January 13, 2007

Foursome Help Eagles Beat Vikings 88-70

Jan. 13, 2007

Final Stats

Portland, Ore. -

It was just what the Eagles needed heading into a mini-homestand.

Sophomore Rodney Stuckey had 24 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocked shots as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team earned a split on a four-game road stretch with a surprisingly easy 88-70 victory over Portland State Saturday (Jan. 13) at the Stott Center in Portland, Ore.

Avoiding a fourth Big Sky Conference men's basketball loss this early in the season was on the minds of both the Eagles and Vikings. With Stuckey and three other players combining for 76 points, relief is what the Eagles received. The Eagles are now 3-3 in the league and 9-9 overall while PSU fell to 2-4 in the conference and 11-8 overall.

"It's early for those sort of games, but if it wasn't a must-win game it was as close as there ever was," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "Whichever team won today was going to take a little bit of momentum into next weekend. We took care of splitting on the road, which was the plan. If we can find a way to sweep one of these road weekends, we'll be right where we need to be."

Last Jan. 14, Eastern defeated the Vikings 87-70 in Portland to start what is now a four-game winning streak over PSU. Eastern now gets to try to continue its momentum by playing a pair of home games next week -- the only games at Reese Court in a 10-game stretch for the Eagles. Eastern hosts Northern Arizona on Thursday (Jan. 18) and Northern Colorado on Saturday (Jan. 20) in a pair of games that begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time.

"What's eerie about this win is that almost a year ago today we were in a similar situation in this building," added Burns, whose team went on to finish third in the regular season last year and defeat PSU in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament. "We were 0-2 in the league and needed a win."

Paul Butorac added 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting Saturday and was the recipient of several of Stuckey's pinpoint passes, including three-straight coming in a pivotal 11-4 run in the first half. Stuckey has now averaged 28.9 points and 4.8 assists in four career games against PSU.

Omar Krayem had his first double figure scoring game in a month with 16 points, and also added a season-high nine assists and four steals. Kellen Williams chipped in 15 points and six rebounds.

The Eagles had 22 assists on 29 baskets, which was especially pleasing for Burns, whose team was held to a season-low point output Thursday (Jan. 11) in a 78-65 loss at Idaho State.

"Our players moved the ball very well and were unselfish," Burns said. "When we do that we are able to find Paul and Kellen in areas where they can score. We're not a traditional post and seal operation. We have to score on cuts and from our unselfishness, and we were able to do that today."

Krayem's points included a long three-pointer at the buzzer to give Eastern a six-point lead at intermission. Since netting 19 points at Santa Clara on Dec. 11, his best game until Saturday was nine points. In Eastern's first five Big Sky games combined, he had just 13 points, 10 assists and four steals.

"It was huge," Burns said of Krayem's buzzer-beater, which ended a 10-1 PSU run. "They made a little run when Rodney picked up his second foul and we had to get him out of there. That three was huge, but his play throughout the game was huge. He was very good for us and stepped up big."

An 11-4 run -- fueled by three baskets by Butorac on feeds from Stuckey -- helped Eastern take a 12-point lead in the first half. Eastern led by as many as 22 in the second half as Eastern held a double-digit lead for the last 12:16 of the game.

"That changed the game right there," said Burns of the 11-4 burst in the first half. "Rodney, with his ability to pass the basketball, just dissected their guys. That was huge."

Eastern finished the game making 48 percent of its shots from the field after a season-low 39 percent in the loss at Idaho State. Eastern sank 53 percent of its field goals in the second half, and at one point made 23-of-37 shots.

"I think that prepared us," Burns said of the ISU loss. "We wanted to get it inside and kick it back to the outside for three-point attempts if we took them. And we wanted to keep probing the middle of the floor and we were able to get the ball underneath the basket. When we can do that and get defensive rebounds and run, we're pretty good."

Defensively, Eastern held PSU to 41 percent shooting, including just 5-of-21 shots from three-point range. One game after getting shut-down by ISU's zone defense, Eastern used a zone of its own to slow the Vikings.

"We went to it early to see how it worked," Burns explained. "We gave them some problems with it, and we trapped out of it in the second half and that gave them some extra problems. So we stuck with it. It worked well and was huge tonight."

Eastern is now 3-8 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.

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.

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