In a predictably lopsided game at McCarthey Athletic Center last December, Eastern Oregon struggled to find quality shots and retain possession of the ball, making 29% from the field while committing 28 turnovers in a 120-42 loss to 10th-ranked Gonzaga.
If the NAIA Mountaineers had a bright spot in the 120-42 loss, it was the play of Malachi Afework, a Federal Way, Wash., native who accounted for 26% of his team’s total scoring and finished as EOU’s only double-digit scorer with 11 points in 28 minutes.
Regardless of the circumstances – all five GU starters played 20 minutes or less – that’s no small feat against a top-25 Gonzaga team, inside the often intimidating confines of the Kennel.
More accomplished Division I scorers frequently fail to reach the double-digit mark in Spokane. All-conference Saint Mary’s guard Aidan Mahaney, for example, scored only nine points in 38 minutes last February on Gonzaga’s home floor.
Afework once again seems like the best bet to lead the Mountaineers offensively during Tuesday’s 6 p.m. game against the 11th-ranked Bulldogs. Similar to last year’s contest, the game counts toward Gonzaga’s win-loss record but not Eastern Oregon’s.
A Fife High School product who started his career at Carroll College in Montana, Afework is a 6-fooot-1, 185-pound guard who’s averaging 19.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the Mountaineers.
The junior who played in all 32 games for EOU last season is a somewhat capable outside shooter, making 30% of his 3-point attempts last season, but seems to be at his best when he’s driving into the lane, looking to draw contact.
Afework’s already attempted 25 free throws in three games this season and he’s shooting an outstanding 92% from the foul line. His 95 free throw attempts ranked second on the team last year, even though he played 106 fewer minutes than team leader Phillip Malatare (107 FTA).
Initially, Afework will see lots of Nolan Hickman and Ryan Nembhard when EOU comes down the floor on offense Tuesday night. Freshman guard Luka Krajnovic should factor in at some point in the first half, and presuming Gonzaga is able to pull away from the Mountaineers, walk-on guards Joe Few and Joaquim ArauzMoore could also get a handful of chances to defend EOU’s top scorer late in the game.