Eastern Washington basketball coach Jim Hayford spoke last week about his team being a “work in progress.”
This was the kind of progress he had in mind.
And what better time for the hard work to pay off than on Saturday, in a 74-60 win over Idaho that did far more than merely remove the goose egg from the Eagles’ Big Sky Conference win column?
The passing was crisp, the shooting sublime, and the defense was the in-your-face kind that had been lacking in recent games. All of it was appreciated by a Reese Court crowd of 3,262.
By halftime, the Eagles were up by 16 while shooting 67 percent from long range against the top-ranked defense in the conference; at the other end, they held Idaho to 33 percent shooting, including 2-for-7 from 3.
It was Eastern’s best defensive effort of the season.
The lead grew to as many as 24 before the Vandals (10-6 overall and 2-1 in the Big Sky) made a few late runs to make the final score a bit less lopsided.
As Idaho coach Don Verlin put it, “They dictated the tempo from start to finish and they kicked our tails.”
That may have been the byproduct of the Eagles (7-8 overall, 1-2 Big Sky) working their own tails off during a full week of practice – something they hadn’t enjoyed during a road-heavy preseason.
“It sure is nice to play on our home court,” said Hayford, whose team gets two more at Reese next week against Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.
“I feel like if our guys could have gotten a couple of more home games in December and preparation weeks of practice, we would have been a lot further along right now,” Hayford said.
Indeed, the Eagles seemed to making up for lost time Saturday afternoon in their first meaningful home game in eight weeks. Point guard Austin McBroom set the tone from the start, hitting two early 3-pointers that staked EWU to an early 8-2 lead.
Moments later, forward Julian Harrell – in his first start as an Eagle after recovering from a hand injury – drilled two more 3s and suddenly it was 15-4. Harrell finished with 14 points and made an impact on the defensive end.
“We’ve been missing a piece,” Hayford said. “We were throwing different freshmen there trying to find that fifth piece, knowing it would be Julian. He’s a really good player. That kind of rounded us off, and took away some of the bumps we were hitting.”
The hot shooting continued. After Idaho made a run to narrow the lead to 30-21 late in the half, Bogdan Bliznyuk and Felix Von Hofe hit back-to-back 3s to push the lead back to 15.
But above all it was McBroom who drove this offensive machine. Too quick off the dribble for Idaho defender Victor Sanders, McBroom continually found room and took advantage of every option: drive and dish, kick out to an open shooter or pull back for a 3 while Sanders was out of position.
“We didn’t think they had a good matchup on Austin McBroom, and we wanted to put the ball in his hands,” Hayford said. McBroom, the leading scorer in the conference coming in, finished with a game-high 26 on 6-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-7 from outside the arc.
Late in the half, he hit the Eagles’ ninth 3-pointer, guaranteeing fans a coupon for free tacos at a local eatery and also making sure the momentum stayed on Eastern’s side.
Up 46-30 at intermission, the Eagles all but put the game away with two more treys from Von Hofe, who finished with 19 points.
“As a coaching staff, we have to do a better job of defending the 3-point line,” Verlin said.
Eastern took its biggest lead, 60-36, on another bomb from McBroom with 11:13 to play.
To their credit, the Vandals didn’t go down meekly, but never got closer than 11. Sanders led the Vandals with 18 points, and Perrion Callandret and Nate Sherwood had 12 each.
Idaho outrebounded Eastern 45-32, but the Eagles still managed 27 defensive rebounds. “We missed a few inside shots that we should have made,” Verlin said.
“We just have to work out what we did wrong, get better and keep playing,” said Verlin, whose team will host Northern Arizona on Thursday night.
E. Washington 74, Idaho 60
Idaho (10-6)—Mkrtychyan 2-7 1-5 5, George 0-3 0-0 0, Callandret 3-12 5-6 12, Sarbaugh 1-5 0-0 2, Sanders 7-18 3-4 18, Blair 1-3 1-2 3, Ingram 0-0 0-0 0, C. Sherwood 1-3 0-0 3, N. Sherwood 3-7 6-7 12, Egbert 0-1 0-0 0, Scott 2-5 1-1 5. Totals 20-64 17-25 60.
E. Washington (7-8)—Harrell 5-7 1-2 14, Jois 4-4 1-4 9, McBroom 8-14 4-7 26, Bliznyuk 2-7 1-2 6, Von Hofe 6-12 2-2 19, Gibson 0-2 0-0 0, Henderson 0-0 0-0 0, Ferris 0-1 0-0 0, Benzel 0-0 0-0 0, Nuno 0-0 0-1 0, Reid 0-0 0-0 0, Hunt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-47 9-18 74.
Halftime—E. Washington 46-30. 3-Point Goals—Idaho 3-15 (C. Sherwood 1-3, Sanders 1-3, Callandret 1-6, N. Sherwood 0-1, Scott 0-1, Sarbaugh 0-1), E. Washington 15-29 (McBroom 6-10, Von Hofe 5-11, Harrell 3-5, Bliznyuk 1-1, Gibson 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Idaho 45 (N. Sherwood 8), E. Washington 32 (Bliznyuk 9). Assists—Idaho 8 (Sanders, Sarbaugh 2), E. Washington 15 (McBroom 7). Total Fouls—Idaho 20, E. Washington 20. A—3,262.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.