Eagles Hope for Long Playoff Run, Starting With Rematch at Weber State
Eastern knocks off Grizzlies and Wildcats to end the regular season and open Saturday's Big Sky Conference Tournament on a high note
EWU at Weber State
Quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament
Saturday, March 5 - 6:30 p.m. Pacific
Dee Events Center - Ogden, Utah
Radio: (all EWU games) 700 ESPN "The Ticket" and http://www.espnnorthwest.com
Webcasts: (All home games and all Big Sky Conference games) http://www.bigskytv.org
Live Stats: (Weber State) CLICK HERE
In the postseason for the first time after a long layoff, the red-hot Eastern Washington University men's basketball team is hoping its recent success has set EWU up for a long playoff run.
Coming off a pair of victories over two of the league's top three teams, the Eagles earned themselves a rematch with Weber State in Ogden, Utah, Saturday (March 5) in the first round of the Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball Tournament. The tipoff in that game at the Dee Events Center will be 6:30 p.m. Pacific time.
The radio broadcast of Saturday's game 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.
Eastern will enter Saturday's game 10-19 overall and the sixth seed after stunning WSU at home 75-59 on Wednesday (March 2) -- just the fourth victory in 29 tries all-time in Ogden. It was also just the second win in 15 road games for EWU this season as it snapped a five-game losing streak to WSU. The third-seeded Wildcats lost their chance at a first-round bye and are now 11-5 in the league and 17-11 overall.
One game earlier, a stunning 59-55 overtime victory over league-leader Montana helped clinch the postseason berth for the Eagles. In the process, EWU kept the Grizzlies from clinching at least a share of the league title.
"I don't think there is any doubt that these last two games are the best games we've played," said Earlywine. "We were able to play well for all 40 minutes in our last two games. I think it would be easy to make that case that we're playing our best right now."
Weber State learned during the season how to cope with the loss of returning league MVP Damian Lillard. A broken bone in his foot sidelined him for the season after the first nine games, and Weber State followed that by losing three of its next four outings including a 0-2 start to conference play. But the Wildcats are 11-4 since, including an eight-game league winning streak that EWU snapped.
"That's a tall order," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine of the rematch of Wednesday's game in which the Eagles led by as many as 19 in the first half and 20 in the second half. "We have our work cut out for us Saturday night -- we know that.
"But we had our work cut out for us in our last two regular season games," he continued. "Pretty much all year long our team has not backed down from a challenge. At times we haven't played well and maybe we've had players try to do too much. Sometimes we haven't approached challenges the right way, but we haven't backed down. It will be a very, very tough task."
Eastern lost 80-68 at home to Weber State on Feb. 12, and the two games they have played against each other have been about as opposite as opposite can be. The most glaring differences were Weber State going from eight turnovers to 23, and the EWU trio of Jeffrey Forbes, Cliff Ederaine and Cliff Colimon scoring 15 points in the first meeting but combining for 50 in the rematch.
"We're certainly not a team dominated by any one or two guys," explained Earlywine. "I would say that would make it difficult to prepare for us."
The Eagles were also out-rebounded 38-27 on Feb. 12 but equaled the Wildcats at 29 boards apiece in the rematch. Thus, will speed and quickness win out over strength and size again?
"They are bigger and stronger than us -- you don't need a magnifying glass to see that," said Earlywine. "But we do have some speed and quickness advantages at some positions that we need to try to take advantage of. I'm not sure how much of that was what we did because they've played against teams that are more athletic than us. When they made a turnover or two, it just kind of snowballed on them. Again, I'm not sure if that was what we were doing. It was just one of those games where balls were bouncing off their hands and they were bobbling it. That happens once in awhile."
Forbes, one of several players whose speed and quickness made a difference on Wednesday, was scoreless in the first meeting and had 17 in the most recent game. His scoring performance was his best in 16 games since back-to-back 21-point efforts to open the league season against Sacramento State and Northern Colorado in late December.
"He was dramatically better defensively as well," said Earlywine. "Jeff, maybe more than any other player on our team, gets a little offensive sensitive -- when he is not shooting the ball well he tends to have mental lapses on defense. Against Weber State he defended really, really well. And the two shots he missed were clean, wide-open looks. He shot them well, they just didn't go in. Yes, he played really well."
Eastern garnered its first berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in five seasons -- and first under its fourth-year head coach. Montana State (13-17, 7-9) will play at Northern Arizona (13-11, 9-7) in the other first round game, with the winners moving on to face Montana (20-9, 12-4) and regular season champion Northern Colorado (19-10, 13-3) in the semifinals. As regular season champion, the Bears host the semifinals and championship game on March 8 and 9, respectively, in Greeley, Colo. The winner of the title game, which is televised live on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. Pacific time, advances to the NCAA Tournament.
Although the Eagles and Wildcats have never met in the quarterfinals, Eastern has defeated the Wildcats three times in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament (72-53 in 2004, 62-57 in 2002 and 83-67 in 1990). Weber State defeated EWU 60-57 in the 2003 title game when Earlywine was a Wildcat assistant coach.
"Obviously, we're really excited," said Earlywine. "It's the first time in my tenure that we'll be in the conference tournament and the first time in five years for Eastern, so we're really excited about finally getting that opportunity."
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Recent EWU Men's Basketball Headlines . . .
March 2, 2011 - Eastern Stuns Weber State 75-59 to Earn Saturday Rematch
February 24, 2011 - Eastern Allows 17-2 Run in Second Half and Falls 60-56 to Bobcats
February 19, 2011 - Matadors Use 15-2 Run to Pull Away for 68-59 Victory over Eagles
February 16, 2011 - Lead, Fourth Place Goes Up in Smoke for Eastern in 83-74 Loss
February 12, 2011 - Eastern Can't Keep Up With Wildcats in 80-68 Loss
February 5, 2011 - Eagles Come Up With Big Plays Late In Crucial 69-67 Win Over Bengals
February 3, 2011 - Eagles Drop Another Road Contest, 63-53, at Northern Colorado
January 29, 2011 - Eagles Explode in Second Half Again for 83-70 Win
January 27, 2011 - Eastern Out-Scores Vikings by 18 in Second Half in 65-51 Win
January 22, 2011 - Sacramento State Wins Over Eagles With One Second Left, 57-55
January 20, 2011 - Eastern Beats Big Sky's Top Offensive Team 72-59
January 16, 2011 - Despite "Outstanding" First Half, Eagles Fall to MSU 71-59
January 13, 2011 - Points Hard to Come By in 66-47 Loss to Montana
January 8, 2011 - Eastern Overcomes Slow Start But Loses at PSU 74-58
January 6, 2011 - Eastern Falls at Seattle 60-51
December 31, 2010 - Bears Hold Off Eagles for 75-73 Win
December 29, 2010 - Eastern Beats Sacramento State 88-79 in Overtime
December 20, 2010 - Eastern Can't Hold Seven-Point Lead in Second Half and Loses 78-72
December 18, 2010 - Eagles Shoot 21 Percent From the Field and Fall to Cornhuskers 72-42
December 15, 2010 - Eagles Hold Off Seattle 95-91 For First D-I Win
December 12, 2010 - Glen Dean Makes Debut and Scores 23 in Narrow Loss
December 4, 2010 - Eastern Romps Past New Hope 112-41 on Record-Breaking Night
November 30, 2010 - Three-Pointers Bury Eagles as Gonzaga Cruises to 86-57 Win
November 27, 2010 - Winford Sets School Record with Eight Treys in Loss
November 24, 2010 - Eagles Drop Road Game in Boise, 83-54
November 18, 2010 - Fast Start Helps Eastern Win 96-87|
November 16, 2010 - Promising Start for Naught as Eagles Fall to Huskies 98-72
November 12, 2010 - Despite Strong Defensive Effort, Eagles Begin Season With 67-60 Loss
November 8, 2010 - Eastern Falls to Montana State-Billings 66-60
November 5, 2010 - Eagles Should Have More Firepower Available Monday
November 2, 2010 - Shorthanded Eagles Fall to Seattle Pacific 87-82
October 29, 2010 - SEASON OUTLOOK: Returning Guards Key to Eastern's Big Sky Hopes
EWU POSTSEASON NOTES
Eastern Just The Fifth BSC School to Make Nine-Straight Tournament Appearances: Although its streak came to an end in the 2006-07 season and the Eagles hadn't been back since, Eastern is just the fifth school in league history to make nine-straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern started the streak back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.
