Feb. 14, 2009
It may have been Valentine’s Day on the calendar, but it was Amorrow Morgan’s day Saturday (Feb. 14) at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.
En route to a 75-70 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball victory, the Idaho State junior had 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to help the hot-shooting Bengals deal Eastern Washington University a near-fatal blow in EWU’s quest of making the post-season for the first time in three seasons.
Trailing by double digits most of the second half, the Eagles scored eight-straight points to pull within five with 5:50 left in the game, but missed their next four shots and one of its next eight to squelch the rally. The Bengals made 10-of-18 free throws in the last 5:13 to hold-off EWU, which lost for the first time in seven games in which it has scored at least 70 points this season.
"We scored 70 points, and that’s a scoring outburst for us," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "It should have been enough to win the game. We went a number of key possessions late in the game without a basket. At some point, you have to make a shot."
Besides EWU’s misses, Idaho State scored points on EWU defensive breakdowns down the stretch, including one on an offensive rebound basket and another on a drive to the basket with the shot clock winding down.
"We missed some key shots and we had a couple of possessions down on the other end that hurt too," said Earlywine. "You can’t do those things and give them extra possessions and points like that when you are struggling on offense."
It wasn’t a must-win game, but the loss certainly buried Eastern deeper in the league standings. The Eagles are seventh at 5-9 in the conference and 11-15 overall, while the Bengals are now fifth in the league with a 6-6 record. The Bengals are 9-17 on the season and had lost 71-65 to EWU earlier this season in Cheney, Wash.
Idaho State made 25-of-42 shots in the game for 59 percent, and at one point made 21-of-30 for a blistering 70 percent pace. Morgan, whose father passed away earlier in the week, made 6-of-7 shots and 5-of-7 from the free throw line.
Donnie Carson had 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting and Lucas Steijn added 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
Holiday namesake Benny Valentine, the Big Sky’s second-leading scorer entering the game at 15.6 per game, chipped in 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting with three assists and three steals. Adris DeLeon chipped in 10 points as Eastern made 42 percent of its shots from the field.
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.
"We have to worry about what we can control at this point," said Earlywine. "And what we can control is how we play Saturday against Northern Colorado. Obviously, we need some help and things have to fall right for us. But more than anything else, all the help in the world isn’t going to save us if we don’t do our part and win the rest of our games."
Coming up short in its bid for a huge road win to overcome a pair of mid-season home losses, Eastern concluded the road portion of the conference season with a 1-7 record. The ISU setback was EWU’s sixth-straight on opponent home courts.
The Eagles looked up to the task early, taking an 18-10 lead on a basket by Milan Stanojevic with 11:50 left in the first half. But the Bengals went on runs of 7-0 and 8-0 to take a 26-22 advantage with 4:45 remaining in the half, and led 39-30 at intermission.
"I subbed to try to get some fresh guys in there because I thought we were getting a little tired," said Earlywine of ISU’s turnaround in the first half. "But when we subbed, we just didn’t play as well. We didn’t play hard enough on offense at that point -- we didn’t cut hard, we didn’t screen hard and we didn’t run hard in transition. We were having our way with them on the offensive boards up to that point, and when we brought the subs into the game we weren’t able to maintain our intensity level."
Morgan had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in the first half, including a 45-foot, buzzer-beating three-pointer to end the period. The Bengals made 68 percent of their shots in the first 20 minutes, sinking 17-of-25.
Eastern scored the first four points of the second half to cut the lead to three, but Idaho State followed with a 9-2 run to take its biggest lead of the night at 48-38 with 15:50 remaining. Later, ISU took a 62-49 advantage with 7:54 left before EWU rallied as ISU made just one field goal in an 8:14 stretch.
Despite the loss, Eastern has won 18 of the past 26 meetings against the Bengals, but is just 9-19 all-time in Pocatello.
After closing the month of January with a 2-7 record, the Eagles are now 2-2 in February. Before a 67-46 win over Sac State on Feb. 5 -- EWU’s seventh-straight in the series against the Hornets and the 13th-straight win over Sac State in Cheney -- the Eagles hadn’t won since beating Idaho State 71-68 on Jan. 8.
With three games to play -- EWU also hosts Seattle University in a non-conference game on Feb. 24 -- EWU is trying to eclipse last year’s win total of 11. But Eastern had bigger hopes than that this season, and making the conference tournament was one of them.
"I thought we were going to take a bigger step this year," added Earlywine. "But we still have a chance to show progress from last year in the win-loss column, and that’s important."