Jan. 31, 2009
Defense kept the Eagles in the game for 30 minutes, but it was the Grizzly defense that won the game.
Montana used a 14-6 run mid-way through the second half to break away from a 35-all tie and defeated Eastern Washington University 60-52 Saturday (Jan. 31) in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.
The Eagles made just 33 percent of their shots, while the Grizzlies made 46 percent. The Grizzlies nailed 9-of-12 free throws in the final 2:49 to clinch the win in a game in which the Eagles took 22 more shots, won the rebounding battle 38-31 and had only nine turnovers.
"When you get 22 more field goal attempts and have single digit turnovers again, you would think that would be a formula for winning," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "But what makes it tough is when you only shoot 33 percent. But there is no question that Montana’s size and length affected our ability to score around the basket."
It was the second loss in the last 11 days for EWU, which fell to the Grizzlies 63-50 on Jan. 21 at home. Saturday’s setback was Eastern’s sixth-straight loss this season and sixth-straight setback versus UM in Missoula.
The loss, coupled with Northern Arizona’s victory over Northern Colorado, dropped the Eagles into eighth in the league standings with a 3-7 record, 9-13 overall. Montana is now 7-3 in the league and 13-9 overall as the Grizzlies remained in third place with their fourth-straight win. Entering their Jan. 21 match-up, both the Eagles and the Grizzlies were 9-9 on the season and 3-3 in the league.
Senior Andy Genao led the Eagles with his fourth double-double of the season -- and second in EWU’s last three games -- with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Adris DeLeon added 12 points and Brandon Moore finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Junior Benny Valentine, who entered the game as the Big Sky’s leading scorer with a 16.8 average per game, had just eight points. It was only the third time this season he has not scored in double digits as he finished 4-of-15 from the field and missed all six of his three-point attempts
After closing the month of January with a 2-7 record, the Eagles open February with a pair of home games. The Eagle host last-place Sacramento State (1-8, 2-20) on Thursday (Feb. 5) at Reese Court before hosting seventh-place Northern Arizona (3-6, 6-14) on Saturday (Feb. 7). Both games begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time.
"Obviously, we’re in a tough stretch right now," said Earlywine. "But it’s not as tough as it was two weeks ago -- we’re playing better now. We’re going back in the right direction, but the steps we are taking need to big leaps instead of steps. We need to come back Monday and try to be significantly better and not just a little better."
Montana was led by Anthony Johnson with 20 points. Two other Grizzlies scored in double figures, including a double-double by 6-foot-9 Jordan Hasquet with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Grizzlies blocked six shots and altered several others.
"We got the ball in there really deep, but Montana does a good job of kind of sending you in there too," explained Earlywine. "It makes it hard to score over them, especially when you don’t see that kind of size and length a lot.
"When they block six shots, those are the obvious ones," he continued. "But there are others they affected too. That leads to shooting 33 percent."
It was a game of runs, as EWU used a 10-0 run in the first half to overcome an early Grizzly lead. But Montana responded with a 10-2 run and led 29-22 at halftime.
In the second half after Eastern fell behind by 10, Eastern responded with a 10-0 burst that included five points by Genao and a three-pointer by Milan Stanojevic. After EWU missed numerous opportunities to regain the lead, the game was tied at 35-all at the 9:50 mark when Montana went on its decisive 14-5 run.
Montana built a 49-41 lead over the next 5 1/2 minutes with that run, and the closest EWU could come after that was six.
"(Early in that stretch) I noticed we had a noticeable drop in our intensity level on the defensive end," Earlywine explained. "We took a timeout and cranked it back up, but in that stretch we gave away a couple of buckets. We dug ourselves a hole and we fought our way out of it, but in doing so we expended so much physical and mental energy that it’s hard to close the game."
"I think every possession is crucial," he added of Montana’s second-half surge. "When you have a low-possession game like this, every mistake is magnified and every possession is critical."
The Eagles finished the game with 16 offensive rebounds, but that wasn’t enough for the Eagles to pick-up a much-needed road win.
"Our physical effort was good, but it needs to be better. I told our guys it was a ‘B’ effort, but a ‘B’ effort on the road against a good team a lot of times just gets your heart broken and you lose a close game. If you give a ‘C’ or ‘D’ effort you get blown out. You have to give an ‘A’ effort."