LARAMIE, Wyoming – The Eastern Washington men’s basketball team made its run.
Storming out of the halftime break, the Eagles cut a Wyoming lead that had reached 15 points down to one Wednesday in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. But the Cowboys’ best-shooting night of the year was too much to overcome, and Eastern Washington’s season came to an end 91-81 at the Arena-Auditorium.
“I thought Wyoming was a really good team, probably the favorite to win the tournament,” Eagles head coach Jim Hayford said. “We came back at halftime with great fight. Their athleticism was the difference on the boards and then we’re not going to win the game when they shoot the ball that well. But it was a very entertaining game, and our guys played hard and represented us well. I’m disappointed with the night, but I’m satisfied with the season.”
Eastern Washington (22-12) tied Wyoming (19-14) four times in the first 10 minutes before taking its first lead of the game at 20-18 on a Bliznyuk layup. But the Eagles didn’t make a basket inside the 3-pointe line in the half’s remaining 11:04.
Cowboys junior Alan Herndon answered 8 seconds later with a 3-pointer at the 10:56 mark to kick off a 23-6 Wyoming run that included a 10-0 run and took less than 7 minutes. Eastern Washington ended a 4:16 drought with a 5-0 run to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 10 but didn’t get any closer before halftime.
The Eagles opened the second half with a 10-1 run, cutting the deficit to three for the first time since 8 minutes remained before halftime. After shooting 5 of 14 from 3 in the first half, the Eagles hit three 3-pointers in the first 4 minutes of the second half, including two from Wiley. Wiley finished the game with three 3-pointers on four attempts. The Big Sky’s player of the year had attempted just three 3-pointers all season before Wednesday, making two.
A Felix Von Hofe 3-pointer cut the lead to two points, and a three-point play by Wiley inched the Eagles within one. Wyoming responded with a 9-0 run aided by missed Eastern Washington layups and capped by a Hayden Dalton 3-pointer.
The Eagles shaved the lead to seven twice but were unable to get within two possessions again as Wyoming made 16 of its final 23 shots. Wyoming shot 58.3 percent overall and 61.1 percent from 3-point range.
It is Wyoming’s second postseason win against Eastern Washington in program history. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 78-71 in first round of the 2003 NIT. Wyoming will host Missouri-Kansas City at 7 p.m. Monday in the second round of the 16-team tournament.
The Eagles’ CBI appearance was their third in a postseason invitational in the last three years. In 2016, Eastern Washington reached the quarterfinals of the CBI.
“When you look at it, we’ve just concluded the best three-year run in Eastern history,” Hayford said. “So the guys deserve a big pat on the back.”
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