Two of the nations best shooters took the floor Thursday morning for the first game of the Big Sky Tournament.
While Idaho’s senior shooting guard Connor Hill had an impressive performance in his own right, Eastern Washington’s Tyler Harvey stole the show.
The sophomore from Torrance, California, tied the Big Sky Tournament single-game record with 42 points and led Eastern Washington to a 91-83 first-round victory over Idaho.
“Two great shooters going at it, but Tyler Harvey just made some unbelievable shots,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said.
Still trying to recover from the flu, Hill finished the last game of his collegiate career with 23 points and was 6-of-10 from 3-point range.
“He’s sicker than a dog, but came out here and battled like crazy,” Verlin said. “I thought Connor really showed his heart today in how hard he played.”
Like Hill, Harvey — who leads the nation in scoring — did most of his damage with 3s. He was 8-of-13 from behind the arc and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.
In the two regular season meetings, Harvey combined for 36 points. Verlin said the Vandals did a good job containing him in those games and came into Thursday’s contest with the same game plan.
“Maybe as coaches we should have made an adjustment,” Verlin said. “I thought we guarded him pretty well … Harvey just made some really tough shots — some step-back shots with a guy in his face … we probably should have made some adjustments out there.”
The Vandals took a three-point lead into halftime and extended it to seven points one-minute into the second half — which would be their largest lead of the game.
The lead, however, was gone in the blink of an eye, as Harvey drained three consecutive 3-pointers and sparked the Eagles to go on a 15-2 run. Idaho made a push, and even held a three-point lead with five minutes left in the game.
But it would not last.
As if one 15-2 run wasn’t enough, Eastern Washington went on one more to go up 10 with just over one-minute left in the game — which proved to be too much for the Vandals to overcome.
“I was proud of our guys, I thought we really played hard,” Verlin said. “It was a heck of a battle (and) a great game if you didn’t care who won or lost.”
Verlin said he wished the seniors — Hill, Mike Scott and Bira Seck — could have ended their career on a high note.
“It’s always hard when it comes to an end … it never ends quite how you wanted it to, but it’s been a blessing to coach these guys,” he said.
Looking back on the season, Verlin admitted it didn’t go like he thought it would.
“It wasn’t how we drew it up … we thought we could win a few more games,” Verlin said. “At the end of the day, look at the body of work that these three seniors have done — they’re all going to graduate, they’re all great kids, they’re all going to go on and be successful.”
With the loss, Idaho finished the year with a 13-17 overall record. Verlin said the Big Sky was a tougher conference than the WAC was last year and the team needs to make some adjustments to compete within the conference.
“I think we got a little bit better feel,” Verlin said of the Big Sky competition. “I really like where our program is at. We got to add a couple things to it, we got to get some guys better and we got to get some guys stronger … (but) we’re excited about Vandal basketball moving forward.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org