Feb. 1, 2007
Bozeman, Mont. -
The Eagles lost their shooting eye. The Bobcats found theirs.
Eastern Washington had is second-worst shooting night of the season and Montana State had its best as the Bobcats surged past the Eagles in the second half for an 84-67 Big Sky Conference victory Thursday (Feb. 1) at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, Mont.
Montana State made 50 percent of its shots from the field while Eastern made just 41 percent. Eastern's 20-of-49 performance was the second-worst of the season behind the 40 percent (27-of-67) the Eagles made at Washington on Nov. 24. It was also the second-fewest points EWU has scored all season, ranking only behind the 65 the Eagles scored in a 78-65 loss at Idaho State.
"That was unusual for us," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "If we shoot our normal percentage we probably would have been fine."
"They mixed up defenses, man and zone, but we knew what they were in," he added. "We had some open looks and we got the ball inside a little bit, but we couldn't knock down shots."
Eastern, now 5-6 in the conference and 11-12 overall, entered the game ranked second in the Big Sky with a .498 field goal percentage. Montana State was last at .401, and also ranked last in three-point field goal percentage at .312. The Bobcats, now 5-4 in the conference and 8-14 overall, made 12-of-23 treys against EWU for 52 percent.
"We had some instances where they just knocked down some big shots or got a cutter open inside," explained Burns of his team's defensive performance. "I thought our guys were flying around and doing some good things."
The win dropped Eastern to seventh in the Big Sky Conference standings with five games to play. The last four are at home as EWU plays at Montana on Saturday (Feb. 2) to conclude a stretch in which eight of 10 games are on the road.
Sophomore Rodney Stuckey equaled his season and career average with 24 points, but made just 6-of-18 shots from the field. He made all 12 of his free throws and also led the Eagles with five rebounds and three assists.
Paul Butorac added 14 points, four rebounds and three assists for the Eagles. Omar Krayem, who missed the last two games with a hand injury, chipped in 12 points and Kellen Williams had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals. Matt Penoncello had a game-high four steals to go along with five points and five rebounds.
Five Bobcats scored in double figures, led by the 16 of freshman redshirt Branden Johnson. He made 6-of-9 shots from the field and 4-of-5 three-point attempts. Carson Durr had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds as MSU out-rebounded Eastern 36-25, including 19-10 in the second half.
"That was frustrating for all of us," said Burns of the rebounding difference.
The first half featured nine ties and 12 lead changes as Eastern took a 34-32 lead on a basket by Stuckey with 2:02 to play. But MSU scored the final eight points of the half, including a three-pointer at the buzzer by Johnson. Earlier this season in Cheney, Eastern lost to MSU at the buzzer on a trey by Carlos Taylor.
"We took a couple of quick shots and they knocked down a couple of threes," said Burns. "It was a crucial point in the game. The last three was a back-breaker. We thought he traveled and then threw it up at the horn. We thought we played pretty well in the first half but we went into halftime down by six."
Montana State scored the first four points after intermission open a double-digit lead it held most of the second half. The Bobcats led by as many as 21, and the last time Eastern had the game under 10 was 54-45 at the 11:41 mark.
Eastern now plays a Montana team coming off a 70-68 home loss to Portland State. The Grizzlies are 5-4 in the league and 11-11 overall.
Eastern is hoping its fourth road trip in five weeks has a similar ending. The first three league road trips yielded a split on each. In addition, Eastern has not had a three-game losing streak all season and has been able to follow a two-game losing streak with a victory three times this season.
"Hopefully we can rebound," added Burns. "This team has been able to that all year long when faced with this situation. We'll try to do that again on Saturday."
Eastern's final four conference games are at home at Reese Court in February, sandwiched around a non-conference road game on Feb. 17 at UC Santa Barbara as part of the ESPN Bracket Buster weekend.
The Eagles are now 3-4 on the road and 2-2 at home in league games thus far. Last week's win at Sacramento State (100-85) and loss at Weber State (93-84) was Eastern's fifth split in five Big Sky weekends of action thus far.
When the brutal road stretch concludes Saturday, Eastern will have logged 6,557 miles during the five-week stretch of games. Since Jan. 4, Eastern has been on the road 19 of 33 days.
Earlier this season at Reese Court, Eastern defeated Montana 74-71. Portland State snapped Montana's three-game winning streak.
The top six teams in the nine-team league advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The quarterfinals take place on March 3 and are hosted by the No. 3 and 4 seeds. The winners of those two games and the top two teams in the regular season standings receive byes to the semifinals on March 6. The semifinals, as well as the nationally-televised championship game the next night, are hosted by the regular season champion.
Eastern is now 4-10 away from home this season, with road victories at Sacramento State, Portland State, 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. In conference play, Eastern is 3-4 on the road and 2-2 at home.
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. Eastern beat Portland State in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament, but fell to eventual champion Montana in overtime in the semifinals.