The Eastern Washington players and coaches got the message Thursday night: Nothing is guaranteed in Big Sky Conference, even at Reese Court.
Coming off two straight road losses, the Eagles returned home knowing that they needed just two wins this week at Reese Court to secure a first-round bye in next week’s Big Sky Tournament.
The Eagles were secure in the knowledge that they were 10-0 at home this year and facing an Idaho State program that hasn’t won in Cheney in 13 years. More important, they’ve come to rely on stellar shooting at home, even if it’s been spotty on the road.
Not this time.
After a 75-71 loss Thursday night to Idaho State, the only sure thing is that EWU must win four games next week in Reno, Nevada, in order to return to the NCAA Tournament.
In dropping its third straight game, Eastern had its worst shooting night of the year at home, and also had 12 turnovers that turned into 16 points for the Bengals. More galling, the Eagles made 43.5 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from the 3-point arc and just 47 percent from the free throw line.
“We’ve got some better 3-point shooters than they showed,” said coach Jim Hayford, who watched Felix Von Hofe and Austin McBroom go a combined 6-for-19 from beyond the arc.
Solid defense kept the Eagles in the game until back-to-back turnovers by McBroom and Bogdan Bliznyuk in the final 90 seconds with EWU trailing by 5.
The bottom line: the Eagles dropped out of a third-place tie in the standings. Coupled with Idaho’s 63-58 win over Weber Stater later that night, that means the Eagles will finish either fifth or sixth in the final standings.
That means a new mind set going into the Senior Day finale Saturday afternoon against Weber State, which probably needs a win to secure the regular-season title.
“I think that our team believes that they can beat anybody,” Jim Hayford said after the game. “They also understand that they can lose to anybody.”
“We shot below 50 percent at the free throw line and committed two more turnovers … We had a tough night at the line, and that make sthe difference in a four-point game.”
“In these close games, everybody can look at something, coach or player, we all can do that,”Hayford said.
And take nothing for granted.