Weber State had its string of 24-straight appearances stopped in 2005-06, and Montana had a string of 21-straight from 1978-98. The other streaks were 16 by Idaho (1981-96) and 11 by Nevada (1982-92).
Interestingly, Montana's 77-69 victory over the Lumberjacks on Feb. 28, 2005, extended Eastern's streak and ended NAU's eight-season streak. Eastern's streak started in 1998 with an end-of-year victory at Montana. That "winner advance, loser eliminated" game ended Montana's 21-year streak.
Eastern is now 7-9 in 10 appearances in the league tournament. Eastern ended its season with losses to Montana in both 2005 and 2006, but the year before won the title with a 71-59 championship game victory over Northern Arizona.
Here is a list of Eastern's appearances in the Big Sky Tournament.
2011 - Quarterfinal (Ogden, Utah) - #6 seed vs. #3 Weber State
2006 - Semifinal (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #2 Montana - L, 71-73 (ot)
2006 - Quarterfinal (Cheney, Wash.) - #3 seed vs. #6 Portland State - W, 81-75
2005 - Quarterfinal (Missoula, Mont.) - #6 seed vs. #3 Montana - L, 48-58
2004 - Championship (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #2 Northern Ariz. - W, 71-59
2004 - Semifinals (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 72-53
2003 - Championship (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #1 Weber State - L, 57-60
2003 - Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #4 Idaho State - W, 76-67
2002 - Championship (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Montana - L, 66-70
2002 - Semifinals (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Weber State - W, 62-57
2001 - Championship (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #1 CS Northridge - L, 58-73
2001 - Semifinals (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Northern Arizona - W, 58-53
2000 - Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Northern Arizona - L, 65-82
1999 - Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) - #6 seed vs. #3 Portland State - L, 74-80
1998 - Quarterfinals (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #6 CS Northridge - L, 98-104 (ot)
1990 - Championship (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #1 Idaho - L, 62-65
1990 - Semifinals (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 83-67
Eastern Definitely Found Some Magic Against Impressive Wildcats Team: Making EWU's 75-59 triumph over Weber State even more impressive is the fact this is the fifth-straight season Weber State has won at least 10 league games, all under head coach Randy Rahe. Weber State is now 40-6 in Big Sky home games under Rahe, and the Wildcats are 57-11 overall (83.8 percent) at the Dee Events Center in those five seasons. The Wildcats have won nearly 80 percent of their home games all-time at that venue.
Eastern's lone victories previously in Ogden came in 2006 (76-73), 2001 (81-70) and 2000 (90-78) when Eastern snapped the Wildcats' 30-game home winning streak, which at the time was the fourth longest in NCAA Division I.
Repeating its magic in Ogden will be difficult, as well as the extra two days spent there. Although the Eagles are able to remain in Ogden, Weber State is hosting a high school tournament so practice time at the Dee Events Center will be difficult to get.
"There is not going to be as much physical preparation for Saturday's game as much as it will be a mindset," explained Earlywine. "But we do have some things logistically to work out. The objective is to get the players in the best position possible to be successful."
Had Eastern lost on Wednesday, the Eagles would have returned from Ogden and then turned around and traveled to Missoula, Mont., to play Montana in the first round.
Earlywine Wins for First Time at Former Home: Eastern's 75-59 thumping of Weber State on March 2 turned out to be a happy homecoming for Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. He spent seven seasons as a Weber State assistant coach from 1999-2006, and is now 2-6 all-time versus his former school. It was his first victory in Ogden as EWU's head coach.
He and his team enter the postseason with a two-game winning streak, having knocked-off Montana 59-55 in overtime on Feb. 26 to deny the Grizzlies a share of the Big Sky Conference regular season title.
"What it really means to me is that we finished with two wins over two really good teams," said Earlywine of his Ogden homecoming. "I'm sure when the season is over I'll look at it fondly as the first time I won here as a head coach. I spent seven years at Weber State and 99 percent of my memories were really good, so it feels good to come back here and win. It doesn't feel any extra special because it's somewhere that I used to coach. It feels really good that we played really well and beat a team that is in the top two or three in the league. We finished with two wins over two of the best teams."
Earlywine is just 42-77 in four years as EWU's head coach, including a 24-40 record in the Big Sky Conference. While at Weber State under head coach Joe Cravens, the Wildcats were 116-88 overall and 58-44 in league play, including 26-6 on the season and 14-0 in the league in the 2002-03 season when the WSU advance to the NCAA Tournament.
"The fans here were terrific, and over seven years a lot of good things happened and I developed a lot of good friendships. Unfortunately, part of this business is that you move on. But I do have a lot of friends here and are people that genuinely wish me well. That's a good feeling."
Topsy-Turvy Final Weeks of the Season: Just twice this season, Eastern has managed to put together a two-game winning streak, but hasn't been able to win three-in-a-row. By contrast, the Eagles have had four losing skids of between three and five games, which keeps Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine humble despite stunning victories in EWU's last two outings.
"You just have to go back one game before that against Montana State and find a game where we didn't play well," he said of the 60-56 home loss. "That one seems like forever ago, but it was less than two weeks. We played really well in stretches in the three games we lost before beating Montana, but we didn't play well for the full 40 minutes."
The win over Montana snapped a four-game losing streak for the Eagles, who had lost their last three games after leading at halftime and owning second-half leads of at least 10 points in two of them. The Eagles did it by holding Montana to just 55 total shots and 40 percent shooting from the floor, and out-rebounding the Grizzlies 36-27. Eastern trailed at halftime 22-17.
