NCAA Men: Aussie Eagles soar to claim Big Sky championship
Venky Jois and Felix Von Hofe have helped guide Eastern Washington to a win over Montana to clinch the Big Sky Conference championship and punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. With the win, three more Australians will be seeing postseason action, as the team also features another Aussie in Daniel Hill.
— EWU Athletics (@EWUAthletics) March 15, 2015
En-route to winning the championship, the Eagles earned a host of school-firsts, including a record 26th win in the final. Jois opened strongly, slamming home the finish on an alley-oop. However the 6'7 junior forward was plagued by some tough calls and subsequently became frustrated. When he was needed however, he came up big late in the game with some strong post moves and scores, and a crucial assist to Von Hofe who buried the tripled that put the Eagles ahead for good. The Eagles closed out the game on a 17-4 run to win the title and go dancing.
All-Conference First Team selection Jois finished the game with 8 points (3/5 FG), 5 rebounds and 1 assist. After the win, he was later named to the All-Tournament team and was very humble discussing the win at the post-game press conference.
"Unbelievable, happiness, almost relief," stated Jois after the game. "You put your heart and soul into everything. I can't describe the feeling (of winning). There are just no words for it."
A game after lighting up the Big Sky semifinals with a new career-high 23 points on a sizzling hot 7/8 three-pointers and combining with Jois for 42 points, Von Hofe was again rock solid. This time he provided 5 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist, but it was his late-game triple that was his legacy for the game. Little used backup senior guard Daniel Hill did not see any action for the Eagles.
2015 Big Sky Champions: Daniel Hill, Felix Von Hofe and Venky Jois - Courtesy Eastern Washington Athletics
For Montana, they will rue the missed opportunity on their own floor with the Big Sky title seemingly within their grasp. Aussie freshman forward Fabijan Krslovic started and contributed 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 blocked shot while sophomore swingman Jack Lopez saw little action off the bench.
For the Eagles, they will head to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 which was their last time they won the Big Sky championship. What is scary for their conference rivals is that Eastern Washington's best two players in Jois and Tyler Harvey are both expected to return for the senior years next season. There is no doubting that the Eagles can make some noise in the NCAA tournament this year, not to mention that they are a fun team to watch.
Two other teams featuring Australians have so far booked a ticket to the 2015 NCAA Tournament, Lafayette Leopards and Albany.