Eagles Eliminated From Postseason Contention
League champion Weber State jumps out to early lead and romps past Eagles 85-57
The hopes of the Eagles were dashed early and often.
Big Sky Conference regular season champion Weber State jumped out to an early 20-5 lead and went on to defeat Eastern Washington 85-57 Friday (Feb. 26) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The loss eliminated Eastern from contention to garner the sixth and final berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament that starts on March 6. The Eagles needed to win their last two games and have Portland State lose their final two for EWU to earn a berth. Instead, Eastern lost and the Vikings won on Friday.
"I thought we would be ready to battle them tonight, but we weren't," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine.
Eastern ends its season against on Saturday (Feb. 27) at Reese Court against Idaho State, a 98-63 loser to PSU on Friday. The game begins at 7:05 p.m. at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., and will be televised live in the Spokane area on SWX and broadcast via radio on 1050am. It is also available via www.bigskytv.org.
The Eagles are now 8-21 overall and 4-11 in the Big Sky. Weber State clinched the regular season title, a first-round bye and host status for the semifinals and championship game on March 9 and 10, respectively. The Wildcats, who defeated EWU 89-67 on Jan. 23 in Ogden, Utah, are 13-2 in the league and 19-8 overall. Last year, Weber State was 15-1 in the league.
"Without any question, they have talented basketball players at every position," said Earlywine. "They play very hard and are well-coached. There is a reason they are back-to-back (regular season) champions in our league."
Freshman Glen Dean led the Eagles with 17 points and three assists as he made 9-of-10 free throws. Fellow freshman Jeffrey Forbes chipped in 10 points and three steals.
Eastern made just 28.8 percent of its shots from the field, its lowest shooting percentage in league play and the third-lowest this season. The Wildcats made 46 percent, out-rebounded EWU 48-33 and had 24 fast-break points.
After Weber State opened its early lead, Eastern came no closer than 12 the rest of the way. Weber State ended the first half with a 13-4 run to take a 51-24 lead at intermission. Its biggest lead was 34 points with 3:52 to play.
"We had 14 turnovers in the first half," said Earlywine. "We're not at the point where we can overcome that."
Damian Lillard, the favorite to win the league's Player of the Year honor, led the Wildcats 18 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists. In the previous meeting, he had scorched the Eagles for 36 points on 10-of-11 shooting from the field, 6-of-7 from the three-point arc and 10-of-11 from the free throw line. He also had six rebounds and a pair of assists in the first meeting.
Idaho State is now 4-11 in the league and 7-21 overall after Friday's loss to Portland State.
The Bengals knocked off Eastern 80-74 on Jan. 22 in a game in which ISU out-scored EWU 23-4 from the free throw line. Eastern was called for 24 fouls compared to 13 for the Bengals, and took 21 less free throws (10-31) to spoil a 49 percent shooting night for EWU.
Saturday's game will be the final home appearance of five Eastern seniors -- Brandon Moore, Mark Dunn, Matthew Brunell, Benny Valentine and Gary Gibson. Moore is the lone four-year letter winner in the group, and enters the weekend with 115 career games played (third in school history), 678 rebounds (fourth), 87 blocked shots (2nd) and 953 points.
Eastern was coming off a pair of road losses last week, falling 58-54 at Northern Colorado on Thursday (Feb. 18) and 74-71 in overtime to Northern Arizona on Saturday (Feb. 20). The Eagles led by at least eight points in the second half of each game before succumbing in the final seconds on game-winning three-point shots.
Both of those losses -- as well as four during a recent seven-game losing streak -- were decided by six points or less. So far this season, 16 of 29 Eastern games have been decided by six points or less. EWU is 6-10 in those 16 nail-biters.
EWU-Idaho State Series History (Since 1983-84): Eastern has won 18 of the past 27 meetings against the Bengals, including sweeps in the 2001-02, 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. Idaho State swept the Eagles in the regular season in 2002-03, but Eastern won the third meeting by a 76-67 score in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Last year, Eastern lost 75-70 in Pocatello after defeating the Bengals 71-65 in Cheney.
Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 29-26 against the Bengals, including a 20-7 record in Cheney and 8-18 mark in Pocatello (1-1 on neutral courts). Eastern lost eight-straight games to ISU from 1993 to 1997, and leads in the all-time series 32-27 (22-6 in Cheney, 9-20 in Pocatello, 1-1 neutral).
Earlier This Season . . . Eastern Loses at Idaho State 80-74: Idaho State had a 31-10 advantage in free throw attempts and went on to defeat Eastern Washington University 80-74 in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Jan. 22 at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.
The Eagles lost their third-straight game to fall to 2-5 in the league and 6-14 overall. The game featured eight ties and 14 lead changes until ISU took the lead for good with 6:22 to play.
Eastern was whistled for 24 fouls compared to 13 for the Bengals, leading to a 23-of-31 performance from the line by ISU while Eastern was just 4-of-10. In addition, four Eastern post players combined for 11 of the team's 15 turnovers.
"We shot ourselves in the foot too," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "It was the discrepancy in fouls and free throw shooting, as well as the 11 turnovers by our bigs, that was the difference in the game. We don't have that much margin for error where we can make up for those things."
Freshman Kevin Winford had a career-high 20 for the Eagles, senior Benny Valentine had 16 points and freshman Jeffrey Forbes added 14 for the Eagles. But the team's leading scorers this season -- Mark Dunn and Glen Dean -- combined for just 11 points after each entered the game averaging more than 12 per game. They were a combined 4-of-10 from the field as foul trouble limited Dunn to just 25 minutes and Dean to 22.
Dean, however, had eight assists and no turnovers, and Forbes chipped in three assists with no turnovers.
"Glen played terrific," said Earlywine. "If we had him on the floor more, the game would be a different story."
Idaho State finished the game with a 35-31 rebounding advantage, and had 12 offensive rebounds leading to 14 second-chance points. That and the foul trouble were too much for EWU to overcome.
"They got half of the shots they missed in the second half back on offensive rebounds," Earlywine explained. "Foul trouble played a big part in this game too. The ripple effect it had is hard for the average fan to understand the impact it had on this game."
Idaho State and the Eagles had entered Friday's game having each lost a pair of league games by four points or less. And it was close throughout, with the game knotted for the last time at 62. Idaho State then scored four-straight points to take the lead for good, and then made 8-of-8 free throws in the final 2:14 to ice the win.
Eastern shot an impressive 49 percent from the floor, but the Eagles missed four of their last six shots in the game.
"We shot 49 percent -- generally when you go on the road and shoot that well you have a chance to win," Earlywine added. "That end of the floor wasn't the problem -- it was the other end where we either got called for fouls or gave up offensive rebounds."