Furious Rally Can't Lift Eastern Past Weber State

Jan. 11, 2009

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As much as it tried, the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team couldn’t climb out of the hole it dug for itself.

Weber State built a 17-point second-half lead and held off a late rally by the Eagles for a 77-69 victory Sunday (Jan. 11) in an early-season Big Sky Conference men’s basketball showdown at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Eastern used runs of 8-0 and 7-0 in the final nine minutes to make the game close, but the Eagles fell to 3-2 in the conference and 9-8 overall. Benny Valentine led the Eagles with 20 points in a losing effort as Weber State improved to 3-0 in the league and 9-7 overall.

In the end, the Eagles couldn’t overcome a nearly five minute stretch in the first half when they went scoreless after a promising start. Eastern made just two of its last 14 shots in the first half after making nine of its first 15.

"I can go on down the list of the good shots we had that we didn't make," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine, whose team finished the game making 38 percent of its shots from the field (23-of-60). "We dropped our heads and didn't guard. That’s when you've got to be tougher. You've got to be more resolute and not to allow the other team to score when things aren't going well on offense, and we didn't do that."

The loss spoiled the homecoming for former Eagle and current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey, who was on hand to have his jersey retired at halftime. A crowd of 2,451 attended the game, and Stuckey remained on the floor for more than an hour after the game to sign autographs. Stuckey is averaging 13.5 points and 5.0 assists per game as the starting point guard for the Pistons.

Guard Adris DeLeon and Mark Dunn each had 14 points for the Eagles, with Dunn adding a season-high nine rebounds. Dunn’s scoring output was also his season high, but he made only 5-of-13 shots. DeLeon made 6-of-13 and Valentine made 7-of-16, but Milan Stanojevic was just 2-of-8 for five points after scoring 20 in his last outing.

Eastern’s 6-foot-9 starting center, Brandon Moore, played just 10 minutes before fouling out. He did not attempt a shot but made all four of his free throws to go along with five rebounds. He entered the game with averages of 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game to rank 13th and third, respectively, in the Big Sky.

"It was huge," said Earlywine of Moore’s foul trouble. "He played 34 minutes on Thursday night against Idaho State without a foul and today he plays 10 minutes and fouls out. It jeopardizes our ability to play in the post, so then we take a lot more three-pointers."

Both the Eagles and Wildcats had entered the game coming off impressive wins and riding two-game winning streaks The Eagles used a late surge to hold-off Idaho State 71-65 on Thursday (Jan. 8) while the Wildcats recorded an 80-66 victory over league favorite Portland State.

The Eagles are now 3-6 on the road this season and 6-2 at home. The Wildcats, who entered the weekend with just one victory on an opponent home court, are now 3-4 on the road, 2-2 at neutral sites and 4-1 at home.

Earlywine was convinced that the Wildcats are a legitimate contender to unseat Portland State for the league title. The Vikings are the defending regular season and tournament champion, and was picked to repeat by the league’s head coaches and media.

"(Weber State) got beat by six at Arizona with Arizona coming off big wins," he said. "And they beat Portland State by double digits. They are very good -- they have a lot of good pieces to the puzzle."

Although the Eagles finished with a 32-24 advantage in points in the paint, Eastern made only 5-of-23 three pointers for 22 percent.

"We shouldn't be taking 40-45 percent of our shots from the arc," said Earlywine. "Mark (Dunn) struggled a little bit to score at the post. Brandon (Moore) is our primary low-post scoring option. When he sits on the bench for 30 of the 40 minutes, it makes it pretty difficult for us."

Eastern fell behind early 11-6, but needed less than five minutes to turn that into an eight-point advantage with a 14-4 run. DeLeon scored nine of his points during that stretch as Eastern took a 23-15 lead.

Later, while leading 25-22, the Eagles went 4:54 without scoring as Weber State took the lead for good at 32-25.

Weber State used runs of 7-0 and 10-2 to build its 17-point lead in the second half, taking a 63-46 advantage with 8:50 left. Despite EWU’s 8-0 run, the Wildcats still led 68-58 with four minutes to play when Eastern made its final move.

Valentine scored five-straight EWU points, then Dunn made a rebound basket to cut the lead to 68-65 with 2:32 to play. But Weber State’s Daviin Davis had a blocked shot and a dunk in a 30-second span that helped WSU regain a six-point advantage. Weber State made its last six free throws to seal the win.

Three Wildcats scored in double figures, led by Kellen McCoy’s 21 and Nick Hansen’s 19. Steve Panos made 9-of-10 free throws to finish with 17 points as Weber State finished the game 29-of-37 at the line for 78 percent to go along with a 45-percent shooting performance.

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