Feb. 10, 2007
The "Help Wanted" signs are now up as far as the postseason hopes for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team is concerned.
Sophomore Rodney Stuckey had a season-high 36 points, but that wasn't enough to offset the 22 second-chance points Portland State scored as the Vikings downed Eastern 92-86 in a crucial Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Feb. 10) at Reese Court in Cheney.
"You have to give Portland State the credit tonight -- they came out and really worked hard on the glass," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "I thought our defensive energy was pretty good at times. We would get a stop, but they would get the offensive rebound and that was the key to the game tonight."
The Vikings opened a 13-point lead in the second half, and then made 16-of-24 free throws in the last 3:19 to hold off Eastern's furious rally. Eastern pulled to within three with 21 seconds to play, but missed its last two shots.
Portland State kept possession of sixth place in the Big Sky, moving to 7-7 in the league and 16-11 overall. Eastern fell to 6-8 and 12-14 overall, with only the top six teams advancing to the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Eastern plays an ESPN BracketBuster game next Saturday (Feb. 17) at UC Santa Barbara, but then returns home to close the regular season Feb. 22 against Idaho State and Feb. 24 versus Sacramento State. Portland State plays the same two teams on opposite days.
Since EWU and PSU split the season series, if those two teams end up tied for sixth, the tie is broken by record versus teams in descending order in the final league standings. That would give Eastern a possible advantage by virtue of an 89-74 win over current league-leader Weber State last Wednesday. The Vikings were swept by the Wildcats.
"We have to practice great this next week and then we have to win our next two home games," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "If we do that and God willing, we will find a way into the Big Sky Tournament. There are a lot of things that can happen and this league has proven that any team in the Big Sky can beat any other team on any given night."
Stuckey made 14-of-22 shots from the field and 7-of-8 free throws as he had the third-highest scoring output in his 56-game Eastern career. It was the seventh-most points in school history and was the 14th 30-point effort as an Eagle.
Stuckey, who has now averaged 30.2 points in five games against the Vikings, lost for the first time in his career against PSU. He added eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. He entered the game ranked seventh in NCAA Division I in scoring with a 24.2 average.
Despite his efforts, Eastern allowed the Vikings to grab 16 offensive rebounds they turned into 22 second-chance points. In an 88-70 victory at Portland State earlier this season, the Vikings had 21 offensive rebounds they turned into 20 second-chance points.
The difference in the two games was PSU's shooting. The Vikings made just 41 percent in Portland but converted 54 percent in Cheney. However, Burns wasn't particularly pleased with his offense either, although the Eagles made 49 percent this time and 48 percent in the previous meeting.
Eastern led 40-34 at halftime in Portland, but trailed 37-33 at halftime this time with 12 of the team's 18 turnovers in the game coming in the first half.
"We were unusually tentative on offense tonight, especially in the first half," he said. "I don't know why that was, but from that perspective we had opportunities, but just didn't capitalize."
Paul Butorac added 18 points and six rebounds for EWU and Matt Penoncello came off the bench to score 12 -- all in the second half. Kellen Williams added seven points and 10 rebounds, although Eastern was out-rebounded 38-35 after dominating the battle on the boards one game earlier against Weber State by a 41-19 margin.
The Vikings had five players in double figures, led by the career-high 23 by junior college transfer Deonte Huff. His previous high this season was 15 on two occasions.
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.
The Eagles are now 3-5 on the road and 3-3 at home in league games thus far. During a brutal road stretch in which Eastern play eight of its first 10 league games on the road, Eastern logged 6,557 miles during the five-week stretch of games. Between Jan. 3 and Feb. 3, Eastern was on the road 19 of 32 days.
Overall, Eastern is now 4-11 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.
Until getting swept at Montana State and Montana, Eastern had earned splits in all five conference weekends of action. Included were home splits that included key losses to Montana State (82-79 on Dec. 28), Northern Arizona (91-80 on Jan. 18) and Portland State (92-86 on Feb. 10).
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.