January 5, 2008

Eastern Back in Big Sky Lead

Jan. 5, 2008

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Senior Kellen Williams scored 22 points, had nine rebounds and dished out a career-high seven assists as Eastern Washington University defeated Sacramento State 76-52 in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Saturday (Jan. 5) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles are now 7-10 overall and 2-1 in the Big Sky Conference as they closed a six-game homestand with a 4-2 mark. Eastern is tied in the league standings with Portland State and Northern Arizona at 2-1, as well as 1-0 Montana State and Idaho State.

Sacramento State fell to 2-11 overall and 0-3 in the conference with its fifth-straight loss. Eastern has now defeated the Hornets 12-straight times at Reese Court, and has won 13 of the last 16 meetings.

Eastern jumped out to a quick 25-12 lead and led by no less than eight the rest of the way. The Eagles, who had 24 assists on 29 field goals, led by as many as 31 in the second half.

"Sacramento State does some things defensively with their quickness that makes it very tough to move the ball," said first-year Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "I thought that our strength with the ball, our alertness and our ball movement were the best we've had all year. I wasn't happy with our eight turnovers in the second half, but that's going to happen."

The Eagles had only 14 turnovers against a team averaging 20 forced turnovers per game.

"I told our guys coming into the game our ability to guard dribble penetration and to take care of the ball were going to be the determining factors in the game," added Earlywine. "That turned out to be true."

Williams hit 10-of-16 shots from the field in leading Eastern in scoring for the fifth time this season and rebounding in the 16th game, including the last 13. His seven assists were three better than his previous career high of four set on two occasions in his 74-game career.

"I don't know what to say that I haven't already said about Kellen," said Earlywine. "He just keeps doing it. I am really happy that he is playing for Eastern Washington."

Milan Stanojevic, coming off a career-high 21-point effort in a loss against Northern Arizona on Thursday (Jan. 3), had 12 points and three steals for the Eagles. Brandon Moore, who made his first start since Nov. 12, made 6-of-7 shots from the field to finish with 12 points and seven rebounds.

Marcus Hinton chipped in nine points and six rebounds, and Adris DeLeon had six points, four rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Gary Gibson chipped in six assists and five points.

Entering the EWU game, Loren Leath ranked fourth in the Big Sky in scoring (15.8) and was first in three-pointers made per game (2.7). Vinnie McGhee led the league in assists (6.0) and Justin Williams was first in blocked shots (1.3) and second in steals (1.8).

But Leath finished with just five points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field and McGhee did not have any assists. Williams had one block and no steals. The only Hornet in double figures was Justin Eller with 10, and he needed a three-point play with 10 seconds left to accomplish that feat.

Slowing down Leith was a key to the game, according to Earlywine.

"We made a mistake on an inbound play that gave him a three that I wasn't happy about," he said. "He is the kind of guy that can get it going. When he gets an easy bucket he can string together three or four in a row so we wanted to make sure we didn't give him one. We didn't until the game was out of reach."

The Hornets were last in scoring defense (78.1) and second-to-last in field goal shooting (.407) entering the game, just ahead of EWU in last (.390). Sac State made just 36 percent of its shots against the Eagles, who made 50 percent. It was just the third time this season Eastern has shot 47 percent or better.

Sac State also entered the game leading the league in turnover margin (+1.42) and steals (9.3). Sac State forces an average of 19.0 turnovers per game -- the best mark in the league by far (nearly two better than Northern Colorado and 5 1/2 better than EWU).

But Eastern had only 14 turnovers compared to the 20 of the Hornets. Eastern also had a 35-28 rebounding advantage.

Earlier this season, 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).

Now, it's back on the road for the Eastern, including a homecoming for Earlywine.

Eastern plays at Idaho State (4-10 overall) on Thursday (Jan. 10) before playing at Weber State (5-7 overall) on Saturday (Jan. 12). Earlywine spent seven seasons as an assistant under Joe Cravens at Weber State from 1999-2006, helping the Wildcats to a 116-88 record overall and 58-44 Big Sky Conference mark. Included was a 26-6 overall mark and perfect 14-0 Big Sky record in 2002-03 when Weber State advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

"We're 2-1 right now -- I'll take it at this point," said Earlywine. "Now we have a big challenge to prove that we can go win a conference game on the road. That's not always an easy thing to do in this league. For us to take the next step as a team, the challenge is to go win a conference road game."

 

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