One game earlier, Montana State used a 17-2 run to rally from a 10-point deficit after halftime as the Bobcats knocked off Eastern for the second time this season. The Eagles led 45-35 with 12:44 left in the second half before the Bobcats took a five-point lead at the 5:34 mark. Montana State, which snapped a seven-game losing streak in league play and a nine-game skid overall, never trailed again. Eastern also led at halftime against Cal State Northridge on Feb. 19 before losing 68-59.
"I certainly hope we learned something from those games," added Earlywine. "When you play with young and inexperienced players, every game is a learning experience. I would certainly hope that we are learning from those things, and it sure looked like we did in our last two games."
Defending The Trey: In beating the Wildcats 75-59 on March 2, Eastern defeated a squad that was ranked second in NCAA Division I in three-point field goal percentage. The Wildcats entered the game making 42.3 percent for the season, but EWU held them to 6-of-15 shooting (37.5 percent), including only 2-of-6 in the first half.
Earlier in the season, Weber was ranked fifth nationally and responded with a back-breaking 9-of-14 performance against EWU, moving WSU to second nationally behind Northern Arizona. And it came against an Eastern team that had entered as the Big Sky leader in three-point defense, allowing opponents to make just 32.3 during the league season.
One game later on Feb. 16, the Eagles faced the national leader and the Lumberjacks made 4-of-6 after entering the game making 43.9 percent for the season.
TEAM & PLAYER NOTES
Eastern Nears School Records For Three-Pointers Made and Attempted as Trio of Sophomores Climb Lists: Entering the postseason, the Eagles are just eight attempts and eight makes away from EWU school records for three-point shooting. Currently with 233 makes and 641 attempts, the single season makes record is 241 set in 1999, and the record for attempts is 649 set the same season.
Three sophomore guards are leading the way and already rank in the top 10 on several Eastern season and career lists. Kevin Winford has made 66 three-pointers this season to rank fifth in single season school history, and his 186 attempts are also fifth. On career charts, his 100 makes are eighth and his 290 attempts are seventh. Jeffrey Forbes has 101 three-pointers made in his career to rank seventh, his 262 attempts are 11th and his .385 percentage ranks 10th. Glen Dean has a career three-point field goal percentage of .424 that currently ranks fifth in school history, and his 95 treys made are 12th. Dean's 224 attempts are still 33 away from ranking in the top 12 in that category.
That trio of players has also been impressive from the free throw line in their careers. Forbes has made what would be a school record at 88.8 percent (103-of-116), but he is two attempts shy to meet the minimum of two free throw attempts per game. Dean is currently sixth (79.8 percent, 162-of-203), and Winford's 84.8 percent (56-of-66) would rank third had he met the minimums (he has 66 and would need 114). Currently with the school record is the 84.9 percent performance of Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame member Dick Edwards (1953-55).
Blocked Shots Totals High Too: With 115 blocked shots for the season, Eastern is only 15 blocked shots away from the school record of 130 set in 2006. A trio of Eastern players have recorded three of the top 13 single season performances in school history including Tremayne Johnson (35, third), Cliff Ederaine (31, tied for seventh) and Laron Griffin (27, tied for 12th).
Eagles in Big Sky Conference Statistics: In Big Sky Conference statistics, Eastern features the league's third-leading rebounder in junior college transfer Cliff Ederaine, who is averaging 7.4 rebounds per game. Teammate Laron Griffin is fifth (6.9), with Griffin and Ederaine ranking 1-4 in the league in offensive rebounds, respectively (3.2, 2.8). As a team, Eastern is leading the league in offensive rebounds (12.4) and is second in offensive rebound percentage (.341). Tremayne Johnson is fourth in blocked shots (1.2), Ederaine is fifth (1.1) and Griffin is eighth (0.9) as the Eagles rank third as a team in the league (4.0).
The Eagles are second in the league in three-pointers made per game (8.0), are fourth in rebounds per game (34.6), three-point field goal percentage (.363) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.345). Eastern ranks eighth in field goal percentage (.408) and free throw percentage (.661), and are seventh in scoring defense (70.3), scoring margin (-3.0) and rebounds allowed (35.3).
Point guard Glen Dean is averaging 13.9 points and 4.3 assists per game to lead the Eagles in both categories and rank ninth and fourth, respectively, in the Big Sky. He is also fourth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (+1.7 per game with 95 assists and 55 turnovers), is seventh in three-pointers made per game (2.1), eighth in three-point field goal percentage (.420) and ninth in free throw percentage (.792, 76-of-96).
Also, Kevin Winford is fifth in three-pointers made per game (2.3) and is 22nd in scoring (10.1). Jeffrey Forbes is eighth in three-pointers made per game (1.9) and 23rd in scoring (10.0). Johnson is 27th in scoring (9.8), 16th in rebounding (5.1) and 14th in free throw percentage (73-of-97 for 75.3 percent), and Cliff Colimon is 28th in scoring (9.7).
In statistics from league games only, Eastern is first in the league in turnover margin (+2.0 per game) and is second in three-pointers made per game (7.6). Its worst rankings are eighth in total rebounds per game (31.8) and seventh in rebounding margin (-1.5 per game). Individually, Dean is 10th in scoring (13.9), fourth in assists (4.6), third in assist-to-turnover ratio (+1.8 per game with 74 assists and 41 turnovers) and sixth in free throw percentage (56-of-69 for 81.2 percent). Ederaine ranks seventh in rebounds (6.8) and fifth in offensive rebounds (2.6), and Griffin is eighth in rebounds (6.5) and third in offensive rebounds (2.8).
Eagle Trends: The Eagles are just 10-19 this season, but have a winning record at 8-4 when they have a better field goal percentage than their opponents, and are 6-3 when they make at least 45 percent from the field. However, Eastern is just 2-15 when it is out-shot from the field, and 4-16 when it makes 44 percent or less.
Eastern is 8-7 when it out-rebounds or is tied in rebounding, but is 2-12 when it's out-rebounded. The Eagles are also 7-4 when they score at least 70 points and 3-15 when they score 69 or fewer.
In EWU's only two road wins of the season -- a 75-59 victory at Weber State on March 2 and a 69-67 win at Idaho State on Feb. 5 that snapped an 18-game road losing streak dating back to last year -- the Eagles had some important milestones. Those were the only times in 17 games this season the Eagles won when they did not have a better field goal percentage than their opponent. The ISU game was also only the second time they have won in 14 games when they have been out-rebounded. Eastern had a season-low seven turnovers in the win over the Bengals, bettered the next game with just five at home versus Weber State.
Eagles Shooting 45 Percent at Home and 37 Percent on the Road: With an 8-6 record at home and 2-13 mark on the road, you don't have to look much further than shooting percentage to see a major reason why. Eastern has made 44.6 percent at home (40.9 percent from the three-point line), leading to an average of 74.7 points per game. On the road, Eastern is shooting at a 37.1 percent clip (31.8 percent from the arc) and has averaged just 60.5 points per game.
