Feb. 23, 2008
Greeley, Colo. -
The Eagles are hanging by a thread now.
Eastern Washington University's thin hopes to qualify for the Big Sky Conference men's basketball tournament became even slimmer as the Eagles fell to Northern Colorado Saturday (Feb. 23) in Greeley, Colo.
Eastern had 18 turnovers, allowed the Bears to grab 12 offensive rebounds en route to getting out-rebounded 38-25 and allowed UNC to make 56 percent of its shots in the game. The Eagles are now 6-9 in the league and 11-18 overall, and trail sixth-place Montana (6-7) by two games in the loss column.
"I have no answer," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine of the loss. "We were slow to react and it's not fatigue. I was concerned about fatigue and we gave our players some time off and cut our practices down. But we weren't sharp."
"You really only need to look at three stats," he added. "They made 56 percent of their shots from the field, the ones that they did miss they got half of them back and we had 18 turnovers. There you go."
Only the top six teams in the league advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament which begins on March 8. The tournament begins with quarterfinal games at campus sites on March 8, followed by the semifinals and championship game on March 11-12 at the site of the regular season champ.
Eastern's only hopes of advancing are for Montana, which swept the Eagles during the regular season, to lose its remaining three games. Eastern could also advance if Idaho State (7-6) lost its last three. The Bengals host the Grizzlies on Sunday (March 8) in a game that will eliminate one of those scenarios.
However, in both instances, Eastern will have to end the regular season on March 4 with a victory at 11-2 Portland State, which has already clinched at least a share of the regular season title. Eastern will also have to hope that Montana State (7-7) wins at least one more and Northern Colorado loses one more because most multi-team ties do not go in EWU's favor.
Last year in finishing 8-8 in the league, Eastern had its string of nine-straight berths snapped after it became the first Big Sky team since the league expanded to eight teams in the 1970-71 season to not qualify for the tourney with a .500 record or better.
The Bears, who lost at the Eagles 91-85 in overtime on Jan. 17 when EWU's Adris DeLeon poured in 42 points, kept alive their hopes for a playoff berth. Northern Colorado is now 5-8 in the league and 12-14 overall.
DeLeon led Eastern with 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field with a trio of three-pointers. Senior Kellen Williams chipped in 13 points and six rebounds for the Eagles.
Sean Taibi and Jabril Banks combined for 39 points on 17-of-22 percent shooting to lead the Bears. Taibi made 8-of-13 shots and Banks made all nine of his.
Eastern made only 44 percent of its shots, including only 5-of-22 (23 percent) three-point attempts. The Bears, meanwhile, missed only 24 shots in the game, but had 12 offensive rebounds.
"They got half of their missed shots," Earlywine said. "You can't win when you allow them to do that."
Besides the shooting and rebounds, Eastern had 18 turnovers after having only five in the first meeting with the Bears. DeLeon had five turnovers by himself in the rematch.
"We played 45 minutes at our place against these guys and we had five turnovers," said Earlywine. "Tonight we gave it away like it was candy."
Eastern's tallest player, 6-foot-9 Brandon Moore, played only three minutes in the first half and finished the game with only two points and one rebound. He had averaged 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds on 60.0 percent shooting in his last six games.
"It really hurt us a lot," said Earlywine. "He played only three minutes in the first half and he's been coming on lately to give us a post presence."
Eastern fell behind early 19-8, but rallied to knot the score three times at 25, 27 and 29. But a 7-0 run just before halftime gave the Bears a 38-35 lead at intermission.
In the second half, Eastern trailed just 45-41, but went seven minutes without a field goal. The resulting 15-3 UNC run gave the Bears a 60-44 lead with 10:27 left. They trailed by no less than nine the rest of the way.
"It looked like November and we were playing in our first game of the year," said Earlywine. "We've played from behind a lot this year. Being down by three at halftime and four or five in the second half -- we've been in that situation a lot. We've been down by more than that and not panicked or played out of character."
"We didn't need to do anything extraordinary to win this game," he added. "All we needed to be was vanilla and hit some singles -- we didn't need a grand slam. But yet when we got down early in the second half we started swinging for the fences. Maybe we'll learn from this one."