Eastern Falls Late to Lumberjacks 73-69
Northern Arizona overcomes five-point deficit in the final 2:05
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 Friday (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."
On Saturday (Jan. 16), Northern Colorado comes to Cheney, Wash., for a game that starts at 7:05 p.m. and will be televised on SWX. It will also be broadcast live via radio in the Spokane area on 1050-AM, and will also be available via www.bigskytv.org. Northern Colorado entered Friday's game at two-time defending Big Sky Tournament champion Portland State with the league's best overall record at 15-3, and was tied with Weber State for first in the league at 4-1.
"They look really, really good to me," said Earlywine. "They aren't doing it with smoke and mirrors -- they are good."
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.
Eastern's game against the Lumberjacks was only its second home game since Dec. 13, with the Eagles going a full month from Dec. 13 to Jan. 14 with just one home game on their schedule.
A year ago, Eastern lost early in the league season to both NAU and UNC, but were victorious the next time around in Cheney. However, both were nail-biters as the Eagles prevailed 54-50 over the Lumberjacks and 60-59 against the Bears. In the win over NAU, Benny Valentine scored 13 points and had seven assists as the Eagles survived a game that featured 11 ties and 10 lead changes.
Two weeks later versus UNC, Valentine scored the last eight points for the Eagles, including two free throws with eight seconds to play to give Eastern a three-point lead. Valentine scored a total of 49 points in two games against UNC, including 31 in a 75-68 loss in Greeley on Jan. 15 and 18 in the rematch in Cheney.
EWU-Northern Colorado Series History: The Eagles won the first four games in the series until the Bears picked up a 79-66 home win over the Eagles on Feb. 23, 2008, and a 75-68 home triumph early in the 2008-09 season on Jan. 15 in Greeley. Eastern won the home meeting in 2008-09 by a 60-59 score.
The Eagles are 5-2 all-time versus UNC (3-0 in Cheney, 2-2 in Greeley), with the first meeting taking place on Dec. 20, 1971, when Eastern beat the Bears 76-68 in Greeley, Colo. Eastern won a pair of games in 2006-07 when the Bears became a Big Sky Conference member.