Opponents have made only 41.2 percent at Reese Court but 46.3 percent on their home courts. Additionally, Eastern has a plus 3.6 rebounding margin at home, and is a minus 4.8 on the road.
Normally Frosty on the Road, Forbes Heats Up in Ogden: Eastern sophomore guard Jeffrey Forbes entered the March 2 game at Weber State averaging only 6.6 points per game on the road on 31.7 percent shooting (30.5 percent from the three-point line). But he responded in a huge way, making 7-of-9 shots overall and 3-of-5 attempts from the arc in EWU's 75-59 win. He finished with 17 points and also had a pair of steals as EWU forced a season-high 23 turnovers leading to a season-high 29 points off turnovers. His scoring performance was his best in 16 games since back-to-back 21-point efforts to open the league season against Sacramento State and Northern Colorado in late December.
For the season, Forbes averaged 12.9 points per game at home, making 46.8 percent of his shots overall and 46.8 percent from three-point range. On the road, he is sixth on the team with a 7.3 average on 35.5 percent shooting overall and 32.8 percent from the arc.
"He was dramatically better defensively as well," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine after the WSU game. "Jeff, maybe more than any other player on our team, gets a little offensive sensitive -- when he is not shooting the ball well he tends to have mental lapses on defense. Against Weber State he defended really, really well. And the two shots he missed were clean, wide-open looks. He shot them well, they just didn't go in. Yes, he played really well."
For the season, Forbes has scored in double figures 13 times, and has led the team in scoring three times. He has a team-leading four 20-point performances -- all at home -- including 23 versus New Hope and 21 in back-to-back home games versus Sacramento State and Northern Colorado. He is third on the team with a 10.0 scoring average, making 41.2 percent of his field goal attempts overall and 54-of-133 three-point attempts (40.6 percent). He has also made 54-of-60 free throws (90.0 percent) and is averaging 2.0 assists per outing.
On EWU career lists, his .888 free throw percentage (103-of-116) would rank as the school record ahead of Dick Edwards (.849 from 1953-55), but Forbes doesn't meet the minimum of two attempts per game to qualify (he has 116 and would need 118). Forbes leads in single season percentage (.900), ranking just ahead of Darren Cooper (.899 in 2002). His 101 three-pointers made in his career ranks seventh, his 262 attempts are 11th and his .385 percentage ranks 10th.
Cliff Notes: Two key Eastern newcomers -- both juniors who transferred from junior colleges -- are known as "Big Cliff" and "Little Cliff," and both were huge in Eastern's last two victories. In a 59-55 overtime win over Montana, six-foot-seven forward Cliff Ederaine had 14 points and six rebounds, while six-foot guard Cliff Colimon had 13 points, a season-high seven rebounds and a pair of assists. They followed that by combining for 33 points in a 75-59 win over Weber State on March 2, with Ederaine scoring 16 with six rebounds. Colimon had 17 points, including 13 in the second half when he made a trio of three-pointers to help EWU turn a six-point lead into an 11-point advantage.
Both players also were impressive in an 83-70 Big Sky victory over Idaho State on Jan. 29. Ederaine had 13 points and six rebounds, and made a three-pointer in the second half as the shot clock expired on his first attempt of the year. A 37.6 percent free throw shooter entering the game, he also made both of his free throws. He is from Moreno Valley, Calif., and played previously at College of the Sequoias in California.
"Other than free throws, I don't know if he's taken a shot outside of four or five feet," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "And to his credit, he knows who he is and what he is. You figure out who you are and what you are and you take pride in it. If you're a defender and a rebounder who doesn't shoot well outside of eight feet, don't shoot outside of eight feet. Big Cliff knows that."
Colimon scored 10 with four assists in the victory over the Bengals, including a pair of baskets early in the second half to help turn a three-point halftime deficit into a 13-point win. However, it was his defense on ISU guard Broderick Gilchrest that was the key to the game. Idaho State's leading scorer entering the game with a 15.0 average per game, Gilchrest scored only six points on 2-of-9 shooting. Colimon is from Brooklyn, N.Y., and transferred to Eastern from Eastern Utah Junior College.
"Little Cliff can really guard the ball -- he can crawl up into your jersey and make things fairly miserable for you," Earlywine said. "That was a big reason why we recruited him. There are players in this league who can get hot and score a bunch of points. He's taken on that challenge and kind of relished that role against Idaho State and did a good job on Gilchrest."
For the season, Ederaine has scored in double figures nine times, including a career-high 22 points with eight rebounds against Sacramento State on Dec. 29. He has one double-double with 12 points and 17 rebounds against New Hope on Dec. 4 as his rebounding performance equals the fifth-best recorded performance in school history. He has led Eastern in scoring once and rebounding on 12 occasions, and is averaging 8.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots per game on the season. He was the only Eagle to have started all 23 games this season until that streak ended against Weber State on Feb. 12, but has started 28 of 29 for the season
Colimon has scored in double figures 12 times, including a career-high 21 points in the second game of his EWU career against Northwest University on Nov. 18. He is averaging 9.7 points, 1.8 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game.
Dean Looking Like the "Glen Dean of Last Year": Sophomore Glen Dean, the Freshman of the Year in the Big Sky Conference last season when he averaged 12.2 points and 4.4 assists per game, was cleared to practice on Dec. 8 after missing nearly two months due to a stress fracture in his left foot.
His late start affected him early in the year, but certainly not lately. He scored all 17 of his points after intermission -- including a go-ahead three-pointer with 55 seconds left in overtime -- to propel Eastern to a 59-55 victory over first-place Montana on Feb. 26. Dean didn't even attempt a shot in the first half, but finished 6-of-8 from the field and made all three of his shots from behind the arc. He also had five assists, three steals and four rebounds in 40 minutes of playing time..
"We saw a big step in the development of Glen Dean against Montana," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine of his point guard, who had seven of EWU's 14 turnovers on Feb. 24 in a 60-56 loss to Montana State. Dean also scored 12 points, six assists and one steal versus MSU. "He played his worst game of the year against Montana State, but he did so in trying really hard. He took too much on his shoulders and felt pressure to make all the plays."
For the weekend, Dean made 10-of-20 shots from the field, including 7-of-10 three-point attempts, to go along totals of 29 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, four steals and 11 turnovers in 73 minutes of action.
"Some nights we need Glen to take shots and score points, and other nights we need him to run our team," the fourth-year EWU head coach continued. "That is a very difficult thing for a young player to learn. Glen was spot on against Montana as to when to shoot it, when not to, when to run our team and when to get the ball to the post. I thought he was outstanding."
In 22 games thus far, Dean is averaging 13.9 points and 4.3 assists per game to lead the Eagles in both categories and rank ninth and fourth, respectively, in the Big Sky. He is also fourth in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (+1.7 per game with 95 assists and 55 turnovers), is seventh in three-pointers made per game (2.1), eighth in three-point field goal percentage (.420) and ninth in free throw percentage (.792, 76-of-96). He has led the team in scoring 11 times, and has scored in double figures on 16 occasions, including 23 in his first game back.
