Eastern Can’t Hold Seven-Point Lead in Second Half and Loses 78-72

Eagles head into Christmas break 3-8, and open Big Sky Conference play at home on Dec. 29

The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team is hoping to find its shooting eye wrapped up under the Christmas tree -- the tree at Reese Court.

With the start of Big Sky Conference play next up for the Eagles, Eastern dropped a 78-72 decision to South Dakota Monday (Dec. 20) at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, S.D.

The Eagles, who led by as many as seven points early in the second half, are now 3-8 on the season while the Coyotes improved to 5-7. It was the first-ever meeting for EWU against the Great West Conference members.

Two days ago, Eastern made a season-low 21 percent of its shots in a 72-42 loss at Nebraska. Earlier this season on Nov. 12, Nebraska knocked off South Dakota 76-68.

Eastern made only 7-of-32 three-pointers against South Dakota for 22 percent; against Nebraska the Eagles made only 7-of-31 (23 percent).

“We had to take a number of contested threes in Lincoln, but it’s hard for me to imagine getting any better shots than we did here,” said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. “We just didn’t make them. We had unbelievably good looks at the basket and we just didn’t shoot it well.”

Eastern was led by the 16 points of guard Glen Dean, who made 5-of-11 shots from the field and 3-of-6 from the three-point stripe. Fellow guards Jeffrey Forbes, Kevin Winford and Cliff Colimon combined for 7-of-31 shooting (23 percent), including just 3-of-22 from the arc (14 percent).

Earlywine saw the shooting extend to the defensive side of the floor in the second half. A 10-2 run helped erase Eastern’s 38-31 advantage early in the half, and Eastern sent the Coyotes to the free throw line 24 times in the second half where they made 16. In the first half, South Dakota shot just two.

“When you get good shots and they don’t go in, you tend to drop your head a little bit,” he said. “We can still win games if we dig in and defend, not foul and not give up offensive rebounds. You have to be really sharp defensively and rebound the ball well when you don’t shoot well.

“We were playing hard, but in the second half we looked a step slow,” he added. “We put them on the line and that hurt. We played harder in the first half defensively than we did in the second half. It’s been 12 days since our players have had a day off so maybe it’s just a matter of fatigue. But it’s hard to take a day off when you are finally healthy and there is so much to work on. I think that cost us tonight.”

 Forward Cliff Ederaine scored a season-high 14 points for the Eagles, and also hauled down a game-high nine rebounds. True freshman Jaylen Henry came off the bench to score five points and grab seven rebounds, one game after getting three points and six boards versus Nebraska.

Following a break for Christmas, the Eagles start Big Sky Conference play at home versus Sacramento State (Dec. 29) and Northern Colorado (Dec. 31). Eastern hosts the Hornets at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court before the Bears visit on New Year’s Eve for a game that starts at 3:05 p.m.

“They need to go home and enjoy the holidays,” added Earlywine. “I’ll worry and fret enough that they don’t need to -- they are college students. They need to enjoy a few days before they come back, and need to stay off their feet and rest. We have a couple of days of practice before we see what we can do in a league game.”


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