Jan. 3, 2008
Northern Arizona grabbed a key rebound in the final seconds to spoil Eastern Washington University's rally from a 20-point deficit as the Eagles fell to the Lumberjacks 79-75 in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Thursday (Jan. 3) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Behind a career-high 21 points by Milan Stanojevic and three other players in double figures, Eastern rallied from a 20-point deficit in the second half. Eastern trailed by just three and forced NAU to miss a long shot, but Kyle Landry grabbed the rebound after it bounced off several players. He was immediately fouled and sank one free throw with 7.5 seconds left to secure the victory in an early-season battle for first place in the league standings.
"What we did in the first half and early in the second half so far overshadows that home run effort the last five minutes," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine, "that I can't even be pleased."
The Lumberjacks and Eagles both entered the game 1-0 in the conference after picking-up league victories during the holidays. The Eagles are 6-10 overall after the loss, having defeated Portland State 58-57 on Dec. 22. Northern Arizona, boasting the league's top overall record now at 10-5, defeated Northern Colorado 86-70 on Dec. 30.
On Saturday (Jan. 5) at 7:05 p.m., Eastern closes its six-game homestand by hosting Sacramento State. The Hornets are 0-2 in league play after losing 83-58 Thursday at Portland State and falling to UNC 74-60 on Dec. 28. The Hornets are now 2-10 overall.
"This one is over -- we can't let the hangover from this one cost us one on Saturday," said Earlywine. "The coaching staff will look at this one and see what adjustments need to be made for Sacramento State."
Stanojevic made 7-of-11 shots from the field, including 5-of-9 three-pointers. He scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first half, but the rest of the team made just 7-of-24 as the Eagles fell behind 42-29 at halftime. Eastern out-scored NAU 46-37 in the second half, including 41-26 in the last 15:04 and 30-17 in the final 9:50.
Adris DeLeon came off the bench to score 15 points, including 12 in the second half, to go along with four assists. Kellen Williams chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds and Gary Gibson also contributed 11 points -- all in the second half.
Eastern made only 38 percent of its shots in the first half when it also had 10 turnovers and fell behind 10-0. But the Eagles made 52 percent in the second half to finish at 44 percent for the game. Northern Arizona finished at 55 percent, including 60 percent in the first half.
Landry led NAU with 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and 8-of-12 free throws. He also had seven rebounds and three steals. Point guard Josh Wilson added 14 points and four assists.
"Brandon Moore did a pretty good job of guarding (Landry), unfortunately, he was in foul trouble," said Earlywine of his 6-foot-9 post, who played just 17 minutes before fouling out. "That, the 10-0 start and our turnovers were the story of the game."
"When Brandon is in foul trouble we have a very limited post game so we need to make shots on the perimeter and we didn't do that," he added. "We have been shooting extra but we still didn't shoot well the first half even though we had open looks."
Northern Arizona jumped out to a 10-0 lead and Eastern came no closer than seven the rest of the half. In fact, Eastern came no closer than seven until there was just 1:08 left in the game.
"I just got done telling our guys you can't come out and turn the ball over 10 times in the first half and spot them a 10 point lead just because you are not ready to play," Earlywine said. "You especially cannot do it against a team as good as Northern Arizona."
The Lumberjacks out-scored EWU 9-2 to start the second half and open a 51-31 advantage. But Eastern used a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 11. NAU re-gained a 17-point advantage before the Eagles made their final surge.
A 15-4 run cut the lead to six with 6:06 remaining, then Eastern took advantage of four missed NAU free throws down the stretch. Eastern went on an 8-1 run and cut the lead to 78-75 with 48 seconds left on a three-pointer by Gibson, but NAU's offensive rebound -- just its sixth of the game -- was the dagger.
"I thought switching to the zone there at the end would bother Northern Arizona and it did," said Earlywine. "Every defensive possession has to conclude with a rebound and we didn't finish the possession."
Northern Arizona entered the game featuring the league's top shooting (.476) team and ranks second in the league in scoring (73.4).
Northern Arizona was picked to finish fourth in the league standings by both the coaches and media, while Eastern was selected to finish ninth by the media and eighth by the coaches. Sac State was selected seventh by the media and ninth by the coaches.
The Hornets and Eagles both lost to Santa Clara at home -- Eastern by a 66-57 margin on Nov. 29 and Sac State by a 77-65 score four days earlier. The only victories thus far for the Hornets were over Simpson (104-71 on Nov. 12) and William Jessup (72-54 on Dec. 4).
Entering the PSU game, Loren Leath ranked third in the Big Sky in scoring (16.1) and is first in three-pointers made per game (2.8). Vinnie McGhee leads the league in assists (6.2) and Justin Williams is first in blocked shots (1.4) and second in steals (1.9).
The Hornets are last in scoring defense (77.6) and field goal shooting (.493), but lead the league in turnover margin (+1.55) and steals (9.3). Sac State forces an average of 19.5 turnovers per game -- the best mark in the league by far (2 1/2 better than Northern Colorado and more than five better than EWU).