On Eastern career lists, he has a career three-point field goal percentage of .424 that currently ranks fifth in school history, and his 95 treys made are 12th. Dean's 224 attempts are still 33 away from ranking in the top 12 in that category.
Dean enters the Weber State playoff game averaging 18.3 points per game in his last six outings, making 21-of-39 three-point attempts for 53.8 percent. He had a career-high 31 points at NAU on Feb. 16, eclipsing his previous high of 29 on Dec. 31, 2009. 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 as no other Eagle scored in double figures. He had a season-high eight assists against Sacramento State on Jan. 22 and scored 57 in back-to-back losses against Weber State (26 on Feb. 12) and Northern Arizona (31 on Feb. 16).
He also had 26 points and six assists in an 80-68 home loss against Weber State on Feb. 12, with 14 of his points and four assists coming in the first half. Dean kept the Eagles within striking distance most of the way with 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including 6-of-9 from the three-point arc.
"There is a little extra pop in his feet when he comes to a stop. He's just crisper," explained Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine following the Weber State game on Feb. 12. "We saw it in the last three minutes last week Idaho State (on Feb. 5), we saw it all week in practice and we saw it for a full 40 minutes against Weber State. It looked like the Glen Dean of last year, and that's encouraging."
Despite missing valuable practice time, Earlywine made certain the two months off the floor weren't a total loss for Dean, who is a 2008 graduate of Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Wash.
"Sometimes it's good when players have to step back and take a look at things from the bench," explained Earlywine. "It was very noticeable that Glen sat very close to me during games so he could hear the decision-making process and what happens during games. As a coach on the floor, hopefully that will help him in the long run."
Dean made his debut on Dec. 12 against San Jose State and finished with 23 points, four assists and just one turnover in 30 minutes of action. Dean made his first appearance of the season at home at Reese Court in Eastern's 95-91 win over Seattle on Dec. 15, and finished with 11 points, four assists and a steal in 28 minutes of action.
Prior to making his debut, he practiced just twice prior for an hour each after getting cleared to play. With the 2009-10 Freshman of the Year back in the lineup, Eastern could concentrate on building its team around a player who averaged 12.2 points and 4.4 assists a year ago.
"It goes to show the amount of time and work he put in on a bike, the stair master, in the swimming pool and in the training room," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "It's quite a tribute to him and he has an unbelievable work capacity. The reason I feel good about our direction right now is that Jeffrey Forbes, Kevin Winford and Glen Dean know how to work. They know how hard and how long, and that's rubbing off on our other guys."
At the same time, Eastern welcomed back point guard Cliff Colimon, who had missed the previous three games and four total games with a sprained ankle. Plus, forward Rashano McRae missed those same three games and valuable practice time with a concussion.
McRae was coming off his best outing of the year when he suffered his concussion, and had missed valuable practice time early in the year with back spasms. The 6-foot-7 junior college transfer had three points, five rebounds and four assists on Nov. 24 at Boise State.
Coupled with Willie Hankins getting cleared by the NCAA to practice with the team -- but not yet play in games -- Earlywine was overjoyed to have 15 players practicing on Dec. 9 for the first time the entire season.
Winford Climbing Up Three-Point Charts: Sophomore guard Kevin Winford has already made 66 three-pointers this season to rank fifth in single season school history, and his 186 attempts are also fifth. On career charts, his 100 makes are eighth and his 290 attempts are seventh. In addition, his .848 free throw percentage would rank third in school history if he had enough attempts to qualify (he has 66 and would need 114).
For the season, Winford has scored in double figures 13 times, and has led the team in scoring on six occasions. He is second on the team with an 10.1 scoring average for the season, making 37.5 percent of his field goal attempts overall and 66-of-186 three-point attempts (35.5 percent). He has also made 34-of-41 free throws (82.9 percent), including 26-of-30 in league play (86.7 percent). However, he is averaging just 7.9 points per game in league, making just 32.5 percent of his shots overall and 31.3 percent from the arc. He hasn't had a double figure scoring performance in his last seven games, during which he is averaging only 5.7 points.
Winford sparked the Eagles to a pair of come-from-behind victories, scoring 12 points in the second half of wins over Portland State (65-51 on Jan. 27) and Idaho State (83-70 on Jan. 29). In the two games he scored 26 points, with 24 of them coming in the second half when he made a collective 9-of-11 from the field and 6-of-7 from three-point range. He was 0-9 overall and 0-7 from the arc in the first half of those games.
The Eagles had a collective 96-62 advantage after intermission in those victories, compared to a 59-52 deficit in the first half as EWU trailed at halftime of both games. In both games, Winford fueled runs that opened up the game for the Eagles. He scored six of EWU's points in a 12-2 run against PSU that gave EWU a 48-37 lead. Two nights later, he hit a trio of threes in a 14-4 Eastern run that gave EWU a 53-43 advantage.
Winford poured in 39 points -- including a record 10 three-pointers -- in Eastern's overwhelming 112-41 non-conference victory over New Hope Christian College on Dec. 4. En route to the fifth-best scoring night in school history against New Hope, Winford broke the school record of nine treys he set just a week earlier against Idaho on Nov. 27. As a team, the Eagles broke the school record for made three-pointers (18) and three pointers attempted (43), and tied the mark for field goals made in a game with 45. Previous records were 16 three-pointers versus Cascade on Dec. 14, 2007; 38 attempts versus Nevada on Feb. 14, 1991; and 45 field goals made against U.S. International on Feb. 2, 1991.
Winford's 23 three-point attempts were also a Big Sky Conference record, breaking the previous mark of 17 set by Nevada's Kevin Franklin against Oregon on Dec. 16, 1989. His makes were third-most, with Portland State's Brian Towne owning the record with 12 in a 1998 game against Idaho State. As a team, Eastern was two made three-pointers from the Big Sky record of 20, but its 43 attempts were a record. The previous league mark of 41 was set by Weber State against Utah State in the 1993-94 season.
Against Idaho just seven days earlier, Winford finished with what was then a career-high with 28 points as he made 8-of-16 treys, breaking the record for attempts as well. Winford, a 2008 graduate of Bartlett High School in Anchorage, Alaska, broke the previous record of seven three-pointers set on 11 different occasions by five different Eagles. The latest was Marc Axton versus Gonzaga on Dec. 21, 2004, and the first was Greg Gaulding versus New Mexico on Feb. 1, 1987. Shannon Taylor had five of the performances during his two-year career from 1998-99.
Winford's previous career high for points was 20 set twice last season as a redshirt freshman.
