Lead, Fourth Place Goes Up in Smoke for Eastern in 83-74 Loss
After leading by as many as 18 in the first half and 15 after halftime, Northern Arizona rallies for win over Eagles
Northern Arizona scored only 31 points in the first 16:42 of the game, but its next 31 came a lot quicker.
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team led by as many as 18 points in the first half and 15 in the second, but a 31-9 scoring run by the Lumberjacks turned the game around as NAU went on to defeat the Eagles 83-74 in a Big Sky Conference game Wednesday (Feb. 16) at the Rolle Activity Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Eastern, now 8-17 overall and 5-8 in the league, had a chance to pull into a fourth-place tie with Northern Arizona, which is now 15-10 and 7-6 in the Big Sky. However, despite a career-high 31-point night by Glen Dean, the Eagles couldn't hold off the Lumberjacks in the second half.
"We came out and we really guarded them," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We played awfully well in that first half even though we weren't getting any baskets in the paint. We couldn't continue it in the second half."
The Eagles led 30-12 with 6:23 left in the first half, then had a 46-31 advantage early in the second half. The Lumberjacks used a string of 13-straight points to help it go on a 31-9 run over the next 7:50, and took a 62-55 advantage at the 8:52 mark.
Eastern never led again as the Eagles trailed by nine at the 5:01 mark and 10 with 1:40 to play. The Lumberjacks made 18-of-26 free throws in the second half and finished the game 29-of-42 from the line. Eastern was 20-of-30 from the line in the game, and 13-of-20 in the second half.
Gabe Rogers (29) and Cameron Jones (27) combined for 56 of NAU's 83 points. They each scored 20 in the second half.
"We went through a drought where we didn't score the ball and we missed free throws -- they got into the bonus early and they made theirs," said Earlywine. "Then we became a little tentative. We have a young team, but we have to learn how to play with a lead and then learn how to play when a team makes a run."
The Lumberjacks made 63 percent of their shots from the field, including 72 percent (18-of-25) in the second half, and the only thing that held them back were 17 turnovers. But 16 of those came in the first 23 minutes of the game as they had only one in the final 17 minutes.
Eastern, meanwhile, made only 37 percent of its shots, including 42 percent in the first half and 31 percent in the second. The Eagles had only eight turnovers -- giving them a total of just 20 in their last three games -- but were out-rebounded 37-28.
Dean made 8-of-18 shots from the field, including 4-of-9 from the three-point arc, and made 11-of-12 free throws. He also had two assists and two steals as no other Eagle scored in double figures. His previous career high was 29 on Dec. 31, 2009 as he has scored 57 points in his last two outings.
The loss ruined a sensational start for the Eagles. They led early 30-12, with Dean scoring 15 of those points as EWU used an 11-0 run to help open its 18-point lead. The Lumberjacks went seven minutes without scoring and a total of 8:25 without a field. Eastern led 39-27 at intermission.
A week after facing a Weber State team that ranks fifth in NCAA Division I in three-point field goal percentage accuracy, the Eagles faced a NAU team that leads the nation. The Lumberjacks made 4-of-6 -- including a 3-of-3 performance by Rogers -- after entering the game making 43.9 percent for the season.
Eastern now hosts Cal State Northridge on Saturday (Feb. 19) in an ESPN BracketBusters game that begins at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Eastern has remaining league games at home versus Montana State (Feb. 24) and Montana (Feb. 26), then ends the regular season on the road at Weber State (March 2).
The radio broadcast of the all Eastern games may be heard on 700-AM ESPN "The Ticket" and via the web at www.espnnorthwest.com, with veteran play-by-play broadcaster Dennis Patchin calling the action. All home games and other Big Sky Conference games may also be viewed free of charge at www.bigskytv.org.
Trying to clinch its first berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in five seasons -- and first under fourth-year head coach Kirk Earlywine -- Eastern is tied for fifth with 5-8 Montana State, which defeated EWU earlier this season in Bozeman. Eastern is still one game ahead of seventh-place Idaho State and Sacramento State for one of six berths in the league tournament that starts on March 5 at campus sites. The Bengals and Hornets are 4-9, tied with Portland State, which is not eligible for the tournament. Because of a season sweep, Eastern has a tiebreaker advantage over Idaho State.
Eastern has now split the season series with NAU, as EWU defeated the Lumberjacks on Jan. 20 in Cheney by a 13-point margin, 72-59. But the Lumberjacks won their next four games by an average of 15.0 points per game, including victories over two teams leading the conference at the time they played -- Northern Colorado (65-54) and Montana (70-53). Northern Arizona also thumped Portland State (71-59) and Montana State (61-41). The winning streak ended for the Lumberjacks at Weber State by an 82-55 score on Feb. 10, then NAU fell at Idaho State 90-88 in overtime on Feb. 12.