Brad Huse doesn't look eye-to-eye with many people. For one, the Montana State head coach is roughly 6-foot-4 (cue laugh track). But he seems to avoid eye contact while answering questions. Maybe it really is human nature to maintain eye contact only while asking a question and not answering one, using the response time to punctuate conversation with gesticulations (wild or otherwise) or to search for something else to focus on, especially when giving half-hearted, non-responsive or "I'm looking for the brightness in this" answers to queries. He'll gladly respond to spoon feedings like "Well, the execution was decent at times, right?"
There were many, many instances Wednesday night where his eyes shifted back and forth while gazing at a large white table in front of his seat, searching for words to speak, answers of his own. Why did Montana State play decently in just small stretches against Eastern Washington and look like they wanted to be anywhere but on a basketball court, let alone their home court, on this particular night? The question itself was not asked, but the aura of it permeated the interview area after MSU laid an egg in an 82-66 loss. The Bobcats never led, trailed by 11 six minutes into the game and were caught in a game of cat-and-mouse the rest of the way. MSU cut a deficit to nine, then Eastern ran ahead by as many as 15. Rinse, lather, repeat. It's a vicious cycle.
Through it all, Huse's eyes wandered, searched. Postgame as he went through his own motions with the trio of media representatives, during the contest as officials made calls that both helped and harmed his charges and in the postgame handshake line where he seemingly blew off an apology attempt by counterpart Jim Hayford at a literal last-second bucket put up by an Eagle because the shot clock was set to expire a half-second before the game clock. The eyes continually strayed.
Hayford, by contrast, seems to be a breath of fresh air. A 10-year veteran of Whitworth University, a D-III school lower than our glorious Red Line, Hayford came into a situation mired in a funk in Cheney and has given life to a program which lost itself in the way MSU is potentially losing itself now -- fans becoming tired of the complacency and stagnation of a program. Eastern's play mirrors its coach's ambition, aggressiveness and his stare. It is a straight look-me-in-the-eye-and-tell-me-that-again vision, a stare that sports wonks like myself use cliches to adjectivize (somewhat like the hyphenated elongation above) or describe in descriptive format. His answers come with eyes squarely fixed on the intended target: to whom he is speaking.
Behind his pupils, real knowledge and meaning can be found, like a small child experiencing something for the first time. The Red Line area is new to Hayford, as is all of Division I basketball, and he seems to be taking it all in. The blue eyes of his shine a little brighter than one might expect from a coach, but also stand to accentuate the words he forms while responding to questions. They stayed locked tightly throughout the night, from gazing at his team in pregame warmups through pulling a player off the court and counseling him as a stretch of the game was going on to finally giving the local media a sound byte or two for the next day's paper.
EASTERN WASHINGTON 82, at MONTANA STATE 66 12/28/2011
EASTERN WASHINGTON 7-6 (1-0) -- C. Colimon 8-16 2-2 22; J. Forbes 3-6 4-6 11; C. Ederaine 6-7 3-5 16; T. Johnson 3-6 0-0 7; C. Chiverton 3-11 4-5 12; L. Griffin 2-3 2-4 6; P. Kelly 1-2 2-2 5; J. Hickert 1-3 0-0 3; K. Winford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 17-24 82. MONTANA STATE 5-7 (0-1) -- C. Moon 5-11 7-7 20; M. Fall 2-5 0-1 4; T. Johnson 5-10 1-2 11; R. Singleton 1-4 5-6 7; X. Johnson-Blount 1-7 3-4 5; S. Reid 3-7 2-6 8; J. Allou 1-1 0-0 2; M. Dison 2-6 0-0 5; J. Stewart 1-1 2-4 4; J. Budinich 0-2 0-0 0; B. Brumwell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-54 20-30 66.
Three-point goals: EWU 11-27 (C. Chiverton 2-8; J. Forbes 1-2; C. Colimon 4-9; T. Johnson 1-2; C. Ederaine 1-1; P. Kelly 1-2; J. Hickert 1-3), MTST 4-11 (J. Budinich 0-1; S. Reid 0-1; C. Moon 3-5; M. Dison 1-4); Rebounds: EWU 28 (C. Ederaine 7), MTST 30 (M. Fall 8); Assists: EWU 8 (C. Colimon 3), MTST 12 (M. Fall 4); Total Fouls -- EWU 22, MTST 23; Fouled Out: EWU-None; MTST-None.