Big Sky Conference Play Underway as Eagles and Hornets combine for 64 fouls and 86 free throws; Northern Colorado visits EWU on New Year’s Eve
In a foul and free throw filled game, Eastern Washington University survived in overtime to open Big Sky Conference play with an 88-79 overtime victory over Sacramento State Wednesday (Dec. 29) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The Eagles are now 1-0 in the league and 4-8 overall as they host Northern Colorado on New Year’s Eve for a game that starts at 3:05 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern follows that with four-straight road games -- including three league counters. The Hornets are now 3-9 overall and 0-1 in the league.
“In league play you have to protect your home court,” said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. “And each time you win, it just cranks up the intensity level and importance of the next one. We play a team on Friday afternoon that won 25 games last year and have five of their top six players returning. You have to win at home.”
Four Eagles scored in double figures, led by a career-high 22 points by junior Cliff Ederaine and 21 by sophomore Jeffrey Forbes. Ederaine, whose previous career high was 14 points in EWU’s last outing at South Dakota on Dec. 20, also had five blocked shots and eight rebounds as he entered the game as the Big Sky rebounding leader at (8.6 per game) and ranked fourth in blocked shots (1.5).
Sophomore Glen Dean added 11 points, six assists and a pair of steals, and Laron Griffin scored 12 points after not playing in the first half. Cliff Colimon chipped in nine points, four assists and a pair of steals.
But the real story of the game were the fouls and free throws as the two teams combined for 64 fouls and 86 free throws. Eastern made 29-of-45 free throws for 64.4 percent on 34 fouls by the Hornets, who had five players foul out. Only one Eagle fouled out as EWU finished with 30 fouls to result in a 28-of-41 free throw performance by Sac State.
The top free throw shooters for Eastern were Forbes (7-of-8), Griffin (6-of-8) and Dean (5-of-5), while Zach Nelson made 13-of-17 for the Hornets.
“I think that one took a lot out of both coaches for a number of reasons,” said Earlywine of the game that nearly saw the Eagles nearly break school records for free throws made (34 set twice previously) and attempted (48). The records both came against Sacramento State on Jan. 19, 1995 in a 68-67 home loss to the Hornets. The Eagles have now won the last 15 home games versus Sac State and are 16-1 overall against the Hornets at Reese Court.
The Eagles led by as many as 12 points in the first half, but the Hornets wiped that out in the second half and actually took a pair of one-point leads in the last 1:48 of regulation. But Ederaine’s free throw with 33 seconds left helped send the game into overtime.
Griffin then scored the first four points of overtime as the Eagles out-scored the Hornets 11-2 in the extra period. Forbes helped clinch the win with four free throws in the final 48 seconds.
“I’m going to remember the poise and composure our team had when Sac State came back and took the lead,” said Earlywine. “There were no visible signs of panic in any of our guys. I really liked how our guys reacted to that. They came back and did what we had to do down the stretch.”
Eastern is picked to finish sixth in this year’s league race by both the media and coaches, and Sacramento State is picked ninth. The Bears, who snapped a four-game losing streak by winning at Portland State 79-66 in their Big Sky opener on Wednesday, are 5-7. They were picked second by the media and fourth by the coaches.