Inside in the first half, outside in the second half.
That was the recipe for success for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team, but suddenly the shots stopped falling as Montana State rallied for a 70-68 victory in overtime Saturday (Jan. 5) in Bozeman, Mont.
Four Eagles scored at least nine points, as the Eagles led by as many as 15 in the second half. Eastern missed a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation and two potential game tying shots at the end of overtime.
“I’m very, very proud of our team,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “We played really, really well in the first half and second half. We were trading baskets in the second half and we needed some stops to stop the bleeding. We were in a position there in the last minute and couldn’t get it done in our last two possessions.
“It was a really good game – but there has to be a winner and a loser,” he added. “Our team played really, really well, and I hurt for them that they can’t take a road win home with them.”
Although the Eagles had five more field goals – and six more 3-point goals – Eastern was out-scored 24-6 at the free throw line. Eastern missed nine of its last 10 shots in regulation – including a string of eight consecutive misses -- and was just 2-of-9 in overtime. Before that, Eastern was shooting at a 59 percent clip before settling at 45 percent for the game.
The Eagles also had 20 turnovers compared to just eight for the Bobcats, as MSU had a 21-9 advantage in points off turnovers.
“We had some good looks but didn’t make them,” Hayford said. “At the end of the day, they had 15 more possessions than we did. We knew they forced a lot of turnovers and we had some players who had some tough ones. We just need to attack the basket a little harder and we will get some more free throws.”
The Eagles fell to 1-3 in the league and 3-11 overall with the loss, while MSU won its second-straight game to improve to 2-2 in the league and 5-7 overall. Eastern returns to Reese Court to host Northern Arizona on Jan. 10 and Sacramento State on Jan. 12 in a pair of games that start at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time.
Senior guard Jeffrey Forbes led the Eagles with a season-high 18 points with four 3-pointers, and senior point guard Kevin Winford had 13 points and six assists before fouling out late in the game. Six-foot-10 sophomore Martin Seiferth finished with 11 points and six rebounds, and sophomore Parker Kelly added nine points with a trio of 3-pointers.
“We thought we could get two rotations and a shot in the corner, and we did,” said Hayford of his team’s outside performance against MSU’s zone defense. “Jeff had a great game from three. We had 12 threes – that’s a good night. We were driving, but we just weren’t as strong taking it at them. And we were just fouling them on similar shots -- we have to foul a little less.”
Eastern played the last 6:38 and overtime without true freshman Venky Jois, who entered the game averaging 13.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Jois played only 25 minutes and finished with six points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Eastern played its second game with a new starting point guard in the lineup, with Justin Crosgile no longer on the team after starting the first 12 games. As a result, Winford had his most points in two seasons since scoring 15 versus Northern Colorado on Feb. 3, 2011. He also had his most assists since dishing out a career-high seven versus New Hope on Dec. 4, 2010.
“Kevin and Jeff gave great senior performances to lead and show our team how you play on the road,” praised Hayford. “I just want to give those two young men a lot of credit. They both have amazing personal character, are great guys and they really did lead by example tonight. I’m proud of our team, but sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t go in your favor.”
Four Bobcats scored in double figures, and MSU entered the game ranked 20th in NCAA Division I in turnover margin. Montana State entered the game averaging just 13.0 turnovers and forcing a league-leading 17.9 per game. Eastern was ninth in the Big Sky in turnover margin with averages of 13.1 committed and 11.0 forced.
Four Eagles scored in the early going and Eastern took a quick 9-2 lead. After MSU garnered a 17-16 advantage, Eastern regained a 32-22 lead on a 3-pont by Collin Chiverton to cap a 16-6 run. With Seiferth scoring seven of his points in the first half, the Eagles led 37-29 at intermission.
Seiferth added a field goal with 16:33 left in the game, but that was the team’s last two-point basket until 47 seconds remained.
“Martin had his second-best game of the year,” praised Hayford. “He gave us a nice inside presence tonight. It’s too bad Kevin fouled out because he was playing a really good game – we could have used him down the stretch.”
Even though the Eagles couldn’t keep its inside game going down the stretch, a pair of 3-pointers by Kelly gave EWU a 50-35 lead with 16:06 left. Eastern hit treys at the 14:12 and 11:59 mark, then a 3-pointer by Forbes gave EWU a 59-50 advantage with 8:36 to play.
But the Eagles missed their next eight field goal attempts, and MSU went on a 10-2 run to take a 62-60 advantage with 2:21 left.
After a pair of free throws by Forbes, a steal and offensive rebound by Thomas Reuter led to a dunk by Seiferth on a pass from Winford that gave EWU a 64-62 lead. But Winford missed the front end of a one-plus-one bonus free throw opportunity, followed by a pair of tying free throws by MSU. A missed driving layin by EWU’s Daniel Hill sent the game into overtime.
Eastern scored first in the extra period, but missed seven of its last eight shots after that, including misses by Hill and Chiverton in the closing seconds.
“Daniel had a really good look to force double-overtime, but they made a big-time block,” Hayford said. “We won a game with a blocked shot (Idaho State on Dec. 22), so I guess what goes around comes around.”