San Francisco,CA – Eastern Washington has been one of the surprise teams in Division I basketball this season and extended its win streak to five games in an 81-76 victory at San Francisco. Venky Jois collected a double-double while fellow international product Ognjen Miljkovic scored a team-high 20 points in the win.
The Eagles were off to a hot start due to the play from redshirt sophomore Tyler Harvey. The 6-foot-4 guard had 12 points at the half behind a 4-of-5 display from three-point range. Eastern Washington led 40-30 at the break but the Dons wouldn’t go away.
San Francisco chipped away at the lead until a layup from Tim Derksen tied the game at 57 apiece. The Dons took their first lead of the game moments later when a free-throw from Kruize Pinkins gave USF a 58-57 advantage with 8:12 remaining.
The game was back-and-forth the rest of the way until an and-one from Jois and a three from Parker Kelly gave Eastern Washington a 73-67 lead with just 2:21 left. San Francisco was unable to cut the lead to less than three points from that point forward as Eastern Washington earned its second consecutive road win.
Jois had been on a scoring tear entering Thursday’s contest with back-to-back 38-point showings and continued his excellent play. He didn’t quite match those eye-popping numbers, but scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, corralled 11 rebounds, and blocked two shots in the win.
The junior from Victoria, Australia is a tough, 6-foot-8 power forward with a knack for rebounding. While Jois doesn’t possess loads of athleticism, he does a good job boxing out and carving space down low. He’s active on the offensive end and plays with tons of energy. When USF defenders blitzed ball screens, Jois did a good job rolling to the basket and finishing.
Miljkovic, a sophomore from Belgrade, Serbia, contributed 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He was a sniper from three-point range, as Miljkovic connected on 4-of-7 attempts from behind the arc. The 6-foot-7 forward has now scored in double-figures in the last four contests.
After a stellar first half, Harvey slowed down but still finished with 19 points and four assists while shooting 5-of-16 from the field and 4-of-10 from deep. He had two pretty step-back, between the leg jumpers in the opening minutes that were nearly impossible to defend. Harvey is a lengthy guard that can play either spot in the backcourt. He provides another scoring option outside of Jois, as he’s scored at least 16 points in every game this year. Harvey could be a sleeper to watch if he continues to improve at the point guard position.
San Francisco was led by a career-high 30 points from Pinkins. The 6-foot-7 senior was 8-of-14 from the field and added another 14 rebounds down low. He was a force inside and drew plenty of contact, but connected on just 13-of-22 attempts from the free throw line. The Dons shot just 16-of-30 from the charity stripe in the loss and fell to 5-4 on the season.
Eastern Washington has improved their program by relying on international recruiting. Besides Jois (21.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Miljkovic (13.3 ppg, .452 3PT) the Eagles have bench help in Australians 6’5 soph Felix Von Hofe (4.3 ppg) and 5’9 Daniel Hill, 7’1 soph German center Frederik Jorg (3.4 ppg, 1.7 rpg) and 6’6 Ukrainian freshman Bogdan Bliznyuk (2.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg).
Eastern Washington is now off to its best start in 38 years and looks primed for a tournament bid. The Eagles haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2004, but look like the favorites in the Big Sky with an early 8-1 record.
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