Feb. 12, 2009
For more than a month, the road has not been kind to the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
Out-scored from the free throw line 24-12, the Eagles fell behind by double digits early in the game as league-leading Weber State went on to a 74-57 Big Sky Conference victory Thursday (Feb. 12) at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah.
The Wildcats improved to 10-1 in the league and 16-8 overall as they won their seventh-straight game. Weber State made 47 percent of its shots compared to 35 percent for the Eagles, who lost their fifth-straight league game since winning 87-74 at Sacramento State on Jan. 4.
"At the end of the day, the name of the game is to put the ball in the hole," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We only did it 35 percent of the time -- that makes it tough."
With just three league games to play, EWU's quest of making the post-season for the first time in three seasons in approaching the must-win stage. On Saturday (Feb. 14), in a game televised live regionally on Altitude Sports and Entertainment at 3:07 p.m. Pacific time, Eastern plays an even more important game at one of the teams it's currently battling in the league standings, Idaho State.
The Eagles are now seventh at 5-8 in the conference and 11-14 overall while the Bengals are tied with Montana State for fifth in the league with a 5-6 record. The Bengals are 8-17 on the season after scoring 55 second-half points to register a huge, 78-69 home win against Portland State Thursday.
Center Brandon Moore led the Eagles with 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting and had a game-high seven rebounds as the Eagles tied the Wildcats in rebounding 32-32. Eastern forced only eight turnovers and had 11 itself, leading to 18 points off turnovers for the Wildcats.
Adris DeLeon added 15 points for the Eagles as Benny Valentine, the second-leading scorer in the Big Sky with a 16.0 average, was held to seven. He played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble and was just 3-of-9 from the field, but no Eagle who shot at least three times made at least half their shots.
"Our players have to shoot the ball and we have to make the shots we get," said Earlywine. "It's just compounded when Brandon misses layups. The baskets have to come somewhere."
Steve Panos scored a career-high 22 points for Weber State as he, Daviin Davis and Damian Lillard combined for 56 points. The Wildcats made 24-of-28 free throws compared to 12-of-16 for the Eagles, who were whistled for 22 fouls compared to 14 for WSU.
"We didn't (play with the same defensive intensity) and I have no idea why," said Earlywine, whose team surrendered just 96 points combined in a pair of home wins last week. "We had three days of practice to prepare for all their sets. I told our team when the shot clock gets down to 15 or 16 seconds, they are going to drive the ball. They did and we just fouled them.
"I'll have to look at the tape, but you just can't get out-scored by double-digits on the free throw line most of the time and win a game," he added. "That's where the game was won tonight -- on the free throw line."
Weber State jumped out to a 13-3 lead as the Eagles made just one of its first eight shots and had four turnovers. An 11-3 run helped Eastern pull to within 21-6, but Weber State led by 10 at halftime, 36-26.
The Wildcats scored the first five points of the second half, then built a 55-38 lead as WSU made eight of its first 11 shots in the half. Weber State led by as many as 20 and the closest Eastern came the rest of the way was 14.
Earlier this season, the Eagles suffered a frustrating 77-69 home defeat against Weber State on Jan. 11. The Eagles went 4:54 without scoring as Weber State went on a 17-2 run to turn a 23-18 deficit into a 32-25 advantage in the 77-69 Wildcat win. In addition, EWU 25-game starter Brandon Moore had just four points on 4-of-4 free throw shooting, no field goal attempts and five rebounds before fouling out after playing just 10 minutes.
The top six teams in the regular season standings advance to the six-team Big Sky Conference Tournament which starts on March 7. Besides this week's games, Eastern hosts its final two games at home versus Northern Colorado on Feb. 21 and defending regular season and tournament champion Portland State on Feb. 28.
A win Saturday would put Eastern percentage points ahead of the Bengals for sixth place in the league standings. The Eagles would be 6-8 in the league (.429 percentage), compared to the Bengals at 5-7 (.417). Coupled with a 71-65 home win over ISU earlier this season, a win Saturday in Pocatello, Idaho, would also give Eastern a significant tiebreaker advantage over ISU by sweeping the season series.
A loss Saturday and the Eagles will certainly be on the outside looking in, and needing lots of help in the last two weeks of the season.
"I guess it's not absolutely a must-win game," said Earlywine. "I don't pay that close of attention to the standings to know the scenarios, but at this point it sure seems to me like a must-win game for us.
"We are all kind of fighting it out to get into the conference tournament," said Earlywine of EWU, ISU, Northern Colorado, Montana State and Northern Arizona. "Obviously, a head-to-head matchup with any of those teams is huge."
Eastern is now just 3-24 all-time in Ogden, with Eastern's lone victories there coming in 2006 (76-73), 2001 (81-70) and 2000 (90-78) when Eastern snapped the Wildcats' 30-game home winning streak.
Eastern has won 18 of the past 25 meetings against the Bengals, but is just 9-18 all-time in Pocatello.