January 2, 2009

Eastern Resumes Big Sky Play With 72-49 Loss

Jan. 2, 2009

Final Stats

A long road trip yielded a long game for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team Friday (Jan. 2) at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz.

The Eagles suffered through a 36 percent shooting night while Northern Arizona made 58 percent as the Lumberjacks defeated EWU 72-49 in the second Big Sky Conference game of the season for both teams.

Northern Arizona used a 12-2 run in the second half to open a double-digit lead as the Eagles scored only 17 points after halftime on 5-of-23 shooting for 22 percent. Eastern went the final 7:57 of the game without a field goal while the Lumberjacks scored 36 points in each half.

Eastern is now 1-1 in Big Sky play, and lost for the fifth time in their last six outings to fall to 7-7 this season after a 6-2 start. The Eagles are now 2-6 on the road and 5-1 at home as they played the second of a three-game, seven-day road trip.

Eastern concludes the road stretch with Sunday’s (Jan. 4) Big Sky game at Sacramento State, which starts at 2:05 p.m. Pacific (not 7:05 p.m. as listed on EWU schedules). Sacramento State took a 1-12 record into it game Friday against Big Sky favorite Portland State.

Junior Benny Valentine led the Eagles with 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting and Milan Stanojevic added 11 on 4-of-6 shooting. Brandon Moore chipped in six points and five rebounds, but EWU was out-rebounded 33-26 after having a commanding 83-57 advantage in that statistic in its last two games.

Northern Arizona snapped a four-game losing streak as it improved to 1-1 in the league and 4-9 overall. The Lumberjacks are now 4-1 at home and 0-8 on opponent courts.

The Lumberjacks also had just 14 turnovers compared to 15 for the Eagles. Northern Arizona had entered Friday’s game as the top-shooting team in the league, making 47.0 percent of its field goals. The efficient Lumberjacks are also tops in the league in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio.

There were six ties and four lead changes early in the game as Eastern scored seven-straight points to take a 22-20 lead. The Eagles trailed 36-32 at halftime, but overcame a 3-of-13 shooting start to make 10 of their last 14 to finish at 48 percent in the first half (13-of-27).

But in the second half, the Eagles made three of their first five shots before going cold for the rest of the game. The Eagles trailed just 42-40 when the Lumberjacks went on a 12-2 run to take 54-42 lead with 11:45 left.

Eastern could come no closer than 11 the rest of the way as the Eagles closed the game by making just two of their last 18 shots in the game. Northern Arizona’s largest lead was 23 points.

Eastern’s next home game is Jan. 8 versus Idaho State. Eastern opened the league season with a 61-55 victory over Montana State on Dec. 6, which represents EWU’s last win over a NCAA Division I opponent.

The Eagles were trying to put behind them a skid of four losses in their last five outings, with the lone victory in that span a three-point win over a lower division foe. Although the suddenly cold-shooting Eagles have made just 38 percent of their shots from the field in their last three games, they can take solace in the fact they made only 38 percent against MSU and still prevailed.

Eastern was coming off a 32-percent effort in a 57-48 loss to Boise State on Dec. 29 in which the Eagles held the Broncos to 42 percent shooting of their own. However, that shooting difference and a 15-6 advantage in free throws was too much to overcome for EWU, which made only 6-of-14 charity shots in the game but out-rebounded BSU 43-32.

Aside from a 90-point effort against Evergreen State, the last four games have been punctuated by long scoring dry spells for EWU. Against NAU, the Eagles went the final 7:57 without a field goal as it was out-scored 14-4 in that stretch. The Eagles went 9:11 without a point against Boise State, and on Dec. 20 versus Washington, Eastern had a stretch of 8:22 without a field goal and an additional 5:03 stretch without a point.

En route to snapping a three-game losing streak, Eastern’s last win was a 90-87 victory on Dec. 22 over Evergreen State, which entered the game 7-2 and was the 16th-ranked team in NAIA Division II. The Geoducks were coming off an 82-68 win over that division’s No. 1 ranked team and defending national champion, Oregon Tech.

Eastern made-up for Evergreen State’s 66 percent shooting with a dominating 40-25 rebounding advantage. Eastern had 17 offensive rebounds to none for Evergreen State, leading to a 25-0 advantage in second chance points. In the loss to Boise State, Eastern had 19 offensive boards leading to 15 second-chance points. Thus, in those two games combined, Eastern had out-rebounded opponents 83-57 with 36 offensive rebounds and 32 second-chance points.

The Evergreen State game concluded a three-game stretch in a five-day span to end EWU’s pre-Christmas schedule. Before an 83-50 loss to the Huskies on Dec. 20, EWU fell to Missouri-Kansas City 68-61 on Dec. 18. Eastern started the three-game skid with a 75-55 loss at Hawaii on Dec. 13.

Eastern’s 6-2 record after the first eight games was its best start since the 2002-03 season when EWU used a four-game winning streak to improve to 7-2. Eastern was unable to duplicate that 7-2 start by losing at Hawaii, but Eastern is still 1-0 in the Big Sky after a 66-51 victory against Montana State on Dec. 6 that represents the earliest Big Sky start in EWU history.

Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine is in his second season at the helm after leading the Eagles to an 11-19 record overall and 6-10 Big Sky Conference mark last season. Season tickets, including several packages with selected games, are now on sale. Information is available at http://WWW.GOEAGS.COM.

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