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EWU Headed for Tough End to Big Sky Season

Tyler Harvey and the EWU men's basketball team will look to improve their Big Sky standing this week. Tyler Harvey and the EWU men's basketball team will look to improve their Big Sky standing this week.

by EWU Athletics

The race to seven Big Sky Conference Tournament berths is murky at best, and the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team has found itself in the middle of the fog.

Coming off a split with a road win and a home loss, the Eagles now must head back on the road for its most difficult -- if not the most important -- road trip of the league season. Eastern plays at Northern Colorado on Thursday (Feb. 27) at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time, then plays at North Dakota on March 1 in a game that begins at 12:05 p.m. Pacific time and is broadcast by the MidCo Sports Network.

Earlier this season at Reese Court, Eastern fell to UND 73-61 before knocking off UNC in overtime by a 94-90 score. Last week, the Eagles picked up an 85-74 win at Southern Utah on Feb. 22, but fell two nights later at home to Portland State by an 87-76 score on Feb. 24.

The home loss creates a four-way tie for sixth place in the league standings between EWU, PSU, Northern Arizona and Montana State at 8-8. Had EWU won, they would have moved into a tie for third.

Eastern head coach Jim Hayford hopes that 10 league victories would get his team to the postseason, but knows that in a year of balance and in the world of tiebreakers, a .500 team might just get left home this season.

“We have a large amount of teams at 8-8,” said Hayford, whose team closes out the season with home games against Idaho State (March 6) and Weber State (March 8). “We still get two home games, and if we defend our home court we will have 10 wins.”

The Big Sky is a jumble right now, with just three games separating second (Northern Colorado at 10-6) from 10th (Idaho State at 7-9) in the standings. Weber State leads at 12-4 and is in position to host the tourney, but has lost two of its last three. Such parity would be the overriding factor in Hayford’s pitch to advance more than seven of the 11 conference teams to the league tournament in the future.

“There is nothing I have ever seen like this,” he said. “I do know that if it was a 10-team tournament, there wouldn’t be a bad game out there. There is going to be a good team or two that gets left out of the tournament. That is tough.

“I hope it is not us,” he added. “We are going to play hard, and we are going to win so we are in that tournament.”

On the season, Northern Colorado is 16-9, has the best winning percentage in the league (.640) and is a perfect 13-0 at home this season. North Dakota, which hosts PSU on Thursday, is part of a three-way tie for third in the league standings at 9-7, is 12-14 overall and 8-3 at home.

Despite the setback to Portland State, the Eagles have still won five of its last seven games after a 3-6 start in the league. Prior to its three-game winning streak ended versus the Vikings, Eastern was ninth in the league standings.

Sophomore guard Tyler Harvey continues his scoring onslaught for the Eagles, scoring 26 at Southern Utah and 23 versus PSU to bump his season average to 21.8 and his point total to 589 – fifth-most in school history. He has had performances of 36, 37 and 38 since Jan. 23. Now with three of the top 17 scoring performances in school history, Harvey scored 36 in the first meeting with Southern Utah, had 38 versus Northern Colorado on Feb. 1 and then had 37 against Northern Arizona on Feb. 15. All three of those meetings came at home.

Harvey ranks in the top 11 nationally in three categories, and his 97 3-pointers this season are on pace to finish the regular season with 111 and break the school record of 103 set by Shannon Taylor in 1999. He’s already seventh in Big Sky history, with the record 124.