With Eastern's new guards leading the charge in 37-point win over Saint Martin's, Montana State-Billings comes to town for game Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
As good as Eastern's newcomers looked last week in a 98-61 victory over Saint Martin's, Eastern Washington University men's basketball coach Kirk Earlywine realizes his team will face an even larger challenge this week in his team's second and final exhibition game of the 2009-10 season.
Eastern hosts NCAA Division II Montana State-Billings on Sunday (Nov. 8) at 1:05 p.m. in a game that doesn't count in the season record or statistics for either team. The Eagles officially open their season on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 1:05 p.m. versus Portland, which finished 19-13 overall and 9-5 in the West Coast Conference last season.
MSU-Billings was 10-17 a year ago, and 5-11 in the Great Northwest Conference. Coached by former Idaho and Lewis-Clark State head coach George Pfeifer, the Yellowjackets have a pair of NCAA Division I transfers in Mike McCrary (Cal State Northridge) and Lasha Parghalava (Hawaii), as well as a highly-recruited guard in junior college transfer DaVell Jackson.
The team's top returning player is 6-foot-7 forward Derrick Wright, who averaged 15.7 points and 5.8 rebounds a year ago. Parghalava has actually played against the Eagles, finishing with two points and five assists in Hawaii's 75-55 win over the Eagles on Dec. 13, 2008.
"We want to play a little bit better than we did against Saint Martin's," said Earlywine. "Montana State-Billings is very good, they have a terrific coach and they have a number of Division I transfers.
"We try to schedule as good of teams as we can in the exhibition games," he continued. "We don't want to win exhibition games by 30 or 40 points, but we want to be challenged. Portland is coming in here with their top seven guys returning and we are going to have our hands full. So we have one more exhibition to try to prepare for that, and I think Montana State-Billings will be a handful for us."
Eastern opened its exhibition season last Sunday (Nov. 1) against Saint Martin's with a 37-point victory after leading 54-28 at halftime. Senior guard Benny Valentine scored 22 points to lead EWU, but it was the play of a trio of new guards that opened the most eyes.
Freshman redshirt guard Kevin Winford also had 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting with five three-pointers, and chipped in three assists and four steals. A pair of true freshmen had impressive debuts for the Eagles. Glen Dean had nine points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals, and Jeffrey Forbes added nine points and seven assists.
Eastern finished the game with 39 fast-break points, 30 points off turnovers and 50 points inside the paint.
"We'll try to play to our strengths, and we do have speed and quickness on the perimeter," said Earlywine. "We are going to get out and try to run and play faster than we have the last two years."
Eastern received a boost this week with the return of 6-foot-9 senior center Brandon Moore, who had minor foot surgery in October that kept him out of the exhibition opener.
"Getting Brandon Moore back will help us certainly," said Earlywine of Moore, who averaged 11.2 points and 6.8 rebounds as a junior. Moore is joined in the front court by seniors Matthew Brunell and Mark Dunn, as well as Laron Griffin, a 6-foot-8 sophomore who scored 14 points and had eight rebounds with a pair of blocked shots against Saint Martin's.
"Having those four big guys able to rotate in there will give us a little bit of flexibility and depth," said Earlywine. "They can play as hard as they need to and if we do get into some foul trouble, we have guys to go to."