Nov. 14, 2008
The Big Ten Conference was not kind to Eastern Washington University in the second half on Friday (Nov. 14), but the Eagles will get another chance later this month.
Illinois out-scored Eastern 25-6 to open the second half and cruised past the Eagles 66-50 in the college men’s basketball opener for both teams at Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.
Behind the combined 25 points of guard Benny Valentine and center Brandon Moore, the Eagles fought their way to a 35-all tie at intermission. But those players combined for just two points in the second half as the Eagles suffered through a 19 percent shooting performance and were out-scored 31-15 in the final 20 minutes. A 15-1 run by Illinois was the dagger as Eastern went eight minutes without a field goal.
It was the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Eastern is now 0-6 all-time against the Big Ten Conference, including last year’s narrow, eight-point loss (61-53) to Michigan at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout. Eastern will get another crack at the league on Nov. 26 at Minnesota in a game that will be televised nationally on the Big Ten Network.
Valentine, a transfer from Texas Tech who redshirted at EWU last season, finished with 14 points, three assists and two steals. Moore, a returning starter at center for the Eagles, had 13 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Trey Gross chipped in seven points.
Eastern made only 4-of-21 three-point shots in the game for 19 percent, including just 1-of-10 in the second half. The Eagles made 39 percent of their shots in the first half and finished at 30 percent for the game.
Illinois made 44 percent of its shots in the game and led in rebounding 40-33. The Fighting Illini were led by guard Trent Meacham’s 18 points, and guard Chester Frazier added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Demetri McCamey, yet another guard, came off the bench to add 11.
Eastern trailed early 19-11, and was down 27-20 before chipping away at the lead. A three-pointer by Valentine with 2:38 left in the half knotted the game at 31, and he and Moore hit baskets to give Eastern its first and only lead with 56 seconds left to make the score 35-33.
But Eastern missed its first four shots and had a turnover to open the second half, and Illinois re-gained a 41-35 lead. It was a 45-40 game when the Fighting Illini scored seven-straight points to take a 52-40 advantage.
After an Eastern free throw, the Fighting Illini put the game away with eight unanswered points to take their biggest lead of the night at 60-41. Eastern went 8:05 without a field goal during that 15-1 Illinois run.
Eastern played the game without two projected starters -- guard Adris DeLeon and junior college transfer Chris Busch -- who have yet to be cleared to play. The absences were sorely felt against a Fighting Illini team that finished 16-19 overall and 5-13 in the Big Ten a year ago under head coach Bruce Weber. Just four short seasons ago, Illinois was 37-2 and lost in the NCAA Championship game to North Carolina in March 2005.
Defense is the bread and butter of an Illinois program that held opponents last year to 61.1 points per game and 39.9 percent shooting from the field. The Fighting Illini also out-rebounded opponents by nearly five per game.
Eastern plays at UC Irvine on Nov. 19 at 7:05 p.m. before returning home to host the University of Texas Arlington on Nov. 22 at 7:05 p.m. at Reese Court. Eastern’s league opener -- the earliest start in school history --- is Dec. 6 versus Montana State.
Season tickets, including several packages with selected games, are now on sale. Information is available at http://WWW.GOEAGS.COM.
Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/ewas-m-baskbl-body.html
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://www.bigskyconf.com/sport.asp?path=mbball&tab=mens
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/m-baskbl/ncaa-m-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/scoreboard
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