4 with two games left in the regular season.
“If I’m feeling the energy, the passion, I feel it in a positive way,” said Wiley, who a year ago was in the stands watching Venky Jois and the Eagles lose a Senior Day game to none other than Idaho State.
This Senior Day would be different – Wiley made sure of that. Before the game, he carried daughter Aliya onto the court. When it began, he carried the Eagles on his back.
“It’s no secret – we try to play inside-out and try to establish Jake inside. He’s pretty good, and he was juiced to play today – he was excited,” coach Jim Hayford said.
“He made some tough shots too, and he made the easy ones,” Hayford said.
Actually, Wiley made the hard shots look easy.
Sticking with the game plan – pass the ball into the paint until the other guys stop it – the Eagles found the 6-foot-7 Wiley posted against Idaho State 7-footer Novak Topalovic.
Wiley did the rest, juking Topalovic in every direction on the way to scoring 13 of the Eagles’ first 22 points.
ISU called timeout. It didn’t help, as Ty Gibson buried a 3-pointer to give Eastern its biggest lead of the game, 32-11 with 9:06 left in the half.
Finally, ISU doubled Wiley and got back in the game partly because the Eagles were just 6-for-27 from 3-point range.
“We got up early, so guys were thinking it was going to be a 25-30 point win,” Hayford said. “But the other team showed a lot of pride and we had a really bad shooting night. Fortunately, we made just enough of them.”
Eastern led 43-33 at intermission, and Wiley stoked it back up to 14 on two layins and a free throw early in the second half.
At that point, Idaho State – with just nine healthy players – could have folded, but the Bengals (5-23 overall, 3-13 in the Big Sky) used the playmaking of guard Ethan Telfair and some timely turnovers to get back in the game.
The game got downright uncomfortable with 7:41 left, when after Brandon Boyd’s layin trimmed the Eagles’ lead to 64-59.
But Von Hofe hit a tough jumper from the side, Wiley hit two free throws and Bliznyuk – who had one of the quietest double-doubles of the season with 24 points and 10 boards – hit two more foul shots to make it a nine-point game.
It was still a six-point game with 2 ½ minutes left, but layups from Wiley and Von Hofe got the Eagles up by double-digits with a just over a minute to play.
Eastern finishes the regular season on the road next week at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.
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