Eastern Surges Past UC Irvine for 78-64 Win

Nov. 30, 2008

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Eastern Washington survived a shaky 3-of-11 shooting start to a half, but UC Irvine could not.

The Eagles used a 31-8 run spanning the end of the first half and the start of the second half to defeat UC Irvine 78-64 Sunday (Nov. 30) in a non-conference men’s basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles fell behind by 10 points in the first half, but went up by 18 early in the second half before holding on for the victory, their second in 11 days over the Anteaters. Eastern made all eight of its free throws in the last 1:28 as the Anteaters, who were coming off a 101-47 loss at Idaho two nights earlier, dropped to 0-5 for the season.

The win gives Eastern a 4-2 record, equaling its best five-game start since the 2002-03 squad began the year 3-2 and stretched it to 7-2 with a four-game winning streak.

"I told our team at halftime that I don't have a magic wand," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "They have to decide that they want to guard. In the second half we cranked it up and we guarded better. Offensively, we got the ball in the paint and we got the ball to the front of the rim. We did it both by passing it into the post and by driving it in there, which is what we try to do."

The Eagles survived a 3-of-11 shooting start to the game to make 22 of its last 41 and finish at 48 percent for the game. UC Irvine, meanwhile, was 3-of-11 to start the second half and finished at just 38 percent for the game.

Five-foot-7 EWU guard Benny Valentine, who was averaging 20.2 points per game entering Sunday’s game, scored 19 to lead the Eagles. He also had three assists and a pair of steals, and 15 of his points came in the first half. At one point, Valentine was 5-of-6 from the field while the rest of the team was 3-of-18.

"In the first half he saved us," Earlywine said. "He almost single-handedly bought us time for the rest of the guys to get going. That's what we brought him here to do. In the second half, I thought he did a good job of not going crazy and taking bad shots.

"Some games we need Benny to take more shots than other games," he continued. "Some games we need him to run our team. Tonight we needed two different things. In the first half we needed him to score and in the second half we needed him to manage the team, and to his credit, he did both."

Senior Andy Genao added his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, including 12 points and six rebounds in the second half. Genao, a 6-3 forward, had 12 points and 17 rebounds in a 74-69 victory at UC Irvine on Nov. 19.

"Andy probably wishes we could play California schools all the time," said Earlywine. "I thought Andy played a little out of character and tried to play pretty in the first half. Andy's forte isn't being esthetically pleasing. He needs to be a hard hat, lunch pail, get your hands dirty type of guy."

Senior Milan Stanojevic added 10 points for the Eagles, who also out-rebounded the Anteaters 38-31 and had a 36-14 advantage in points in the paint. Gary Gibson chipped in nine points and Brandon Moore had six points and eight rebounds despite 2-of-10 shooting from the field.

The Eagles made just three of their first 11 shots and fell into an early hole as the Anteaters led 18-8 in the first nine minutes. Eastern used a 10-0 run to knot the score at 18, but Eastern wasn’t able to garner a lead until the final seconds when Valentine drove the lane and assisted on a three-pointer by Jeff Christensen.

Valentine scored 15 points in the first half, but that feat was duplicated by UC Irvine’s Brett Lauer, who made 5-of-6 three-point attempts in the half. Lauer had just one point in the second half to finish with a team-high 16.

Eastern took advantage of UC Irvine’s shooting woes to start the second half and the Eagles took a 55-37 advantage with 9:32 to play. The Anteaters cut the lead to 66-58 with 2:32 left, but Valentine found Mark Dunn for a layin at the 2:07 mark and the Eagles did the rest from the free throw line. Eastern made 22-of-29 free throws in the game for 76 percent, including 19-of-25 in the second half.

The Eagles return to action on Wednesday (Dec. 3) at Portland. The Pilots are 4-1 and riding a three-game winning streak.

Eastern then returns home to host its Big Sky Conference opener on Dec. 6 versus Montana State in a game that begins at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court. It’s the earliest starting date for Big Sky play in school history.

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