Within striking distance
With conference play nearing its end, the USU Eastern mens basketball team is praying for a Cinderella-story ending. Facing down conference opponents: Snow, SLCC, NIC and CSI in the past two weeks proved to be quite the mess.
With starting guards Miles Gatewood and Mike Stroud, both suffering injuries, the Eagles made the best out of what they were given. With bench players being thrown into starting positions, they took the opportunity to show their skills.
Traveling to Snow on Jan. 31, the Eagles were ready to take on the Badgers. Starting the first half out strong, the men kept pace only trailing by eight at half. Coming back out after halftime, neither team shot the ball well.
With Snow only shooting 9-35 from the field, it’s the free throws that won them the game. Snow shooting 22 free throws in the second half proved to be detrimental for the Eagles. Snow pulled away with the victory winning 80-60. Gatewood scored 16 points for the Eagles, with Jason Timpf putting up 12 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. Snow’s Cheikh Tidiane Sane led the scoring for the Badgers with 14 points and added 16 rebounds.
SLCC has continued to be one of the region’s top dogs with its only loss at the hands of NIC. The Eagles stayed tight with the Bruins with the score being 22-24 when a timeout was called with 5:41 left in the half. SLCC exploded after the time out, going up 45-25 in the mere five minutes before halftime. Sparking it back up after the first half, Timpf came out and nailed a three to try and swing the momentum back to the Eagles. SLCC kept the game on their terms, winning 77-63. Leading the scoring was Gatewood with 18 points, while Timpf marked up yet another double-double, with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Coach Carter Roe said, “The SLCC game just proves to you that you can play 35 good minutes and that bad five minutes will still kill you. If we put a full game together, then the score is much closer.”
With four new starters, the Eagles prepared to showdown with North Idaho. Ryan Salcedo went face-to-face with North Idaho’s top scorer Jalil Abdul-Basset and completely shut him down. With Basset only scoring three points, the Eagles stayed within striking distance.
Taking a much needed time out while trailing 58-44, the Eagles regained their composure and came back strong, cutting the game to the last few plays. Failing to make the game winning shot, the Eagles lost 61-63. Igor Dias led the scoring with 14 points and Almir Hadzisehovic also contributed 10 points.
Coach Roe said, “The game against North Idaho was our best team effort of the year. I was very proud of the men for stepping up to the occasion and playing tough. Coach Vando had a great game plan and that is what kept us so close in this game. We ran a new offense and defense which worked well for us and we will continue to use that.”
CSI picked up right where they left off last time, putting the pressure on early, causing the Eagles to buckle. CSI had four players break double digits with 36 points off the bench. In the last two meetings of these teams, CSI has outscored the Eagles by a total of 94 points with the last score ending 78-48. Hadzisehovic was the point man for the Eagles, scoring 12 points.
The men only play three more region games and as of right now, they are sitting fifth in the conference. With an automatic playoff bid, the Eagles hope to make the best of it. Coach Roe stated, “We will go to the tournament, mark my words, it will be a Cinderella-story ending to this season.” The men will travel to Rangely, Colo., on Feb. 16, to take on the Spartans of CNCC. The following week USU Eastern will host Snow on Feb. 21 and SLCC on Feb. 23.