As far as Jim Hayford is concerned, there is no rear-view mirror on the road to Reno.
The four losses on Eastern Washington’s Big Sky Conference ledger are only a few weeks old, but they’re being treated as ancient history by a team that’s giving the gas pedal a hard push these days.
The Eagles’ 95-85 win over North Dakota on Thursday night was motivated less by an earlier loss to UND than the chance to climb the standings ahead of next month’s conference tournament in Reno.
In fact, a few minutes after the game was over, several Eagles were back on the floor at Reese Court, trying to get a little better. One of them was forward Bogdan Bliznyuk, whose one-on-one pickup game with a friend looked every bit as intense as his 34 minutes against North Dakota.
For this team, there’s no looking back.
“It’s like two separate seasons,” Hayford explained after Eastern won its fifth straight game to improve to 14-10 overall and 8-4 in the Big Sky.
“We’ve won eight of our last 10 – anything that happened before that is not even in our memory,” Hayford said. “We wanted a little payback because even though we weren’t playing that well that first weekend, we still should have won that game.”
There was no doubt this time, as the Eagles stayed in third place with a game that highlighted their outside shooting in the first half and their inside game in the second. First it was guard Austin McBroom, who took advantage of the attention focused on EWU forward Venky Jois.
With the Eagles down 14-9 early in the first half, McBroom took over the game, hitting a trio of 3-pointers and a short jumper to spark a 14-0 run that left his team in charge.
At one point, McBroom was 5-for-5 from the field and accounted for 14 of the Eagles’ 19 points. He finished with a career-high 35 as Eastern put the game away at the free-throw line.
“They were collapsing on Venky,” McBroom said. “But he’s great at finding guys, and I was knocking down shots. “When you’re hitting, you’re hitting.”
McBroom had 20 points at halftime, forcing North Dakota into a zone defense and turning McBroom into the playmaker he prefers to be.
Five of his passes found Jois, who hit all nine of his shots to finish with 24 points along with nine rebounds.
Three of those were slam-dunks, all of which were punctuated by fist-pumping from the senior forward.
“If you watch me, you know that’s the kind of player I am,” said Jois, who gave much of the credit to McBroom.
“As soon as he saw the attention go to him he hit me with three or four perfect passes,” Jois said.
Glancing at a stat sheet that showed McBroom with five assists, Jois said “It would have been 10 if they didn’t decide to wrap me up.”
Down by as many as 17 midway through the second half, North Dakota (12-11 overall, 7-5 Big Sky) decided that its best option was to foul.
Two UND starters fouled out and two others had four fouls, but North Dakota closed to within seven points in the waning moments before EWU put the game away at the line.
However, Jois made six of his 10 foul shots, while McBroom was 12-for-14.
The Eagles got 8 points, five rebounds and three assists in just 15 minutes from backup guard Sir Washington.
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