Eagle guard makes 20-of-20 free throws and has the ninth-most points in EWU history in Eagle home victoryOn a night Southern Utah had a season-best shooting percentage, Eastern Washington University’s Tyler Harvey trumped that with perfect shooting marksmanship.
The sophomore guard made a school and Big Sky Conference record 20-of-20 free throws and finished with a career-high 36 points as Eastern held off the Thunderbirds 90-83 Thursday (Jan. 23) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles finished with school records of 38 free throws made and 49 attempts.
An 8-2 run to open the second half gave Eastern the lead for good, as the Eagles improved to 3-4 in the Big Sky and 8-10 overall with their sixth win in seven tries at home. Southern Utah, which entered the game making just 36 percent of its shots for the season, sank 54 percent in the loss, but fell to 1-15 overall and 0-7 on the season. The Thunderbirds haven’t won since defeating Arizona Christian 85-78 in their opener on Nov. 8.
“We are grateful for wins,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “This season we are 6-1 on our home court, and we are 0-9 when on the opponent’s court. I am glad we did what we had to do today, which is a growth step for us.”
The Eagles return to the road to play at Portland State in a “Dam Cup” game on Monday (Jan. 27). Eastern returns for a pair of home games at Reese Court versus North Dakota on Thursday, Jan. 30 and Northern Colorado on Saturday, Feb. 1.
Sophomore Venky Jois added 19 points and nine rebounds, freshman Ognjen Miljkovic had 13 points and seven boards in his first career start and junior Parker Kelly chipped in 12 points in the win. Point guard Drew Brandon, who was one of five Eagle starters to log at least 31 minutes, had five assists, six points and five rebounds.
But the night belonged to Harvey, who broke the previous school and conference record of 16-of-16 by set by Jason Lewis against Weber State on Jan. 27, 2001. The NCAA record is 24-of-24.
Harvey, the Big Sky’s second-leading scorer with a 20.3 average entering the game, finished with the ninth-most points in school history. He made 7-of-9 field goal attempts, including both of his 3-point attempts. He also had three assists, and his eight rebounds were one away from his career high.
“Our game plan was to put the ball in his hands because he is making plays,” said Hayford. “The defense kept fouling him, and Tyler kept making the free throws. It is where we need to be in every part of our program. He made a commitment to developing that area of his game. He went from a really poor free throw percentage last year to setting the Big Sky and school record tonight. I couldn’t be more pleased. He is a good player, he’s a great young man and he is only a sophomore.”
In addition, Harvey’s 20 charity shots broke the school record of 17 set by Matt Piper of Humboldt State on Dec. 28, 1982. His free throw attempts were one shy of Piper’s 21 in that game. The previous team record for made free throws was 34 set on two occasions and the old mark for attempts was 48 versus Sacramento State on Jan. 19, 1995.
Miljkovic, who missed the last six games with an ankle injury, scored 10 points in the second half for the Eagles.
“OG is still figuring out how everything flows together, but he is really skilled and he has a really good nose for the ball,” said Hayford. “I think he has the potential to be a really good player for Eastern, and I am glad he is back.”
The Eagles were hot early and scored 17 unanswered points to take an early 19-4 advantage. Harvey scored 10 points in the run, including a pair of 3-pointers as the Thunderbirds went scoreless for 6:04.
But SUU, which made just two of its first 10 shots, made 14 of its last 20 in the half to lead at intermission 39-38. The Thunderbirds had three 6-0 runs and one of 5-0 in out-scoring EWU 35-19 in the last 11:26 of the half.
Eastern sank 50 percent in the first half as Harvey scored 12 and Jois had 10, but the Thunderbirds converted on 53 percent of their shots. Seven different SUU players scored and 12 played in the half.
The Eagles scored eight of the first 10 points in the second half – including five by Miljkovic – to take the lead for good at 46-41. A trio of free throws by Harvey put Eastern up 56-47, then EWU went up by double figures.
“I said, ‘I am not interested in where we went wrong, I am more interested in what we are going to go do,’” said Hayford of his halftime speech to the team. “We just had too many people making too many mistakes whether it was defense, turnovers or a poor shot. I said ‘let’s go do this’, and I think the guys responded.”
Southern Utah managed to cut the lead to four at 68-64, but Eastern regained an eight-point advantage with a pair of baskets by Miljkovic and never led by less than five the rest of the way.
Portland State is coming off a road split last week, winning 68-64 at Sacramento State in overtime and falling at Northern Arizona 77-56. The Vikings are 7-8 overall and 2-4 in the league heading into Saturday’s home game against Southern Utah, and can return the “Dam Cup” to Portland with a victory over the Eagles.