En route to a 69 percent shooting night, Vikings use a 12-0 run in the first half and 10-0 surge in the second half to pull away
It wasn't a good night to have to face the two-time defending league champions.
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team had no answer for the 69 percent shooting night by Portland State and the Eagles fell to the Vikings 98-75 Saturday (Dec. 5) at the Stott Center in Portland, Ore. It was the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams and the earliest it's ever been for the Eagles.
The Vikings made 33-of-48 shots in the game, including a blistering 16-of-21 in the first half as EWU allowed its most points this season. Portland State used a 12-0 runs in the first half to take the lead for good, then scored 10 unanswered points in the second half to pull away.
The Vikings were coming off an impressive 86-82 victory at 25th-rnaked Portland, a team Eastern narrowly lost to 64-58 on Nov. 14 at home. The Vikings won the Big Sky regular season and tournament title in 2008, and the tournament title last season to advance to the NCAA Tournament for a second-straight season. Three key players are back from last year's squad, and those players are all averaging double figures in scoring thus far.
"It was a little bit of a struggle for us at times, but we did score 75 points and shot a respectable percentage," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "But the game was decided on the other end of the floor, obviously. When you allow a team to shoot 69 percent you are not going to win. I had our players so worried about the three-point line that all of our defensive principles and rules went out the window because we were trying so hard to take that away. Instead we gave up layins and dunks."
The Eagles fell to 3-5 with the loss while PSU improved to 3-4 with its second-straight win. Eastern takes a week off for fall quarter final exams at EWU before hosting Seattle University on Dec. 12 at 1:05 p.m. at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Freshmen Glen Dean and Jeffrey Forbes led the Eagles with 17 points each as they combined for 11-of-13 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. Dean also had four assists and Forbes had three.
The Eagles finished the game making 27-of-59 shots from the field for 46 percent, and made 16-of-21 free throws for 76 percent.
But the real offense belonged to the Vikings and a quartet of players -- Dominic Waters, Melvin Jones, Julius Thomas and Jamie Jones. They combined for 75 points on 26-of-37 shooting from the field and 18-of-23 from the line.
With Eastern having difficultly defending Portland State's ball screens against EWU's man-to-man defense, Earlywine said playing a zone against the Vikings was not an option. Portland State made eight three-pointers in the game after entering the contest averaging just over nine per game.
"They have too many guys that shoot the ball well," Earlywine explained. "There are seven or eight different ways you can defend those ball screens, and I opted to go with one we have already used and had some familiarity with. But it was a bad decision on my part and I told the players that I blew this one for them. I will not let that happen again. There were a couple of non-competitive moments on the floor, but the majority of this was me."
Eastern led early 10-8, but PSU used a 12-0 run to take the lead for good. The Vikings led at halftime 44-35.
Eastern stayed within striking distance in the second half, and trailed just 64-57 mid-way through the half. But the Vikings responded with a 10-0 run to take a 74-57 advantage with 8:18 to play. Portland State led by as many as 25 and the closest Eastern came the rest of the way was 15.
The Dec. 5 start to league play represented the earliest Big Sky Conference opener in school history. Last year, the Eagles opened league play on Dec. 6 with a 61-55 home win over Montana State, and the previous season opened on Dec. 22 with a 58-57 home victory over Portland State. However, both seasons the Eagles failed to qualify for the six-team Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Eastern was picked to finish eighth in the league race by both the media and coaches. The Vikings were selected to finish second by the media and fourth by the coaches. Eastern will resume league play on Dec. 31 against Sacramento State.