MISSOULA – It was almost unfair.
The Idaho Vandals rose to the occasion of their Big Sky Conference quarterfinal game against Eastern Washington, but Tyler Harvey took his game to an even higher level in the second half of the Eagles’ 91-83 win Thursday afternoon.
Using his stepback 3-point shot to near perfection during a magical run early in the second half, finishing with a career-high 42 points to lift the second-seeded Eagles into tonight’s semifinal against Sacramento State.
Harvey, the national scoring leader, wouldn’t bite when asked if his performance made a statement after he was edged out by Sac State guard Mikh McKinney for Big Sky Player of the Year.
“From day one our goal was to make it to the Big Sky tournament and win it,” Harvey said. “All the accolades, I don’t worry about.”
Harvey and the Eagles had plenty to worry about in the first half. Idaho got 23 points on the deadeye shooting of Connor Hill of Post Falls, who shrugged off flu-like symptoms while hitting 6 of 10 shots from beyond the arc.
The Vandals, who finished 13-17, took a 45-38 lead early in the second half; to that point, Hill had five 3-pointers, or one more than the Eagles.
The game changed in barely a minute, or 66 seconds to be exact. In that span, Harvey drilled a trio of 3-pointers to tie the score at 47; more importantly, the game turned.
By the end of their 26-10 run, the Eagles had taken a 64-54 lead, enough to withstand a late Vandal charge. Idaho even took a 70-67 lead on Mike Scott’s layup with 5:53 left, but came up empty on seven of its last 11 trips down the floor.
“We came back … our guys stepped up and competed,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said.
The Eagles led only 78-75 with 2:28 to play, when Harvey drilled his eighth and final 3-pointer. After Hill missed at the other end, Harvey had the ball in his hands on the wing, but passed on a 3-pointer and hit Drew Brandon for an easy layup.
With 1:07 left, Brandon drove for another layup that gave Eastern (24-8) a game-clinching 85-75 lead. The Eagles wrapped it up by making 6 of 8 free throws in the final 52 seconds.
The Eagles got another strong game from forward Venky Jois, who had 10 points and 14 rebounds for his fifth straight double-double, but even Jois watched his teammate with awe.
“I thought I was crashing the boards pretty hard, but when it seemed to leave Tyler’s fingertips I thought, ‘wait for it because I think this one is going down too,’ ” Jois said.
In all, Harvey put down 13 of his 20 shots, including 8 of 12 from beyond the arc, to post the third-highest point total in school history. Harvey had 16 at the half on 5-for-10 shooting, then caught fire after intermission.
Harvey’s 42 points tied Anthony Johnson’s conference tournament record (Montana, 2010) and the Wayne Estes’ Dahlberg Arena record (Utah State, 1964).
Most of his shots came at the top of the arc; after faking the drive, Harvey stepped back behind the 3-point line and let loose his fadeaway jumper.
“He made lot of crazy shots, and we played some very good defense on him,” Hill said. “He has that little stepback and that’s hard to guard.”
“He had an amazing performance – we have a very special player in Tyler Harvey,” Eagles coach Jim Hayford said.
For undisclosed reasons, two regular Vandal starters saw less action than usual. Idaho guard Sekou Wiggs missed the first half and part of the second and guard Mike Scott didn’t start. “Coach’s decision,” Verlin said after the game…. The win was the Eagles’ first postseason victory in Dahlberg Arena…. After making just 4 of 14 3-pointers in the first half, the Eagles sank 9 of 16 in the second half. Overall, EWU made 63 percent of its shots in the second half and 53 percent for the game.
Montana 76, Weber State 73 (OT): Martin Breunig scored four of his 24 points in overtime and grabbed 12 rebounds as the top-seeded Grizzlies (19-11) beat the Wildcats (13-17) in overtime in Missoula.
Jeremy Senglin scored 25 points to lead the Wildcats and his 3-pointer gave them a 67-65 lead with 31 seconds left in regulation. Montana’s Jordan Gregory made a pair of free throws with 3 seconds left to tie it at 67 and force overtime.
Sacramento State 70, Portland State 60: Mikh McKinney scored 24 points, Dylan Garrity added 22 and the third-seeded Hornets (20-10) defeated the sixth-seeded Pilots (15-14) in Missoula.
Cody Demps added 13 points for the Hornets.
Gary Winston did his best to keep the Vikings (15-14) close at the end, scoring 10 of his 26 points in the final 4:34.
Portland State led 31-27 at halftime.
Northern Arizona 63, Northern Colorado 57: Aaseem Dixon hit four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points to help the fourth-seeded Lumberjacks (19-13) defeat the Bears (15-15).
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