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Northern Colorado Too Much for EWU

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© EWU Athletics © EWU Athletics

The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team had a record-tying performance by true freshman Venky Jois and another stingy effort on defense, but Northern Colorado was able to down the Eagles 72-56 Saturday (Jan. 19) in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game in Greeley, Colo.

Jois equaled the school record of seven blocked shots set earlier this season by teammate Martin Seiferth, as Jois finished with yet another monster game with 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists and the seven blocks. The Eagles also held the Bears to 38 percent shooting – the seventh-straight game the Eagles have held their opponents to 44 percent shooting or less.

After trailing by just three at halftime by a 33-30 score, the Eagles allowed UNC to go on a 13-3 run in the second half to open a double-digit lead it held much of the rest of the game.

The loss dropped Eastern to 2-6 in league play and 4-14 overall. The Bears won their second-straight home game and improved to 3-5 in the league and 5-11 on the season. Northern Colorado was just 9-19 last year, but the year before was 21-11 overall and won the Big Sky title with a 13-3 record.

"I'm proud of our guys and their effort," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "Northern Colorado is coming around – they are a good team. They paid these pains last year."

Senior Collin Chiverton added 13 points for the Eagles, and sophomore Parker Kelly chipped in 11. However, the 6-foot-10 Seiferth played just 14 minutes because of early foul trouble and finished with only four points and three rebounds. Earlier this season, Seiferth had seven blocks against Cal State Northridge to break EWU's previous blocked shots record of six.

Northern Colorado finished with a 47-29 rebounding advantage, with the 18-rebound margin the second-worst for the Eagles this season (21 versus Idaho). Derrick Barden, who finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, and Connor Osborne combined for 13 of UNC's 18 offensive boards, which led to 16 second-chance points for the Bears.

"Martin had a tough night and we had to go small, and they exploited that on the boards," Hayford said. "Give them credit – Osborne and Barden had their way inside with 13 offensive rebounds. That's hard to defend, but our first-shot defense was pretty good. Our first-shot defense will probably grade out at 26 or 27 percent. They hurt us on the boards, they really did."

Senior Jeffrey Forbes added five points, including a 3-pointer that tied him with Justin Paola (1990-92) for third in school history with 164 career 3-pointers. Forbes has now played in 109 games to rank ninth in school history, and could break Marc Axton's (2002-05) school record of 119 games played later this season.

Already playing without starting senior point guard Kevin Winford (concussion), Forbes played only 20 minutes after suffering a finger injury in the second half that required stitches.

"He had his pinky finger almost ripped off, so he wasn't able to play down the stretch," said Hayford. "We'll get it all figured out."

Eastern fell behind early 11-5, but a 6-0 run helped EWU take its first lead of the game at 21-20 on a basket by Jois with 7:42 to play. The Eagles were able to tie it one more time at 30-all late in the half, but UNC took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Tate Unruh, who had five treys in the game and led all scorers with 21 points.

The Eagles trailed just 38-36 in the second half when UNC went on its 13-3 run to take a 51-39 advantage with 13:34 left. Eastern cut the lead to seven on two occasions, but the Bears out-scored EWU 16-7 the rest of the way.

"We're a little bit shorthanded right now, but I'm not trying to make excuses for losses," added Hayford. "We just need to keep pushing through and get better. About 70 percent of our minutes tonight were by freshmen and sophomores. They are getting valuable experience, but I'd like to get them winning experience. I know that they will."

Last season, Eastern split a pair of nail-biters against UNC, losing 71-70 in Greeley and winning 79-76 at home later in the season. Eastern has now lost the last six meetings in Greeley, having not won there since Jan. 4, 2007 (88-87), and trails in the all-time series 8-5.