Damian Lillard scores 25 of his 36 in the first half en route to 50-34 lead at intermission
League-leading Weber State jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never looked back as it handed Eastern Washington University its fourth-straight defeat with an 89-67 Big Sky Conference men's basketball victory Saturday (Jan. 23) at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah.
Sophomore guard Damian Lillard scored 25 first-half points for the Wildcats, and finished the game with a career-high 36. Eastern was led by the 16 points, five rebounds and three assists of freshman Glen Dean. Sophomore Laron Griffin chipped in a career-high 11 points and five rebounds for the Eagles.
The Eagles fell to 2-6 in the league and 6-15 overall as the first half of league play came to a close for Eastern. The Eagles, who host Portland State next Saturday (Jan. 30) in their next game, are now 3-25 all-time in Ogden against the Wildcats. Weber State improved to 7-1 in the league and 13-7 overall.
Lillard made 10-of-11 shots from the field, including 6-of-7 three-point attempts. He also sank 10-of-11 free throws.
"With his size, he has the ability to look right above the top of our guards," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "There is not much more we can do -- it's partly him being the best player in the league so that's going to happen sometimes. But three or four of his baskets were as a direct result of mistakes we made. That's the hard part and hard to take."
After falling behind by as many as 13 in the early going, Eastern pulled to within 34-30. That's when Lillard took over and turned the game into a rout. The closest EWU came in the second half was 12.
"We withstood that first five minutes when we didn't play very well -- we dug and clawed and got back in the game," explained Earlywine. "But on back-to-back ball screens for Lillard, we made mistakes. They were mistakes by a couple of seniors -- I don't know what to attribute that to."
"Before tonight we started four consecutive games really well," he added of his team's slow start. "When you aren't real sharp on defense, and you have empty possessions time after time, it makes it hard."
Weber State made 56 percent of its shots in the game, including 62 percent in the first half. Eastern made just 38 percent in the first half, but made 43 percent in the game.
Eastern was able to only attempt 14 three-pointers, making eight, after entering the game with an average of more than 18 attempts per game. The Wildcats entered the game as the top three-point defensive team in league games only (.318) and had a league-leading 8.1 scoring margin advantage in the Big Sky.
"They are the No. 1 defensive team in the league and we knew that nothing would come easy on the offensive end of the floor," said Earlywine. "But when you give up 50 points in the first half, it's going to be hard to win."
Eastern's previous three losses in its current losing streak came by a combined 13 points. So far this season, 11 of 21 Eastern games this season have been decided by six points or less, including the previous four before the WSU loss. EWU is 4-7 in those 11 nail-biters.
With starter Alden Gibbs still out with a sprained ankle, the Eagles have played their last four games with just nine players available.
Eastern hasn't won since winning at Montana State 75-73 on Jan. 10 on a basket with 3.8 seconds remaining by Dean. The Eagles followed that by losing a pair of home games in the final seconds, falling to Northern Arizona 73-69 on Jan. 15 and Northern Colorado 74-71 the following night. The night before Eastern lost to Weber State, the Eagles fell 80-74 to Idaho State in a game that featured 14 lead changes and eight ties.
Eastern lost to NAU in a game that featured 12 ties and 18 lead changes, with the largest lead by either squad five points. The Eagles led by 15 in the first half against Northern Colorado, then allowed the Bears to go on a 15-0 run to knot the score. Northern Colorado made its game-winning points with 22 seconds left after NAU hit its game-winner against EWU with 31 ticks of the clock remaining.