For a long while, it seems as though the Big Sky has gotten close to some big wins against very good programs. On Monday night, it got one - as Eastern Washington went into Assembly Hall and beat Indiana 88-86. While Portland State's win over USC was big, it doesn't quite have as much cachet as EWU beating Indiana on the road, one of the blue blood programs of the sport.
The Eagles used a late 9-0 run to get the win, and ended Indiana's 43 game home winning streak against non-conference foes.
"We just never stopped believing," coach Jim Hayford said. "We really don't look at the scoreboard till there's three or four minutes left because that can go up and down and we just play through runs. That didn't happen overnight. These guys have developed a lot of confidence, growing up together the last two, three seasons."
Yesterday I wrote that EWU looked like the best team in the Big Sky so far, and they provided an exclamation point to that. They were 3-12 on the road last season, and are a young team that seems to have grown up very quickly.
While several guys contributing, there were three heroes for the Eagles, and they were exactly the guys you would expect. The leading scorer was Drew Brandon, who had 27 points on 10/16 FG, Always the stat sheet stuffer, the senior PG also had eight rebounds, four assists, and five steals. It was a career high for him, and back to back baskets by Brandon started their 9-0 run late.
Tyler Harvey was next in line with 25 points on 9/20 FG, including three treys. His ability to shoot and for the defense to have to account for him at all times opens up lanes for everyone else. One guy that gets more room is big man Venky Jois, who had a great day, finishing with a ridiculous stat line of 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Already one of the best big men in the Big Sky, Jois has taken another step forward as a junior.
Entering this season, Eastern Washington was a team with a ton of talent and offensive potential, but we didn't know if they would make the leap. It's safe to say they have. With Jim Hayford around with a contract extension before the year, a unique ability to recruit and find talent, and a victory that will give it a lot of credibility in the college basketball world, Monday could be the day that Eastern Washington makes the leap and becomes a Big Sky contender with staying power.
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