Dec. 9, 2006
Portland, Ore. -
Sophomore Rodney Stuckey was sensational once again, but a first-half stretch of 7:46 told the real story.
Eight players scored in double figures during a 26-8 run to end the first half to help send the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team to an 87-66 victory over Portland Saturday (Dec. 9) at the Chiles Center in Portland, Ore.
En route to leading EWU in scoring for the 36th-straight game, Stuckey had a near triple-double with 18 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and five steals. Eastern registered its first road win of the season as the Eagles are now 5-4 heading into Monday's (Dec. 11) game at Santa Clara. The Pilots slipped to 2-9 with their sixth-straight loss.
Eastern led 19-15 when the Eagles put together one of its best -- if not its best -- stretches of offense and defense of the season. Eastern made 11-of-13 shots during the 26-8 run that gave it a 45-23 lead at halftime. Neal Zumwalt, who played high school basketball at Portland's Lincoln High School, came off the bench to hit a pair of three-pointers during that stretch.
"One thing we need to do is to stay in attack mode," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns of his team's first-half run. "Early in the game we were kind of tentative. Once we got past that and got back to attacking in transition and attacking after made baskets, we started playing much better."
Defensively, Eastern held Portland to 3-of-11 shooting and forced three turnovers during that stretch. Eastern allowed its fewest points this season against a NCAA Division I opponent -- the previous fewest was 82 against Nevada Las Vegas -- as EWU held Portland to 39 percent shooting
"We've been talking about getting better on the defensive end of the floor," said Burns. "At the end of the first half we really turned it up. When we do that it allows us to get out in transition. And when we get out in transition we get a lot of assists -- 25 on 34 baskets tonight."
"Our players share the ball -- they are really, really good that way," he added. "We need to continue to do that."
True freshman Michael Taylor scored 15 points as he nearly doubled his previous season high of eight points. He made 5-of-7 shots from the field, including 4-of-6 three-point attempts.
"It's been tough for him because we've asked him to play both the wing and point positions," said Burns of the 2006 graduate of tiny Brewster, Wash., High School. "Getting acclimated to college basketball at two different positions isn't the easiest thing in the world. But he's handled it like a champ and he was huge. They came out in that zone and were basically going to give us outside shots and nothing else. We needed him to step up and knock some down and he did."
Omar Krayem added 11 points and five assists for EWU. Zumwalt equaled his career-high with nine points, and Paul Butorac also scored nine. Three other Eagles had at least seven points. Eastern made 53.1 percent of its field goal attempts, including a season-high 12 three-pointers in 23 attempts.
With Eastern leading by no less than 18 and by as many as 30 in the second half, Stuckey played sparingly after intermission. He played just 29 minutes -- his third-lowest total of the season -- and made 7-of-15 shots. Averaging 27.8 points per game entering the game to rank third in NCAA Division I, Stuckey has won the last two Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors.
"When you're up 30 points with 15 to go, you don't want to lose your focus," said Burns. "But at the same time, that's difficult, especially when you play as many people as we did tonight. I thought that last group came in and gave us great energy and did a great job down the stretch."
The only negative for Eastern was getting out-rebounded 41-36. Eastern had 24 defensive rebounds compared to 22 offensive rebounds for Portland.
"They were pounding the offensive glass," said Burns. "When you front the post like we did you expose yourself on the glass. We didn't do a good job there, and that's something we'll try to get improve at Santa Clara."
Eastern takes on a huge Santa Clara team that won at Pacific 67-49 on Saturday to improve to 6-3. Three of the top five scorers for the Broncos stand 6-foot-10 or taller.
"They are very big, very physical and very-well coached," said Burns. "They are very tough to beat at home and will be a great challenge for us."
The Broncos are 4-1 at home at the Leavey Center, with the lone loss coming to nationally-ranked and unbeaten Nevada by a 78-70 score. The Broncos defeated Utah and former Eastern head coach Ray Giacoletti 83-72 on Nov. 18.
"Santa Clara has had some good non-league wins," said Burns. "They beat Utah and took Nevada down to the wire. The Leavey Center is a very tough place to play and they always play well at home."
Santa Clara 6-11 senior Sean Denison entered the week averaging 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds. Seven-footer Josh Higgins averages 8.6 points and 4.6 rebounds and 6-10 sophomore John Bryant chips in 8.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and nearly two blocked shots per game. Former EWU Eagle Danny Pariseau chips in 9.4 points and 3.8 assists per game.