Eagles finish sixth in Big Sky Conference

In their final two games of the season, the Eagles faced Idaho State University and Weber State University, looking to finish in the top four in the Big Sky standings to secure a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

Going into these final games, the Eagles were tied with the University of Idaho in the third place spot, and senior forward Venky Jois was 8 points shy of EWU’s all-time scoring record.

The Eagles took on ISU on March 3 looking to inch further up the standings. The team did not come out of the gates hot, going into the half down 35-32. The Eagles’ difficulties continued in the second half as they lost the game, 75-71 — their first home loss of the season.

The Eagles had their worst scoring night of the year at home, shooting at a 44 percent mark from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.

Venky Jois led the team with 21 points to break the program’s 39 year-old career scoring record. Jois passed former EWU center Ron Cox (1974-77) who scored 1,741 career points. Cox was at the game and presented Jois with the game ball and two other gifts. Jois also had 11 rebounds to collect his 37th career double-double.

“It was a great crowd and I thank them for the support they gave me and our team tonight,” Jois said after the game.

Sophomore forward Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 12 points while going a perfect 4-4 from the free-throw line. He also racked up nine rebounds and six assists.

On March 5, the Eagles took on first place Weber State in their final game of the regular season. There was a nostalgic feeling as the seniors took the court for the last time at Reese Court on senior night.

Weber State took a 10-2 lead before the Eagles went on an 18-9 run to charge back to take a 20-19 lead with 8:49 left in the first half. The Eagles extended their lead to 39-34 at halftime.

The second half was just as close as the first. Going back and forth throughout the whole game the score was tied six times and there were six lead changes.

EWU trailed by 3 points with McBroom at the free-throw line in the final seconds of the game. McBroom made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second in the hopes of an offensive put-back for 2 points to tie the game. Weber State recovered the rebound to seal their victory, 79-77.

Weber State finished the game with a 54 percent shooting mark from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point arc. They also were 74 percent from the free-throw line, making 32 of 43 attempts — the most free throw attempts EWU allowed all season.

EWU shot at a 47 percent mark from the field and 50 percent from the arc. The Eagles held Weber State to only 20 of their 37 shots from the field, but the fouls made the difference in this one. The 32 free-throws to Eastern’s 13 put them over the top.

EWU lost its final four games of the season to finish in sixth place in the Big Sky Conference, finishing 10-8 in conference play.

McBroom finished the game with 30 points, three steals and two assists. He made 7-of-8 free-throws, 5-of-10 3-pointers, and 9-of-19 from the field. Von Hofe had 12 points and Jois finished the night with 9 points and four rebounds.

“This was probably the hardest we ever played all year,” said McBroom. “We tried something new. We tried to come out, sub a lot of guys, bring a lot of energy. It worked, it really worked. They hit a lot of tough shots at the end, a couple calls didn’t go our way, but I thought we played hard.”

“Well what a great basketball game,” said head coach Jim Hayford. “I like how my team played. I thought we played with tremendous fight and energy, and we took the best team in the league right to the wire. I thought it was a great basketball game.”
The Eagles now look ahead to the Big Sky Tournament beginning on March 8 in Reno, Nevada. EWU will be the sixth seed and face the 11th seed Northern Arizona University at 8:05 p.m. PST.

“I don’t think a lack of confidence has ever been an issue with our team,” said Hayford. “I think we came out of that Portland game really disappointed that we weren’t going to be in the Conference Championship match … The bigger picture, we put together back-to-back regular season winning records — that hasn’t been done in 12 years here. This team has accomplished a lot and they’re ready to go take the next step which is the postseason.”