Nine-point lead doesn't hold up and Eagles miss out on another great opportunity for league win over Bears
History repeated itself and the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team fell to Northern Colorado 58-54 in an important Big Sky Conference game Thursday (Feb. 18) in Greeley, Colo.
The Eagles went 9:33 without a field goal in the second half as UNC used a 12-0 run to rally for the win. A pair of late three-pointers by the Eagles were for naught as UNC took the lead for good with a three-pointer with 23 seconds to play. After a miss with six seconds left by Eagle Glen Dean, the Bears iced the win with a pair of free throws with three seconds remaining.
The Bears are now 10-1 at home this season, having knocked off EWU 74-71 on Jan. 16 in Cheney, Wash., in a game in which they used a 16-0 run to overcome a 15-point Eastern lead.
The Eagles had 17 turnovers in the rematch, including 13 in the first half. Eastern held the Bears to 34 percent shooting in the game and were out-rebounded by just one, 30-29. The Bears were coming off an 81-76 loss at league-leader Weber State.
"They had a little more juice coming off a loss and playing at home, and they knocked us on our heels," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We were down by only two at halftime and we hung in there. You think if you go on the road and you hold an opponent to 34 percent -- and stay even on the glass -- you think you would win the game."
Freshman Jeffrey Forbes was the lone Eagle in double figures in scoring with 15, scoring 12 of his points in the second half. He made 5-of-12 shots from the field with a trio of three-pointers. Dean added eight points and six assists, and Laron Griffin came off the bench to finish with seven points and six rebounds.
The Eagles fell behind early 6-0 and 12-5, but used an 11-0 run to help open a four-point lead just before halftime. The lead swelled to nine on a three-pointer by Forbes with 11:53 left in the game.
A trey by EWU's Matthew Brunell -- his second of the game and just his third this season -- maintained EWU's nine-point lead at 43-34 with 10:56 to play. But the Eagles missed their next eight shots, and only managed free throws while UNC opened a 53-48 with 1:36 remaining.
A three by Forbes with 1:23 left broke EWU's field goal-less stretch, and another trey by Mark Dunn gave EWU a short-lived 54-53 advantage with 38 ticks remaining.
Despite the loss, Eastern is one of five teams still alive for the two remaining berths in the Big Sky Conference Tournament that starts on March 6. The Eagles are now 8-19 overall and 4-9 in the Big Sky to currently rank seventh in the league standings. Northern Arizona, a team EWU plays Saturday (Feb. 20), is 6-9 in the league after an 86-85 double-overtime victory against Portland State on Thursday. The Vikings are now 5-8, including a pair of victories over EWU which will gives them a tiebreaker advantage over the Eagles.
Northern Colorado, which played the EWU game without its second-leading scorer, is currently in second place in the league with a 10-4 record and is 21-6 overall. The Bears played without Devon Beitzel, who is out indefinitely with an ankle injury and is averaging 14.3 points per game.
Eastern plays its final Big Sky Conference road game of the season at Northern Arizona on Saturday at 5:35 p.m. Pacific time in a contest that will be carried via radio in the Spokane area on 1050am. The game will also be televised on Fox Sports Arizona (DirecTV 686, Dish Network 415), and will also be available at www.bigskytv.org and Dish Network channel 9411.
A win Saturday against the Lumberjacks could put the Eagles back in the thick of the race to garner one of six berths in the Big Sky Conference Tournament that starts on March 6. Also fighting for the final two berths are NAU (6-8), Portland State (5-8), EWU (4-9), Idaho State (4-9) and Sacramento State (3-10).
Because of a season sweep, the only team Eastern has a solid tiebreaker advantage over is Montana State. But the Bobcats have already clinched a post-season berth and are 9-6 on the season. The other teams that have clinched berths are Weber State (11-2), Northern Colorado (10-4) and Montana (9-5).
The regular season ends for the Eagles with home games against league-leader Weber State on Feb. 26 and Idaho State the next night. Eastern's home sweep last week -- 74-69 over MSU and 69-68 against the Grizzlies -- helped keep the Eagles alive.
The Lumberjacks are 12-13 overall and have a 7-4 record at home, and registered a 73-69 victory over Eastern on Jan. 15 in Cheney, Wash. Eastern has a current five-game losing streak in Flagstaff, Ariz., dating back to Jan. 15, 2004 when Eastern was victorious 63-57.
