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Eagle Men Look To Complete Montana Sweep

The EWU men's basketball team will look to complete the sweep of the Montana school's this weekend. The EWU men's basketball team will look to complete the sweep of the Montana school's this weekend.

by EWU Athletics

The Eagles are one game away from a season of perfection, and standing in the way of that milestone are the Montana Grizzlies.

With men’s basketball head coach Jim Hayford and his team embracing the challenge of going a perfect 6-of-6 this school year against the state of Montana in football and men’s hoops, EWU faces the Grizzlies on Saturday (Feb. 8) at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula. The game begins at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time and will be carried live on ESPN 700-AM and www.watchbigsky.com.

The Eagles are coming off a 79-50 rout of Montana State, making Eastern a perfect 5-for-5 in football and men’s basketball games against the Bobcats and Grizzlies during the 2013-14 school year. Eastern has never won more than four of the six meetings in any previous season, and the only time EWU has gone 4-0 against UM and MSU on the court came in 1990.

Earlier this season, the Eagles beat Montana 69-62 and Montana State 77-72 at home, setting the stage for this week’s challenge.

“It started with our football team, then we beat them both at home,” said Hayford. “The challenge was issued this week by (Eastern athletic director) Bill Chaves that maybe this could be the year we could go 6-0. What a great opportunity to go to Missoula and try to see if we can make history against the state of Montana.”

Eastern’s 29-point win Thursday was EWU’s most lopsided victory ever in Bozeman, and the second-best overall. Eastern had won nine previous times there (seven since EWU moved to NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season), and the best margin of victory was 16 on Dec. 28, 2011, in Hayford’s first Big Sky Conference game as EWU’s head coach. The most lopsided Eastern victory all-time was 34 on Feb. 25, 2006, in an 87-53 win in Cheney.

The 50 points allowed also equaled EWU’s best defensive performance against the Bobcats since allowing 49 in a 49-45 loss to MSU on Dec. 13, 1946, in Bozeman. Eastern had entered the game allowing the most points in the Big Sky Conference at 76.8 overall and 78.8 in league play.

Eastern has now won two games in a row and is 5-6 in the Big Sky and 10-12 overall. Overall, the Eagles are 1-10 on opponent home courts after the victory in Bozeman, having not won on the road since beating Idaho State in Pocatello 87-73 on March 7, 2013. Eastern is 7-2 at home and 2-0 on neutral courts this season.

The Grizzlies defeated Portland State 82-76 in overtime on Thursday in Missoula, and are now 11-9 overall and 6-5 in the league. Just four games separate first place from 10th place, and EWU is only one game out of third. Four teams are tied for third at 6-5, and four are currently 5-6. Weber State (9-2) and Northern Colorado (7-4) hold down the top two spots.

Eastern has used three different starting lineups in the last three games – and four in its last six – for match-up purposes. Montana has also juggled its lineup recently, and the result is a league-best three-game winning streak.

“It’s going to be our size against the other team’s speed,” explained Hayford. “Montana is shooting the three a lot offensively, and look a lot like we have in the past. As we build and grow as a program, we have a backcourt where both players are 6-4 and we have a 6-10 center. The pressure by smaller teams has bothered us, but as we get more and more comfortable with that, it is going to be to our advantage. Size is good.”

A year ago when the Eagles failed to qualify for the Big Sky Conference Tournament, EWU was 6-16 overall after 22 games and 3-8 after 11 league games. The top seven league teams advance to the postseason tourney, which takes place March 13-15 at the site of the regular season champion.

“We are a little bit ahead of where we were last year,” said Hayford, whose team’s next home game is Feb. 13 versus Sacramento State. “We just have to keep hunting them out one at a time.”

Eastern’s Martin Seiferth and/or Venky Jois could both surpass the school record for career blocked shots on Saturday. Seiferth’s 98 blocks ranks second in school history, just one behind the school record of 99 (Paul Butorac 2004-07). Jois is right behind with 97.

Harvey continues to lead the Big Sky Conference in scoring both overall (21.0) and in league games only (22.8), and ranks in the top 16 nationally in three categories. He had 19 points to go along with career highs of eight assists and four steals in EWU’s win at MSU. He equaled the sixth-most points in school history one game earlier with a career-high 38 versus UNC, just two days after scoring a season-low seven in a 73-61 loss to North Dakota. He made 10-of-15 3-pointers against the Bears, equaling the school record of 10 originally set by Kevin Winford against New Hope on Dec. 4, 2010. He already has 81 this season and is on pace to finish the regular season with 114 and break the school record of 103.