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Eastern can’t stay with Western Carolina in second half

Staff and wire reports

CULLOWHEE, N.C. – It had the feel of a typical Big Sky Conference road game for the Eastern Washington men, but there was nothing typical about Western Carolina’s second half shooting.

The Eagles (5-6) fell victim to the second-half surge of the Catamounts (4-6), who scored 62 points after the break to win 97-80 in the non-conference game at the West Carolina’s Ramsey Center on Monday.

Eastern junior Felix Von Hofe and senior Austin McBroom combined for 56 points on combined 20-of-33 shooting overall and 12-of-21 from the 3-point stripe. But the Catamounts were even hotter, hitting 73 percent of their shots in the second half on their way to a 56 percent shooting night.

Eagle senior Venky Jois, playing in his 100th game at EWU, finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.

“Felix is really playing some great basketball for us, and Austin is a very special player,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. If we can get our two preseason All-Big Sky players (Jois and Bogdan Bliznyuk) playing the way we know they can and get improved contributions from the bench, the answers are there. We just have to get them there. We’re offensively good enough to win these games, but we have to go get better on defense.”

Eastern Washington took a 42-35 lead on a 3-pointer by Von Hofe 17 seconds into the second half, but a 10-0 run put Western Carolina up for good. Prior to that, the game featured eight ties and nine lead changes.

Eastern had its second-most turnovers of the season with 17 leading to 23 Catamount points.

“When it got away from us we had turnovers that led to baskets,” said Hayford. “We have great character, but (Western Carolina’s late run) had more to do with the frustration of going on a long road trip and losing three games.”

Rhett Harrelson scored a season-high 25 points while Torrion Brummitt and Justin Browning added 18 points apiecefor the Catamounts. Mike Brown finished with 17 points. Brummitt made 7 of 10 field goals and grabbed seven rebounds while Browning scored a career-high, on 6-of-9 shooting, and pulled down eight boards. Brown and Harrelson hit three 3-pointers apiece.

Eastern returns home to face Morehead State of the Ohio Valley Conference on Thursday at 6 p.m. After a trip to play at Denver of Summit League on Sunday, Eastern will open Big Sky Conference play at Northern Colorado on Dec. 31.

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