By Josh Friesen
Down by 18 points with 7:35 left on the clock against Northern Arizona on Feb. 9, redshirt freshman guard Tyler Harvey stepped onto the court and ignited a triumphant comeback for the Eagles.
Coming off the bench, Harvey was at the top of his game, converting 4-of-5 from the 3-point line and scoring 14 points. At the time, Harvey was a virtual unknown, averaging just 4.8 minutes in his 13 games played at that point in the season.
“What an inspiration from Tyler [Harvey],” said head coach Jim Hayford after the Feb. 9 overtime victory. “That substitution brought some inspiration, and then the rest of our team was playing at the top of their level.”
Since that game, Harvey has seen more playing time. He played only 10 minutes in the game against Northern Arizona, but saw 14 minutes of action in the next game, a Feb. 16 win at home against Southern Utah. In the game against Portland State on Feb. 28, Harvey’s playing time more than doubled at 29 minutes.
He made the most of it, leading the Eagles with 23 points on 10-of-18 from the floor in the Eagles 89-80 loss.
“You couldn’t ask for a better example of somebody given the opportunity to show, ‘I can play to the very best of my ability,’” said Hayford. “That is what Tyler’s doing.”
While Harvey attributes some of his success to his talent, he learns key aspects of the game from watching his older teammates.
“Learning from Kevin [Winford], Jeff [Forbes] and [Collin Chiverton], I learned a lot sitting back on the bench,” said Harvey. “When you get into the game you try to mimic them and do what they do.”
Watching his teammates certainly elevates his game. Despite playing in only 16 games and starting none of them, Harvey has become an efficient shooter. He is second on the team in fied goal percentage, shooting 54.3 percent from the floor.
Although he has only attempted 22 shots from the 3-point line, he has converted nine of them, good for a 40.9 field goal percentage from downtown, which leads the team.
Perhaps just as impressive as his shooting prowess is his play on defense. In his past four games, Harvey has averaged 1.75 steals per contest. To put that in perspective, the next player on that list, freshman forward Venky Jois, averages 0.9 steals over his 23 game span. According to Harvey, his 6-foot-4-inch frame and long arms allow him to cause defensive chaos.
“I try to cause havoc on the defensive end and get a lot of deflections and tips,” said Harvey. “I just try to make it tough for the defender with my arms.”
According to Hayford, Harvey demonstrates just as much character off the court as he does on it.
“He’s a great young man — outstanding character [and a] great student,” said Hayford. “He epitomizes everything that we want in a player in our program.”
Harvey will need to utilize every aspect of his skillset to give the Eagles a chance to make it to the Big Sky Tournament. The top seven teams in the conference make the postseason. Right now, Eastern sits at eighth place with a 6-10 record.
However, they are only a game behind a multi-team traffic jam in the middle of the conference. Sacramento State, Montana State and Northern Arizona are only a game ahead of the Eagles, each with a 7-9 conference record. Northern Colorado sits just a half game in front of the Eagles at 7-10.
“We’re in a position where if we defend our home court, we can be a part of the Big Sky Tournament,” said Hayford. “When you look at the history of Eastern basketball, there are more times we haven’t been in it than we have. … To get into it would be great.”
According to Harvey, the team is continuing to grow as the regular season winds down with only four conference games remaining.
“We just need to keep growing as a team,” said Harvey. “I think we’re going to be OK.”