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Photo by: Aaron Malmoe

Perhaps more noteworthy in the Eagles’ 72-68 win over Montana State on Jan. 31 was the injury sustained by freshman forward Venky Jois with about three minute left in the game.

Jois, who was toying with a triple-double before he went down, took a hard hit and slammed on to the hardwood. His face was in a pained grimace as he clutched his left knee and ankle. Eagles head coach Jim Hayford is still unsure about Jois’s status moving forward.

“I didn’t even talk to our trainer yet,” Hayford said immediately following the game. “My first thought is, ‘Are we going to have a game plan with or without him against Montana on Saturday?’”

According to Hayford, him and his team could not afford to dwell on Jois’s uncertainty. They were facing a Bobcat team that had completely captured the momentum and were threatening Eastern’s lead.

“When you’re in the game and someone gets hurt, you don’t have time,” Hayford said. “It wasn’t something we discussed during the game. It was just like he had fouled out.”

According to Eastern forward Collin Chiverton, the team had no choice but to focus on the rest of the game rather than on their injured teammate.

“We were kind of just focused on winning the game,” Chiverton said. “We really didn’t know what was going to happen whether he was going to come back or not but either way we had to regroup and get ourselves focused.”

More should be known about Jois when the Eagles take on Big Sky juggernaut Montana on Feb. 2.

If the Eagles are to play well against a Montana team that owns a perfect conference record, they will need to play like they did against the Bobcats.

The Eagles jumped ahead quickly in the first half, taking the Bobcats by surprise and leading by as much as 10 points. Eastern took a 43-36 lead into halftime, converting on 15-29 from the floor.

The Eagles came out of the locker room and continued to put away the notion that they were a slow second-half team. In many of their losses, Eastern would end the first half with the lead only to relinquish it in the second. That was not the case in the Jan. 28 win against Portland State and the trend resumed against the Bobcats.

The Eagles came out with perhaps more fire than they showed the first half, going on a 9-1 run to open the second half. Senior guard Kevin Winford started the run where he drained a trey. After a Bobcat turnover, sophomore guard Parker Kelly buried another 3-pointer from the corner.

“We have struggled in the second half,” Winford said. “We’re just pretty much learning, learning to finish the game. We’re starting to see how to finish the game. We really had to come out with that same grit that we had in the first half.”

The run started off a second half that saw the Eagles consistently keep the Bobcats at bay. The Eagles began to unravel, however, when Montana State began a lengthy run of their own with 5:19 left in the game.

The Bobcats held the Eagles scoreless from the 5:19 mark to the 2:53 mark. The Bobcats pulled to within one, but that would be the closest they would come as the Eagle defense tightened the vice.

Eastern held Montana State to 20-66 from the floor, a season-low for the Eagles.

“We won tonight because we played outstanding defense,” Hayford said. “[Montana State] is a hard team to guard because they really spread you out and they try to take you off the drive and then that gets them to the free throw line.”

The defensive effort helped carry an offensive effort that stalled in comparison to the Eagles’ first half. The Eagles struggled in the second half, going 7-26 from the floor. Their 14-17 free-throw shooting in the second half, however, bailed them out.

With 1:11 remaining, Montana State forward Flavian Davis sunk two free throws to make the score 68-66. After a back and forth that saw both teams miss shots, Chiverton was fouled with 30 seconds left. His two made free throws gave the Eagles a four point lead.

Montana State guard Antonio Bigelow knocked down a layup with 19 seconds remaining. The Eagles seemed in trouble when Kelly took the inbounds pass and was swarmed by Bobcats. He somehow managed to get the ball out to an open Daniel Hill, a freshman guard. Hill passed down the court to Chiverton, who was sent to the line again with eight ticks left on the clock. He made his two free throws to effectively put the game away.

“This was a good win,” Hayford said. “We did some growing up here today and we gut-checked and finished it out with some adversity through the end.”

Chiverton, who was 7-14 from the field, was encouraged by the way his team showed determination and passion in the face of pressure during the waning minutes.

“We’ve learned a lot of things throughout the course of the year,” Chiverton said. “It’s been a rough year [and] a rough start and we’re just trying to turn it around for the second half of the league.”