Nov. 29, 2007
The second half was supposed to belong to Eastern Washington University.
Instead, Santa Clara scored the first 10 points of the second half and went on to defeat the Eagles 66-57 in a non-conference college men's basketball game Thursday (Nov. 29) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern, playing one of only two home games in Eastern's first 11 outings of the season, fell to 2-6 on the season. Santa Clara, a member of the West Coast Conference, improved to 5-1.
Santa Clara's 10-0 run to start the second half turned a one-point lead late in the first half into a 15-point advantage with 15:49 to play. Eastern went 5:40 without scoring in that stretch as the total run spanning both halves was 14-0.
"It wasn't as discouraging in the first half, but that first two-and-a-half minutes of the second half was just completely, wholly unacceptable," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine.
The Eagles extended their streak of halftime deficits to all eight games this season by falling behind 31-26 at intermission, but what wasn't expected was the second half surge by Santa Clara. Eastern had been outscored by just four points, 239-235, in the second half, with advantages after intermission in four of seven games.
Milan Stanojevic led the Eagle with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from three-point range. A starter in six of Eastern's first seven games, the 6-2 junior guard from Subotica, Serbia, came off the bench Thursday.
"Milan is starting to shoot a little better I think," said Earlywine. "I think he was kind of feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders (being in the starting lineup). I think taking him out of the starting lineup has helped him a little bit. We know he can shoot the ball."
Matthew Brunell add 12 points and Trey Gross chipped in 10 as the Eagles rallied late, but couldn't pull any closer than seven in the final minutes. Santa Clara made all eight of its free throws in the last 1:11 to squelch Eastern's threat.
Mitch Henke led all scorers with 20 points for Santa Clara, including the first eight in the 10-0 run. Six-foot-10 John Bryant, who entered the game with averages of 23.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots per game, added 14 points, seven boards and one block for the Broncos. Brody Angley chipped in 15 points and six assists.
"To be brutally honest, they were tougher than us," said Earlywine. "There were a many number of times we got the ball in the paint and we were just soft."
Shooting was the major difference in the game as Eastern made only 41 percent of its shots compared to the 54 percent shooting by Santa Clara. Three Eastern starters -- Kellen Williams, Gary Gibson and Marcus Hinton -- combined to make just 3-of-9 shots, and 6-9 Brandon Moore was 1-of-7. Bryant was 7-of-9 from the field for the Broncos.
"I wasn't discouraged in the first half with our competitiveness or our level of intensity," said Earlywine. "I thought that we were trying to guard. We got the ball where we wanted to a number of times on offense, but they were just tougher. They knocked us out of our shots, they knocked us out of our drives. They were just tougher than us."
The whirlwind of games for Earlywine's team doesn't get any less challenging as Eastern also plays five games between Dec. 3 and Dec. 17, including a trip to nationally-ranked Kansas on Dec. 5. Two days earlier on Dec. 3, Eastern plays at Missouri-Kansas City. Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play at home on Dec. 22 against Portland State in the earliest BSC start in school history.
The Eagles were coming off a 64-62 victory over host Alaska Anchorage last Saturday (Nov. 24) at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout. Eastern also lost by 17 to Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference (69-52) and by eight to Michigan of the Big 10 Conference (61-53) as Eastern continued to show improvement against some difficult opposition.
But that changed Thursday at home.
"We got better for three consecutive days playing in Alaska against very high-level people," he added. "Maybe our guys think it's some sort of security blanket playing here, but if you don't play with any kind of heart, any kind of competitive spirit, it doesn't matter where you play, you're gonna get your butts beat."