Former Junior College Teammates Tremayne Johnson and Laron Griffin Contributing in Big Ways: Junior forward Tremayne Johnson scored 29 points and had nine total rebounds in back-to-back games versus Idaho State (Feb. 5) and Weber State (Feb. 12). Two games earlier against Idaho State on Jan. 29, he only scored three points but had eight rebounds, a career-high four assists and a blocked shot in EWU's 83-70 win over Idaho State. Three of his rebounds came on the offensive end as he earned praise from head coach Kirk Earlywine.
"He played well, and it shows his maturation that he can affect the game without taking a lot of shots and scoring," he said. "He got us three extra possessions because of his work on the offensive glass."
For the season, Johnson has scored in double figures 12 times, including four performances of at least 20 points. He has led Eastern in scoring five times, including a 20-point effort in a 65-51 win over Portland State on Jan. 27. He is fourth on the team with a 9.8 scoring average for the season, making 41.5 percent of his field goal attempts. He is also averaging 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots per game.
Johnson is an extremely athletic and talented 6-foot-7 forward who played one season with EWU teammate Laron Griffin at Los Angeles Southwest Junior College. Johnson attended EWU for the first time in January 2010 after completing his associate degree, but as a mid-year transfer, could not play because of NCAA rules. He was recruited by San Francisco and Arizona, but originally signed a letter of intent with the Eagles in spring 2009 and then re-signed in November 2009.
A junior, Griffin is in his second year on the floor for the Eagles, and has started 27 of 29 games. He is averaging 6.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocked shots per game. As a sophomore, he averaged 4.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, and currently has 46 career blocked shots to rank eighth in school history.
He has led the Eagles in scoring three times and rebounding on 13 occasions, with career highs of 19 points, 16 rebounds and five assists against Northwest University on Nov. 18. He also had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds against Sacramento State on Jan. 22 and his third of the season against Montana State on Feb. 24 with 12 points and 15 boards. He has a total of seven double-figure scoring performances and four in rebounding.
Johnson had by far his best game of the season in Eastern's 95-91 victory over Seattle on Dec. 15. He scored a career-high 26 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor and 9-of-10 marksmanship from the free throw line. He also had eight rebounds and four blocked shots as he responded in a big way from a three-point, one-rebound effort at San Jose State on Dec. 12.
"There was a lot of read and react basketball that took the thinking out of it for Tremayne," said Earlywine of Johnson's performance against Seattle. "He has the most difficult position to learn in all the things we are doing offensively. The (two forward positions) are dramatically different in all of our sets, and he has to learn those two spots. Seattle scrambled the game and when they did that it became read and react, and it played into Tremayne's hands."
A starter in six of Eastern's first eight games of the season, Johnson came off the bench in the victory over Seattle. One of his baskets included a high-flying, rim-rattling fast-break that caused fans to gasp in amazement. Earlywine was posed the question of whether or not Johnson was more comfortable coming off the bench than as a starter.
"I don't really care about his comfort as much as mine," laughed Earlywine, who heaped praise upon Johnson for diving on the floor for a loose ball and coming up with a steal with the Eagles leading by four with less than 40 seconds remaining. "Tremayne made an unbelievable effort to get to that loose ball. Two Seattle guys were closer to that loose ball than him, and he beat them to it and dove on it. That may be the first time he has ever dove on the floor for a loose ball in his life. I should go check with him to see if there are any broken bones or if he needs to go to the hospital because I think that's what he thinks is going to happen if he dives on the floor. But seriously, he made an unbelievable effort."
EWU-Weber State Series History (Since 1983-84): Until winning 75-59 on March 2, the Eagles had lost the last five meetings, with their last win in the series coming on Feb. 14, 2008, at home by a 69-57 score. The Eagles have won 14 of the last 33 meetings after losing nine-straight from 1992-1996.
Eastern has defeated the Wildcats three times in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament (72-53 in 2004, 62-57 in 2002 and 83-67 in 1990). Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 20-37 against Weber State (20-38 all-time). The Eagles are 14-13 in Cheney, 4-24 in Ogden and 2-0 on neutral courts versus the Wildcats since 1983-84 (4-25 in Ogden all-time).
Eastern's lone victories in Ogden came in 2006 (76-73), 2001 (81-70) and 2000 (90-78) when Eastern snapped the Wildcats' 30-game home winning streak, which at the time was the fourth longest in NCAA Division I.
Earlier This Season -- Eastern Can't Keep Up With Wildcats in 80-68 Loss: Despite playing without its star player, Weber State showed why it was the preseason favorite in the Big Sky Conference with an 80-68 victory on Feb. 12 in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Five Wildcats scored in double figures as Weber State made 9-of-14 three-point shots and pulled away in the second half to win for the fifth-straight time. The Wildcats also out-scored EWU 24-8 in the paint and out-rebounded EWU 38-27 to spoil a game in which the Eagles had only five turnovers.
Sophomore point guard Glen Dean led the Eagles with a season-high 26 points and six assists, with 14 of his points and four assists coming in the first half. Junior Tremayne Johnson, receiving just his eighth start of the season, added 14 points as he and Dean combined for 40 of EWU's 68 points.
Eastern made 13-of-27 three-pointers, but the game came down to the dead-eye shooting of Weber State, which made 49 percent from the field overall. The Wildcats entered the game ranked fifth in NCAA Division I by making 42.2 percent of its treys this season, while the Eagles entered as the Big Sky leader in three-point defense, allowing opponents to make just 32.3 during the league season thus far.
"I thought it would be a battle to see if we could guard them at the three-point line or not," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "And they shot 64 percent from the arc. So they won that battle. It's a credit to them."
Dean kept the Eagles within striking distance most of the way with 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including 6-of-9 from the three-point arc. His 26 points were three from his career high of 29 last season versus Sacramento State, and three more than his previous season high of 23 in his debut at San Jose State on Dec. 12.
There were six ties and a lead change in the first half, but it was a half of scoring runs. After Weber State jumped out to a 17-8 lead, the Eagles went on a 10-0 run as they held the Wildcats scoreless for 4:40. Dean scored four points in the run that gave EWU its first lead at 18-17 with 7:07 left in the half.
Eastern led by three at 31-28 with 3:08 remaining, but Weber State followed with an 8-0 run to end the half and take a 36-31 lead at intermission. The Eagles went the last 3:48 without a field goal.
Weber State made its first shot of the second half to take a seven-point advantage, and Eastern came no closer than one the rest of the way. The biggest blow came when Weber State went on runs of 6-0 and 5-0 to open a 71-59 lead with 5:57 to play.
"When we made a run, they reacted like an experienced team should react," Earlywine said. "They tightened things up -- they didn't turn it over, they didn't make mistakes and they got good shots. Then they guarded us really well."
MORE SEASON NOTES
Eastern Finds Solution to Free Throw Discrepancy and Second-Half Letdowns: Having lost three-straight games after owning second-half leads, EWU found a way to improve upon its record when leading or tied at halftime -- trail at halftime.
