November 19, 2008

Gross, Genao, Valentine Lead Eagles to 74-69 Win

Nov. 19, 2008

Final Stats

Newcomers Andy Genao and Benny Valentine provided the game-long work, but returning starter Trey Gross provided the spark when the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team needed it the most.

Gross, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard, scored seven points in a late 10-2 run as the Eagles defeated UC Irvine 74-69 in a non-conference men’s basketball game Wednesday (Nov. 19) at the Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif.

Genao, Valentine and Gross combined for 41 points as EWU had a commanding 36-22 rebounding advantage to even its record at 1-1. The Eagles also made 53 percent of their field goal attempts compared to 42 percent for the Anteaters.

Despite missing the front end of two one-plus-one bonus free throw opportunities, the Eagles sank 9-of-11 free throws in the last two minutes to close-out the victory. UC Irvine fell to 0-2 on the young season.

"I was happy with our physical effort the whole night," said EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine, whose first team last year won just three road games the entire season. "We had a few mental lapses, but we maintained our physical effort and intensity throughout the game. I was very happy with that."

Genao, a 6-foot-3 guard/forward who redshirted last season after transferring from Prairie View A&M, finished with 12 points, 17 rebounds and three assists. His rebounding total equaled the fourth-most in school history. He took only five shots from the field, making three, and finishing 5-of-6 at the line.

"Andy was terrific," said Earlywine. "He took the appropriate shots and what can you say about anybody at any height with a rebounding effort like that? For a 6-10 guy 17 rebounds would be a heckuva effort, let alone for Andy at 6-3. Obviously if we had a player of the game award, it would have to go to Andy Genao."

Valentine, a 5-7 transfer from Texas Tech who also redshirted in 2007-08, had a team-high 17 points as he made 5-of-12 shots from the field and all six of his free throws. Gross hit 4-of-7 shots with a pair of three-pointers, and 6-foot-8 junior college transfer Mark Dunn chipped in 11 points.

The two teams will meet again at Reese Court on Nov. 30 in Cheney, Wash. But before that rematch, Eastern must survive the grind of playing four games in eight nights -- a stretch which started in Irvine. Eastern returns home to face UT Arlington on Saturday (Nov. 22) and Idaho Monday (Nov. 24) in a pair of games that start at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court. The Eagles conclude the eight-day stretch at Minnesota of the Big Ten Conference on Nov. 26 in a game nationally-televised on the Big Ten Network.

Earlywine, whose team is still playing without two projected starters who have yet to be cleared to play, hopes the victory provides Eastern momentum heading into its back-to-back home games this week.

"I hope so, but it remains to be seen," he said. "Last year we struggled not only to win games on the road, but we also lost a lot of close games. So this is a step in the right direction. It’s tough in college basketball to win on the road, and maybe even more so in the non-conference schedule.

"I told our players to enjoy this one tonight," he added. "We really showed some physical toughness as evidenced by the rebounding, but we showed some mental toughness as well. Now we have to go home and make sure we get better. I think we can cut down on the 14 turnovers we had tonight and we need to eliminate some of the bad three-pointers we took in the first half."

Eastern opened its season with a 66-50 loss at Illinois of the Big Ten Conference in a game that was tied at 35 at halftime. However, Eastern went 8:05 without a field goal during a 15-1 Illinois run in the second half to spoil a combined 27-point outing for Valentine and returning 6-9 center Brandon Moore, who scored nine points against the Anteaters.

The Eagles twice had leads against UCI but lost them both. In the first half, Eastern was up 15-7 before the Anteaters went on a 10-0 run to take a 17-15 lead. There were six lead changes and one tie in the first half, but Eastern was able to take a 33-30 advantage at halftime.

In the second half, the Eagles went up 52-43 on a three-pointer by Genao, but a 12-3 UC Irvine run knotted the game at 55.

"We talk every day about our shot selection and trying to play inside out," said Earlywine. "We lose leads by shooting ourselves in the foot with our shot selection. That’s something we have to continue to address."

With the game tied at 55, Eastern made its final move. A pair of baskets by Gross started the 10-2 run, and he ended it with a three-pointer with 2:12 to play to give Eastern a 65-57 lead. The Anteaters pulled to within two or three points on three occasions after that, but Gross, Genao and Valentine each sank a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game each time.

Texas Arlington is one of three teams Eastern will play in the 2008-09 season that played in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Mavericks lost to Memphis 87-63 in the first round after winning the Southland Conference championship with an 82-79 victory over Northwestern State.

The Mavericks won their season-opener 84-64 over Hardin-Simmons on Nov. 16 and then edged Texas Wesleyan on Nov. 18 74-71.

Brandon Long, a 6-1 guard, scored 18 points in the opener and 19 in the second game. Anthony Vereen scored 14 and 18 points, respectively, after the 6-7 forward averaged 13.8 points and 4.8 rebounds a year ago when he was the Southland Conference Tournament MVP. Marquez Haynes, a 6-3 guard who transferred from Boston College, added 10 points, six rebounds and two steals in his UTA debut, then had eight points, six rebounds and three assists in the next game.

"They are unbelievably athletic," Earlywine said. "They are coming off a very good year last year to make it to the NCAA Tournament and were close to Memphis for about 28 minutes. They are playing a little smaller and quicker, and they have a transfer from Boston College who from all accounts is a heckuva player. It will be a different type of game for us, which is good. That will better prepare us for the different styles we’ll see in the Big Sky Conference."

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