Eastern Survives for 60-59 Win

Feb. 21, 2009

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One point is all that kept alive the postseason hopes for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team.

The Eagles made 67 percent of their shots in the second half and edged Northern Colorado 60-59 in a must-win Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game Saturday (Feb. 21) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The win kept the Eagles alive for one of six berths in the Big Sky Conference Tournament as they improved to 6-9 in the Big Sky and 12-15 overall. The Bears fell to 6-8 in the league and 12-17, and could have eliminated EWU with a win Saturday.

The Eagles close the regular season with two home games this week -- a non-league game against Seattle University on Tuesday (Feb. 24) followed by Eastern’s Big Sky finale versus Portland State on (Feb. 28). Both games begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court.

Eastern’s Benny Valentine, who scored the last eight points for the Eagles, sank two free throws with eight seconds to play to give Eastern a three-point lead. Although they needed a three-pointer, the Bears made a layup in the final second to provide the final margin.

After making just 33 percent of its shots in the first half, Eastern made 16-of-24 in the second half -- including eight of its first 11 after intermission -- to finish at 48 percent for the game.

"We made enough shots in the second half to win," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We were shooting 30 percent (at halftime) -- we had 17 shots from six feet in, and we were 5-of-17. I told our guys to stay the course on offense. Just keep doing what we have been doing and those shots will go in, and in the second half we shot 66 percent."

The Eagles also forced 17 turnovers and had a season-high 11 steals, including two by Valentine and four by Adris DeLeon. Valentine led the way with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, and DeLeon made 6-of-10 to finish with 16 points and five assists.

"All this week, more than anything else we have addressed our shot selection -- what the reasons were that we were in the last in the league in field goal percentage and in three-point percentage," explained Earlywine. "I told Benny that I wanted him to cut down on the number of three-pointers he was taking. Tonight he only took one.

"I told him he has to raise his field goal percentage," added Earlywine of his junior, who had made only 39 percent of his shots for the season entering the game. "Most of it is directly correlated to his choice of shots. It is shot selection for him, and tonight he was outstanding."

Eastern was out-rebounded 34-24, but the Eagles had only 11 turnovers themselves. Northern Colorado had three players in double figures and made 45 percent of its shots, including 50 percent in the second half. The Bears made only 5-of-14 three-point attempts for 36 percent.

"They are a really hard team for us to guard," said Earlywine. "Their perimeter guys have the ability to shoot the ball from the arc, but also drive it, and that really gives us trouble. On top of that, they have (Jabril) Banks in the low post. Last year we had to score 90 points here to beat them. They are just a really tough cover for us.

"I thought for the most part tonight, we did a really good job," he continued. "We held them below 33 percent from the arc and they have been shooting 41 percent on the year. It was not a perfect game by any means, but our guys tried really hard and were competitive."

Senior Andy Genao led Eastern in rebounding with six, and also had four points and three steals. Eastern junior center Brandon Moore chipped in nine points, a pair of rebounds and a blocked shot as he fouled out after playing just 22 minutes.

"In the first half, we missed 20 shots and did not have an offensive rebound," said Earlywine. "Mark Dunn, Brandon Moore, and Matt Brunell played a combined 28 minutes at halftime and did not have an offensive or defensive rebound between the three of them. That was very disappointing to me, and I was sure to point that out at halftime.

"In the second half we missed eight shots and got four offensive rebounds, and that is a heck of a percentage," he added. "In the first half we missed 20 and did not get any. So I was happier in the second half with our rebounding and with our block out."

After a 22-all tie in the first half, Eastern got hot to start the second half and took a 37-27 advantage on a three-pointer by DeLeon with 12:45 left. Eastern led 40-30 when the Bears came right back with a 15-4 run to take a 45-44 lead at the 6:37 mark.

The teams traded leads several times before Valentine made a pair of baskets to put EWU up 58-55 with 1:03 left. After a basket by UNC’s John Pena and a missed one-plus-one free throw opportunity by DeLeon, Pena was called for an offensive foul with 10 seconds left, leading to Valentine’s free throws.

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