The career scoring record was nice, and one day Venky Jois will find time to appreciate it.
But in the wake of Eastern Washington’s 75-71 Big Sky Conference loss to Idaho State on Thursday night, there’s a sense of urgency among the Eagles.
Seconds after lamenting “the little things” that led to their third straight loss – missed free throws, turnovers and spotty defense – coach Jim Hayford said he hopes past success will help carry the Eagles through next week’s Big Sky tournament in Reno, Nevada.
“Because we have some players who have been there, I believe we are going to find another gear when we get to Reno. That’s what we’re going to bank on,” Hayford said.
There’s no time to lose – two days less than EWU had expected, in fact. Thursday’s loss, combined with Idaho’s win over Weber State, means Eastern (16-13 overall, 10-7 in the Big Sky) will open the tournament on Tuesday at the Reno Convention Center.
The Eagles fell into fifth place mostly because they couldn’t find an answer for speedy ISU point guard Ethan Telfair, who not only scored a game-high 31 points, but had seven rebounds and seven assists. With the game hanging in the balance, it was Telfair who hit several crucial free throws to give ISU its first win at Reese Court since 2003.
“I credit Idaho State,” Hayford said after EWU lost for the first time this year at Reese Court. “They came in with a great game plan, we knew we were going to have problems with Telfair.”
The Eagles also had problems with their 3-point shooting, going 8 for 28 on the night. Combined with Jois going 1 for 10 from the foul line, that should have been enough to decide the issue early.
But somehow, the Eagles persevered. Trailing 35-32 at halftime, they were down by 10 after Telfair drained two free throws with 10:05 left. However, Jois got two of his team-high 21 points on a slam dunk, and Felix Von Hofe drilled a 3-pointer that cut the lead to 61-57 with 5:05 to play.
EWU would get no closer when it mattered, as Telfair made seven of his last eight foul shots and EWU forward Bogdan Bliznyuk lost the the ball with 38 seconds left and the Eagles down 71-66.
Jois wasted little time in breaking the career scoring record of 1,741 set by Ron Cox from 1974-77. Needing nine points to set the mark, he got his 10th on a layup following a pass from Cody Benzel with 4 minutes left in the half.
Following the game, Cox joined Jois and his family at center court to mark the occasion.
“It was a great crowd and I thank them for the support they gave me and our team tonight,” said Jois following the game.”
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