Talk about coming down to the wire.
The postseason hopes of the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team most likely will come down to winning a pair of home games this week, as the Eagles host Idaho State on Thursday (March 6) at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time before concluding the regular season against Big Sky Conference leader Weber State on Saturday (March 8) at 2:05 p.m. Both games will be carried live on ESPN 700-AM and www.watchbigsky.com.
But even then, the Eagles may not know if they’ve advanced to the seven-team Big Sky Conference Tournament until about five hours later, after the rest of the league games conclude. Eastern enters the week in a three-way tie for seventh in the Big Sky at 9-9, but only three games separate second through 10th place in the standings. The Eagles can finish anywhere from second in the league to 10th.
Eastern played three games in six days last week, starting with a disappointing 87-76 home loss to Portland State. But the Eagles came back three days later to knock-off then-second place Northern Colorado 80-66 on its home court, then lost to the new owner of second place, North Dakota, 69-67 on a rebound basket at the buzzer.
“We need to defend our home court – if we had done that on Monday we’re sitting here at 10-8 and not 9-9,” said Hayford. “Who knows how it’s all going to finish up? There are going to be some crazy games in the Big Sky the rest of the season that will come down to the last second too. It’s all a part of being in a league race. We need to win our way in.”
Idaho State is also in a must-win and hope situation entering Thursday’s game, and is now 8-10 in the league and 11-16 overall. Weber State is leading the league at 13-5 and is 16-10 overall, but WSU has lost three of its last five games heading into Thursday’s game at Portland State. The Wildcats have clinched at least a share of the league title, and have also wrapped up host status of the tournament taking place March 13-15.
There are far too many potential ties and tiebreaker situations to even list the scenarios that exist. So while the Eagles control their own destiny to a top seven finish, there exists the possibility that as many as eight teams could finish 11-9 and one or two of them could be left out of the tournament because of tiebreakers.
“What you want is to have a team that knows that every game you play matters,” said Hayford of his senior-less team. “And we are headed into a weekend on our home court where every game does matter. We need fans to come out and cheer them on. Our destiny is in our own hands on our home court.”
Eastern has played its last 1 1/2 games without starting point guard Drew Brandon, who missed the UND game with a hand injury suffered against UNC. Although the hand is not broken, Brandon is questionable this week.
Sophomore Tyler Harvey had 31 points and seven 3-pointers to lead EWU to a season sweep over the Bears and hand UNC its first home loss in 14 outings this season. Against UND, sophomore Venky Jois and junior Martin Seiferth both contributed double-doubles as they combined for 35 points and 26 rebounds.
“We just played a team with seven seniors who have started a lot of games,” said Hayford of UND. “And we played it without our point guard and took it right down to the buzzer. I was proud of our team – they laid it all out there and gave it all they had.”
Harvey set the school’s single season record for 3-pointers made against UNC, giving him 104 for the season to eclipse the previous record of 103 set by Shannon Taylor in the 1998-99 season. Now with 105 after the UND game, Harvey is tied for second in Big Sky Conference history (Cory Schwab, Northern Arizona, 2000-01) and 19 behind the league record of 124 (Stephen Sir, Northern Arizona, 2006-07).
Harvey enters this week ranked in the top 10 nationally in three categories, and his combined ranking of 12th in 3-pointers per game (6th, 3.62) and 3-point shooting percentage (6th, 45.3) is second in NCAA Division I. His 21.8 scoring average ranks 10th.