Zone Gives Eastern Fits in 78-65 Loss

Jan. 11, 2007

Final Stats

Pocatello, Idaho -

For the third time in three tries thus far, Idaho State was in the zone Thursday (Jan. 11) in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game against Eastern Washington at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.

And the Bengals will be sure to stay there after the Eagles became the third victim of ISU's zone defense in a 78-65 loss that keeps Idaho State on top of the league standings.

Eastern had season lows for points, field goal percentage overall (20-of-52 for 39 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (6-of-29 for 21 percent) as the Eagles fell to 2-3 in the league and 8-9 overall. The Bengals evened their record at 8-8 under first-year head coach Joe O'Brien.

Weber State and Sacramento State were ISU's first two league victims last week, and in three games thus far ISU opponents have averaged just 59.3 points and made only 37 percent of their shots against the Bengals. Those three opponents have made just 23-of-91 treys for a measly 25 percent.

"That's why they play that zone," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns, whose team concludes a four-game road stretch with a game at Portland State Saturday at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time. "We had some opportunities to score out there and had shots we usually make. It's just unfortunate we didn't."

Eastern sophomore Rodney Stuckey led the Eagles with 17 points, five points and three steals, but he was held to six points less than his season average entering the game of 23.3 that ranked sixth in NCAA Division I. He missed all five of his three-point attempts in finishing the game 6-of-13 from the field, and also had six turnovers.

As a team, Eastern was held to 21 points less than its season average of 86.4 points per game. Its previous low in a game came in a 91-68 loss at Santa Clara exactly a month ago on Dec. 11. Eastern entered the ISU game ranked fifth nationally in scoring and was 25th in field goal percentage (.492).

The Bengals used runs of 6-0 and 11-0 to open an early 32-14 lead with 4:53 to play in the first half. Idaho State led by as many as 19 points in the first half before settling for a 36-23 lead at halftime. In the second half, both teams scored 42 points.

"In the second half we were aggressive against their zone and tried to attack it with balance and the pass inside," said Burns. "In the first half we were too passive and we settled. If you are taking jump shots and they are going in, then you will stretch the zone and can drive it at them. But they were just daring us to shoot it. We had to find a way to shoehorn it into the middle and we were able to do that. But we came up a little short."

Eastern cut the lead to six on a basket by Stuckey with 11:15 to play in the game, but the Bengals went on a 6-2 run to re-open a 10-point bulge. Eastern was able to cut it to single digits only four times after that and never any less than eight.

"We had momentum on our side and we had a couple of possessions that could cut into that lead even more," said Burns. "But we couldn't knock one down and we also had a turnover at that time. When you get down like we did, your margin for error is very small. You have to play efficient basketball. For a few minutes we came close to that, but you have to make a lot of shots in that situation."

Besides Stuckey's 17 points, Marcus Hinton came off the bench to score 13 points on perfect 10-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. Paul Butorac added 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds, but made just 3-of-7 shots from the floor and 4-of-9 free throws.

Stuckey scored 11 of his points in the second half.

"We tried to put him in the middle of the zone in the second half," explained Burns. "He's good there because he's so quick and so strong, That kind of got him going a little bit offensively and helped us out."

Idaho State had four players score in double figures, led by the 18 points off the bench by Matt Stucki. The Bengals out-rebounded Eastern 34-29 and made 47 percent of their shots from the field. David Schroeder and Akbar Abdul-Ahad had 17 and 16 points, respectively.

"We like to push the pace of the game and stay in man-to-man and play aggressively," said Burns. "But tonight we had trouble stopping them inside, and we had trouble stopping Schroeder and Akbar as well. We felt it we went to the zone we could force them to take some perimeter shots and our guys did a pretty good job for the most part of rebounding out of it. It definitely helped but it didn't help enough."

The Eagles are in the midst of a stretch in which eight of 10 games are on the road. After hosting Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado on Jan. 18 and 20, respectively, Eastern returns to the road for four-straight games. Eastern's final four conference games are at home at Reese Court in February, sandwiched around a non-conference road game as part of the ESPN Bracket Buster weekend.

Portland State is 11-7 overall and is also 2-3 in the league after falling at Weber State 75-65 on Wednesday. Four players, including guards Dupree Lucas and Deonte Huff, average at least 9.7 points per game. Lucas averages 11.6 points and has scored 53 points in his last two games.

"They are quick and athletic and want to play with some pace," said Burns. "So that will be a challenge for us defensively. But offensively, it's what we want to do. We have to try to win all of our games at home and split them on the road. We have to find a way get that win down at Portland State and get a split on this road stretch."

Last year Eastern was 3-0 versus PSU, including an 81-75 victory over the Vikings in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

Eastern is now 2-8 away from home this season, including last week's 88-87 win at Northern Colorado and an 87-66 romp at Portland on Dec. 9. Among Eastern's road losses are setbacks to Gonzaga, UNLV, Washington, Santa Clara and Oregon -- all with at least nine wins each in non-league play. Three of those teams are or have been nationally ranked.

Last year the Eagles were 6-1 at home in the Big Sky and were 3-4 on the road to finish third in the league at 9-5.

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