Bucking a trend of poor second halves that led to four straight losses, EWU outscored Portland State 43-40 on their way to a wire-to-wire 76-65 victory on Jan. 28, improving their Big Sky Conference record to 3-7 and 5-15 overall. True freshman forward Venky Jois led all players with 20 points and 13 rebounds while adding five assists and three blocks. 14 of his 20 points and nine of his 13 rebounds came in the second half as he recorded his ninth double-double of the season.
“Venky has been our most consistent player,” EWU coach Jim Hayford said. “He is a great leader even though he is only a freshman. The biggest compliment [I can give him] is that I expect him to play that way.”
In losses against Southern Utah, Northern Colorado, North Dakota and Sacramento State, the Eagles were outscored by an average of 16.5 points in the second half after being in the games at halftime. Jois and his teammates were determined to not let it happen again. “As soon as we got in [the locker room at halftime] we all kind of got together and just said, ‘Look, we’re better than these guys, don’t come out passive—come out aggressive and show that we are who we are,’” Jois said.
“Tonight we played exactly like we should every game.”
The Vikings trailed by eight points to start the second half and never got any closer. Every Portland State run was matched with a corresponding EWU run, something Hayford pointed
to after the victory. “At the end of the day our guys showed great determination, and they executed,” Hayford said. “We shot 57 percent in the second half. We kept our turnovers low. They had an advantage on us in the boards in the first half, but we turned that around and cleaned up the boards in the second half. We did not give them second chance points, and we played a complete half.”
Hayford added, “I am really proud of our team. I believe we can build on this. It showed a lot of character.”
Sophomore guard Parker Kelly, starting in place of an injured Jeffrey Forbes, matched a career high with 17 points on 6-11 shooting, 5-8 from 3-point distance. Martin Seiferth and Kevin Winford joined Jois and Kelly in double figures, scoring 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Using their tenth different starting lineup in 20 games this season, the Eagles won by dominating points in the paint—34 to PSU’s 20—and shooting a higher percentage. Still, Hayford saw much room for improvement. “We need to make shots,” he said. “We need to execute better. We need to play with urgency on the court. We cannot relax.”
Portland State, like EWU, has yet to win a true road game, dropping to 0-10 on the road. The loss moves them to 5-12 overall and 3-7 in conference, matching EWU’s record.
Aaron Moore led the Vikings with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes. He also recorded all of his team’s four blocks.
The Eagles host third-ranked Montana State on Jan. 31, owners of a 6-4 conference record and 9-9 overall. A win by the Eagles would put them in position to be one of the seven teams to play in the Big Sky Conference tournament at conclusion of the regular season. “We have the youngest team [in the Big Sky], and halfway through the league season we are one win away from [being in position to quality for] the Big Sky tournament,” said Hayford. “We need to keep pushing and keep improving every day.”