In its 16 conference games this season, Eastern had a 10-point advantage in the first half, but was out-scored by 38 in the second half. The pattern of losing leads didn't apply on Feb. 26 against Montana when EWU rallied from a 22-17 halftime deficit win 59-55 in overtime. And for a change, Eastern wasn't out-scored from the free throw line either, making 8-of-14 compared to 8-of-10 for the Grizzlies. The following game, a 75-59 upset at Weber State on March 2, the Eagles tried but didn't lose a halftime lead for a change. Eastern led by 18 at halftime, allowed the Wildcats to pull within three in the second half, then led by 20 in the final minutes of the 16-point triumph.
On Feb. 24 in a 60-56 loss to Montana State, Eastern led 34-29 at halftime and by as many as 10 in the second half. But the Eagles were out-scored 25-11 down the stretch and a total of 31-22 in the second half. The Bobcats made 47 percent of their shots after intermission, as well as 11-of-15 free throws. In their previous game, a 68-59 home loss to Cal State Northridge, the Eagles led 30-26 at halftime and then were out-scored 42-29 in the second half as the Matadors made 13-of-21 shots from the field for 62 percent and 14-of-18 free throws for 78 percent. One game earlier in an 83-74 loss at Northern Arizona on Feb. 16, Eastern built an 18-point lead in the first half and a 15-point advantage early in the second half. But the Lumberjacks out-scored EWU 56-35 in the second half to spoil a career-high 31-point night by Glen Dean.
It was in the earlier meeting with MSU that the all-too familiar pattern began. Eastern was out-scored 48-33 in the second half of the 71-59 loss after leading 26-23 at intermission.
A common denominator in EWU's recent losses has been free throw shooting. Eastern was out-scored by seven free throws versus MSU and 16 against Cal State Northridge, and in its previous six league games, had been outscored by an average of 10 per game. The biggest discrepancy came at Northern Colorado on Feb. 3 when EWU was just 4-of-7 from the line compared to 28-of-33 for the Bears.
In its first 14 league games, Eastern was out-scored 276-192 at the line and had been whistled for 44 more fouls. In its last two games -- both victories -- Eastern had a 28-17 free throw advantage and was whistled for 14 fewer fouls.
Taking Care of the Ball: One of the pet peeves of Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine is "giving away possessions," and the Eagles did a splendid job of taking care of the ball in a four-game stretch in February. Eastern had just 34 total turnovers those four games, including five against Weber State (Feb. 12), seven versus Idaho State (Feb. 5) and eight at Northern Arizona (Feb. 16). In their last 13 games, the Eagles are averaging only 10.9 turnovers per game (total of 142) with five performances with less than 10. In EWU's first 16 games of the season, the Eagles averaged 16.1 and had no performances in single digits.
Road Skid Ends at 18: A 69-67 victory at Idaho State on Feb. 5 snapped EWU's losing streak at 18 games, including 12 games this year and six to end the 2009-10 season. The last time Eastern had tasted victory on the road was a year ago on Jan. 10, 2010, when Glen Dean made a game-winning, six-foot running bank shot with 3.8 seconds to play in a 75-73 victory at Montana State.
Shooting Turnarounds at Home: Eastern used second-half explosions to beat Portland State 65-51 and Idaho State 83-70 in back-to-back home games on Jan. 27 and 29, respectively. The Eagles had a collective 96-62 advantage after intermission in those victories, compared to a 59-52 deficit in the first half as EWU trailed at halftime of both games.
The Eagles nearly doubled their shooting percentages from the first half to the second. Before intermission, the Eagles made just 35 percent from the field overall (20-of-57) and 25 percent from the three-point arc (6-of-24). After halftime, Eastern made a sizzling 63 percent (34-of-54), including 48 percent from the three-point stripe (11-of-23).
Against PSU, the Eagles made only 29 percent in the first half to fall behind 26-22 at intermission, but exploded for 60 percent shooting in the second half to out-score the Vikings 43-25 and cruise to the huge 14-point win.
Eastern trailed 33-30 at halftime against Idaho State, but made 9-of-12 three-pointers in the second half to out-score the Bengals 53-37 after intermission. Eastern made 75 percent of its shots in the second half after making only 33 percent in the first half. Eastern finished 13-of-24 from three-point range for 54 percent, slightly better than the team's 52.8 percent shooting night overall that was the second-best of the season and the best against a NCAA Division I opponent.
The Point-Less Eagles: The Eagles played four of its first seven games without the availability of both point guards -- Glen Dean and Cliff Colimon.
Colimon had injured the ankle earlier in the year and missed EWU's opener against San Jose State, then played three games before injuring it again in practice two days after EWU lost at Boise State on Nov. 24. Dean had a stress fracture in his foot and missed the first seven games after earning Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year accolades in the 2009-10 season when he averaged 12.2 points and 4.4 assists per game.
"The only analogy I can think of is trying to play a football without a quarterback," said Earlywine. "If all your quarterbacks get hurt and you have to all of the sudden throw another player from another position in there, he has to be able to recognize coverages, audible, change plays, call the pass protection and those types of things. Chances are it's going to be a disaster."
Eastern averaged 17.9 turnovers per game in their first seven games, including eight in the first half against Idaho in which the Eagles fell behind at intermission 28-22. The lack of an experienced point guard was particularly noticeable in a 66-60 exhibition loss to Montana State-Billings on Nov. 8 as Eastern had only four assists and made just 15-of-60 shots from the field. The Eagles had 12 assists and made 37 percent from the field in a 67-60 loss against San Jose State, but had 12 of their 17 turnovers in the second half after leading 36-33 at intermission.
Colimon, a transfer from Eastern Utah Junior College, started and played Eastern's next three games until the loss to Idaho. He averaged 12.0 points and 2.1 assists in the three games he was able to play during that stretch in an average of 20.0 minutes per game. Because of the absence of a point guard for the most part this season, guard Jeffrey Forbes averaged 35.1 minutes per game in those first seven games. He and guard Kevin Winford (29.3 minutes per game in that span) played all 40 minutes against Idaho, and Forbes also played all 40 versus Gonzaga on Nov. 30.
Good Timing of Bad Situation: Eastern's injuries came at an ideal time, with 11 days between NCAA Division I games. Eastern lost to Gonzaga 86-57 on Nov. 30, and didn't play another DI opponent until San Jose State on Dec. 12. In between, Eastern defeated New Hope -- a member of the National Christian College Athletic Association -- 112-41 and took four days off from practicing for final exams at Eastern.
"When we made the schedule, we had no way of knowing we were going to have three of our top six or seven guys sitting on the bench when final exams rolled around," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "Having them sidelined with injuries came at a perfect time for us. In essence, we took four days completely off while our players took care of their school work, and that certainly helped us from a health perspective."
For The Second-Straight Season, Eagles Spend First Month Dealing with Injuries: Eastern got off to a rocky start on the injury front when practices started in mid-October for the 2010-11 season. Just a few days into practice, Eastern lost 2009-10 Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year Glen Dean due to a stress fracture in his left foot. Dean averaged 12.2 points and 4.4 assists a year ago. He was finally cleared to practice and play on Dec. 8.