In the previous meeting, the Lumberjacks won a game that featured 12 ties and 18 lead changes, with the largest lead by either squad five points. Northern Arizona scored 11 of the game's final 13 points in the last 2:05 as Eastern failed to come up with winning plays down the stretch in that game.
With three freshmen now in their starting lineup -- Glen Dean, Jeffrey Forbes and Kevin Winford -- four of EWU's losses during a recent seven-game losing streak were decided by six points or less. So far this season, 15 of 27 Eastern games have been decided by six points or less. EWU is 6-9 in those 15 nail-biters.
EWU-NAU Series History (Since 1983-84): The Eagles have lost eight of the last 10 meetings, but last year's 54-50 home victory broke a five-game losing streak. Eastern also has a current five-game losing streak in Flagstaff, Ariz., dating back to Jan. 15, 2004 when Eastern was victorious 63-57. Earlier this season, Northern Arizona won in Cheney 73-69.
Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 21-31 versus Northern Arizona, including a 6-18 record in Flagstaff, Ariz., 14-12 in Cheney and 1-1 on neutral courts. Eastern trails in the all-time series 21-32 (6-18 in Flagstaff, 14-13 in Cheney, 1-1 neutral).
Eastern had won six-straight games against the Lumberjacks and nine of the last 11 until falling 77-64 in Flagstaff on Feb. 5, 2005. The Lumberjacks beat EWU 105-95 on Jan. 5, 2006, in a game in which Eastern's Rodney Stuckey scored a school-record 45 points. Eastern defeated the Lumberjacks 73-61 in Cheney on Feb. 4, 2006, but lost twice in both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 season. In 2008-09, Eastern lost 72-49 in Flagstaff and won 54-50 in Cheney.
Until a 72-65 victory in Flagstaff in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern had lost nine-straight meetings there since Feb. 16, 1991. Coupled with a win later in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern swept the regular season meetings with the Lumberjacks for the first time in 10 years. Eastern duplicated that feat in 2003 and 2004.
Earlier This Season . . . Eastern Falls Late to Lumberjacks 73-69: Thanks to a late back-door layin, Northern Arizona outscored Eastern Washington 11-2 in the final 2:05 to knock off the Eagles 73-69 Jan. 15 in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Eagle guard Benny Valentine scored 14 points to lead five Eagles in double figures as EWU fell to 6-12 on the season and 2-3 in league play. Northern Arizona improved to 2-4 in the Big Sky and 8-9 overall in a game that featured 18 lead changes and 12 ties.
Eastern led 67-62 against the Lumberjacks with 3:05 to play, lost the lead with a 6-0 NAU run, but re-gained a 69-68 advantage with 44 seconds left on a short jump shot by Mark Dunn. However, NAU's Cameron Jones got loose for a back-door layin on a pass from Eric Platt to take the lead for good with 31 seconds to play. Eastern missed its last two shots and had a turnover in the final 20 seconds as Jones finished with a game-high 28 points for the Lumberjacks.
"The most disappointing thing is that we told our players in the timeout exactly what play Northern Arizona was going to run," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "They ran the back door that we knew they were going to run and I'm not sure what more we can do as coaches. That play was the very first thing we practiced guarding when we began preparations on Monday."
Brandon Moore had the fourth double-double of the season and 10th in his career as he finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and three assists versus NAU. Jeffrey Forbes added 13 points and three steals, Glen Dean scored 11 with four assists and a pair of steals and Dunn finished with 10 points.
Valentine made 5-of-7 shots from the field and added three assists. It was his highest-scoring game in nearly a month since finishing with 17 versus Jackson State on Dec. 23.
Northern Arizona led at halftime 36-35 after a first half that included eight ties and eight lead changes. The Lumberjacks made a blistering 64 percent of their shots from the field and blocked six shots as Eastern made just 39 percent. The Eagles, however, were aided by 12 NAU turnovers.
The Lumberjacks cooled off in the second half, but were able to open a five-point lead midway through the half. But Eastern used a 7-0 run to regain the lead, and held an advantage until the final minutes.
Northern Arizona finished with 22 turnovers and made 55 percent of its shots from the field. Eastern shot at a 42 percent clip and was out-rebounded 37-29, but had just 13 turnovers.