EWU beats Southern Utah, falls to Northern Arizona

By Brandon Cline, Staff Writer

The EWU men’s basketball team traveled south for Big Sky conference play, where they split a pair of Big Sky road games against Southern Utah University and Northern Arizona University.

EWU took on Southern Utah on Feb. 19 in a game where they trailed the Thunderbirds by 4 points at halftime. Felix Von Hofe led the Eagles in scoring at halftime with 9 points on 3-4 shooting from the field.

Eastern came out red hot in the second half, opening the half on an 18-4 run, with Parker Kelly and Venky Jois scoring 6 points each during the span.

An A.J. Hess jump shot with 9:31 remaining in the game gave the Thunderbirds the lead, which they held until the 4:12 mark when Von Hofe made a layup, giving EWU a lead that they would not relinquish in a 78-75 win.

Five EWU players scored in double figures in the Eagles’ 20th win of the season, led by Jois with 22 points. Jois chipped in four rebounds, two steals and two blocks as well. While Tyler Harvey struggled from the field going 3-16 with 11 points, he contributed in other ways, finishing with eight rebounds, four assists and a steal.

“When you have a 20-win season, that means your team is finding ways to win,” said head coach Jim Hayford. “We had some guys who really struggled, but we forced turnovers and we had that big lead in the second half. We needed every bit of that cushion because they came back and took the lead on us. And [Jois] was very, very special down the stretch.”

EWU traveled to Flagstaff, Arizona, on Feb. 21, to take on Northern Arizona in a game played 6,910 feet above sea level, making it harder for the players to inhale the same amount of air that they exhale.

The Lumberjack’s lead reached 8 points in the first half, but a 20-9 EWU run gave them a 32-29 lead going into halftime.

Eastern’s lead did last long in the second half, thanks to Northern Arizona’s Aaseem Dixon, who scored 14 points early in the second half. The Lumberjacks had a 6-point lead with 8:39 left in the game, but EWU fought back again, and led 69-68 with 3:15 left in the game after a Jois layup.

Jois’ basket would be the last of the game for the Eagles, as EWU missed its last five shots of the game while Northern Arizona converted 5-6 free throws down the stretch to give them a 73-69 victory.

“We didn’t make winning plays in the last two minutes when it really mattered. We had great fight to get in that position and we got some great looks, and that’s part of basketball. But we have to make those shots,” said Hayford after the game.

The loss dropped EWU to 20-7 overall and 11-3 in Big Sky conference play. Both Sacramento State University and the University of Montana swept their matchups over the weekend, moving into a tie for first place at 12-3.

The Eagles return to Reese Court on Feb. 26 and 28, to take on Montana State University and the University of Montana, respectively.