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Eastern Washington men’s basketball team faces crucial homestand

EWU head coach Jim Hayford talks with Eastern Washington forward Jacob Wiley last season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
EWU head coach Jim Hayford talks with Eastern Washington forward Jacob Wiley last season. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Will Eastern Washington’s basketball season be defined – again – by a late-season game against Weber State?

Three years ago, a last-second home loss to the Wildcats on the final day of the season cost Eastern a spot in the Big Sky Conference tournament.

One year later, in Ogden, Utah, the Eagles won in overtime in the last regular-season game of the year. In the process they not only earned a share of the Big Sky title but showed the kind of grit that carried them all the way to the NCAA tournament.

Thursday night’s game at Reese Court won’t rise to that occasion simply because the regular season doesn’t end next week. However, the stakes are plenty high.

With four games left in the regular season, the Eagles (18-9 overall, 10-4 in the conference) are solidly in third place – one game behind the Wildcats and North Dakota in the loss column.

A win over the Big Sky’s leading program (Weber owns 22 conference titles, twice as many as any other school) not only would keep Eastern in the title chase but make statement as the conference tournament looms.

“We need to capitalize against the best teams,” senior forward Felix Von Hofe said after practice Tuesday. “We need to cement ourselves, going into Reno, that we have no fear and that they need to fear us.”

A win over the Wildcats (16-9, 11-3) also would put Eastern within one game of the third 20-win season in school history and strengthen the Eagles’ case for the postseason should they fall short in Reno.

It won’t be easy. Hayford is 2-8 against Weber, which took a 70-67 verdict last month in Ogden. In that game, the Eagles held all-conference guard Jeremy Senglin to 18 points but gave up a career-high 24 to Senglin’s backcourt mate, Cody John.

The last seven meetings between the Eagles and Wildcats have been decided by eight points or less.

In this year’s earlier game, EWU forward Jacob Wiley shot 15 for 20 and scored a game-high 36 points to win the second of his three Player of the Week awards from the Big Sky.

That alone could be worth the price of admission, as two candidates for conference Player of the Year go at it.

In conference games, Wiley leads the league in scoring (25.9), rebounds (9.6) and blocked shots (2.6) while also shooting 80 percent from the free-throw line.

Senglin recently set the Big Sky Conference record for 3-pointers made in a career and has a current total of 315. He leads NCAA Division I with an average of 4.08 per game this season.

Eastern’s homestand continues with Saturday’s Senior Day game against Idaho State.

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