Early practices sidelined true freshman Geoffrey Allen, and he was feared lost for the season with what was thought to be a broken hand. But once swelling and bruising subsided, the injury wasn't as severe as first thought and he returned to practice on Nov. 10. He made his debut against San Jose, finishing with three points, three rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes of action. The son of former UCLA and NBA standout Lucius Allen, he is from Los Angeles, Calif., and is a 2010 graduate of Pacific Hills High School
Also, freshman Carter Warnock (who is now redshirting) missed two weeks with a severe case of pink eye, and did not play in EWU's exhibition opener versus Seattle Pacific. Point guard Cliff Colimon missed the second exhibition with a sprained ankle suffered on Nov. 7, and did not play in the season opener against San Jose. He hurt it again in a practice and missed three games from Nov. 27 to Dec. 4. Freshman walk-on redshirt Sean Fischer has a cartilage tear in his shoulder and has yet to make his first appearance in an Eagle uniform.
Actually, the rash of injuries started the week prior to practices starting when men's basketball athletic trainer Donald Sims suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon, then assistant coach Jamie Matthews spent time in the hospital with a staph infection near his eye.
Besides injuries in early practices to Dean and Allen, returnee Laron Griffin and Colimon both suffered minor injuries within seconds of each other during the same drill. Griffin took an elbow to his head and Colimon was poked in the eye. Newcomer Rashano McRae suffered from back spasms in the opening practices and has missed practice time and one exhibition, then a concussion forced him to miss the same three games Colimon missed from Nov. 27 to Dec. 4.
Also, newcomer Willie Hankins was not cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse to practice until Dec. 9 and is still unable to play in games, further thinning further Earlywine's roster. At one point after the first weekend of practices, Earlywine remarked, "I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
A year ago, the Eagles spent the first month of the season dealing with injuries to five Eagles -- Gary Gibson (knees), Brandon Moore (foot and ankle), Abebe Demissie (hamstring), Kevin Winford (concussion) and Matthew Brunell (ankle). The missed time impacted Eastern not only in games, but in practice.
Eagles Receiving High Marks Academically: Eastern has a high-achieving team academically, with a team grade point average of over 3.0 in each term a year ago. Glen Dean, Jeffrey Forbes and Kevin Winford were all selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic Team, as all three had accumulative GPAs of 3.23 and above through the 2009-10 academic year.
Winford, in fact, is Eastern's nominee this winter for Capital One Academic All-America honors as selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Through fall quarter 2011, Winford had a 3.44 grade point average as an interdisciplinary studies major in liberal arts. The minimum GPA to be nominated is 3.0. He will be selected to the Big Sky Conference All-Academic team for the second time this winter.
Winford, Dean and Forbes are joined by several other recruits with impressive academic credentials, including a 4.0 high school GPA by Carter Warnock and 3.5 and above accumulative GPAs for Jaylen Henry and Geoffrey Allen. Cliff Ederaine expects to major in pre-med in hopes of becoming a doctor.
"That's an overlying theme with this year's incoming class of high school players and several others," said head coach Kirk Earlywine. "Three of our incoming freshmen are 3.5 students or higher, they come from good families and they are high-character kids. We want student-athletes who want to get a degree and are also good basketball players, and many of our student-athletes fall into those categories."
Eagles May Be The Least Experienced Team in NCAA Division I: Eastern has no seniors on its 2010-11 roster, and features a quartet of returning letter winners from last year's team that finished 9-21 overall and 5-11 in the Big Sky Conference. In preliminary results from a recent survey of NCAA Division I teams, no other school has less NCAA Division I experience than the Eagles, whose four returnees have lettered one year each.
Pair of Eagles Return to Puget Sound: Eagles Glen Dean and Jeffrey Forbes returned to the Puget Sound area when Eastern played at Washington on Nov. 16 and Jan. 6 when the Eagles played at Seattle.
Dean is a 2008 graduate of Roosevelt High School in Seattle, and Forbes is a 2009 graduate of Federal Way (Wash.) High School. Forbes helped Federal Way win the WIAA State 4A Championship in 2009.
Weber State Picked as the Team to Beat in League Race: The Eagles have been picked to finish sixth in the Big Sky Conference in both the media and coaches polls. Weber State, which has gone 28-4 in the BSC over the last two seasons and is the two-time defending league champion, is picked first in both polls. However, 2009-10 Big Sky MVP Damian Lillard was lost for the season with a foot injury before league play began.
"Weber State had kind of been the dominant team in the league the last three or four years, and the question we asked ourselves is 'what do we have to do to catch them and beat them?'" said Earlywine. "We can't sit back and hope they digress -- we have to go catch them."
"What we have to understand as a program is that the league is not going to back up -- we are going to have to catch them. In order to do that, the players in the program have to improve themselves -- not only in their skill level but also in their conditioning and strength. On top of that, we have to replace our five seniors with five players who are ultimately better. That's not a knock against those seniors, but that's just what we have to do to get better. You improve the players in your program and you go get better players to replace those who leave. That's what we are trying to do."
Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern lost to Washington 98-72 on Nov. 16 and 86-57 to Gonzaga on Nov. 30 in EWU's most recent games against nationally-ranked teams. Washington was ranked 17th by Associated Press and 15th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, and Gonzaga was 24th by the coaches.
Last year, the Eagles fell 94-52 to Gonzaga on Dec. 28, 2009, in EWU's most recent game against a nationally-ranked foe. The Bulldogs were ranked 22nd by ESPN/USA Today, but were just out of the top 25 at No. 26 by Associated Press. The 2008-09 season was the first time since 2002-03 that Eastern did not play a nationally-ranked team. The Eagles played 12 such games in the five seasons before that.
Eastern is 1-17 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year before. Seven of the games came under former head coach Mike Burns and five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.
11/30/10 vs. #24 (ESPN/USA Today) Gonzaga - L, 57-86
11/16/10 vs. #17 Washington - L, 72-98
12/28/09 vs. #22 (ESPN/USA Today) Gonzaga - L, 52-94
12/5/07 vs. #3 Kansas - L, 47-85
11/9/07 vs. #10 Washington State - L, 41-68
12/15/06 vs. #22 Oregon - L, 74-100
11/24/06 vs. #16 Washington - L, 83-90
12/19/05 vs. #8 Gonzaga - L, 65-75
12/16/05 vs. #11 Washington - L, 74-91
12/28/04 vs. #14 Arizona - L, 45-79
12/21/04 vs. #13 Gonzaga - L, 70-83
12/5/04 vs. #14 Washington - L, 56-89
3/19/04 vs. #3 Oklahoma State - L, 56-75
12/31/03 vs. #16 Gonzaga - L, 49-70
11/21/03 vs. #14 Oklahoma - L, 59-69
11/15/01 vs. #10 St. Joseph's - W, 68-67
11/25/00 vs. #4 Michigan State - L, 61-83
1/21/85 vs. #10 DePaul - L, 50-72