Jan. 7, 2008
It's back on the road for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team, including a homecoming for first-year Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine.
Eastern plays at Idaho State on Thursday (Jan. 10) before playing at Weber State on Saturday (Jan. 12). Tipoff in both games is 6:05 p.m. Pacific time as EWU visits Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho, on Thursday and the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah, on Saturday.
Earlywine is very familiar with both places as he spent seven seasons as an assistant under Joe Cravens at Weber State from 1999-2006. He helped the Wildcats to a 116-88 record overall and 58-44 Big Sky Conference mark. Included was a 26-6 record overall and perfect 14-0 Big Sky mark in 2002-03 when Weber State advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles are now 7-10 overall and 2-1 in the Big Sky Conference as they closed a six-game homestand with a 4-2 mark. Eastern is tied in the league standings with Portland State and Northern Arizona at 2-1, as well as 1-0 Montana State and Idaho State.
Idaho State is 4-10 overall and Weber State, the defending Big Sky regular season and tournament champion, is 5-8 overall and 0-1 in the league. While Eastern has already played three league foes, Idaho State's only game was a 76-65 win on Jan. 3 at Northern Colorado where Weber State lost three days later 55-52. The Wildcats host Portland State before taking on the Eagles.
"We're 2-1 right now -- I'll take it at this point," said Earlywine. "Now we have a big challenge to prove that we can go win a conference game on the road. That's not always an easy thing to do in this league. For us to take the next step as a team, the challenge is to go win a conference road game."
Last year, Eastern won games against Idaho State and Weber State at home, but lost to both schools on the road. However, Eastern has had some recent success at both places, winning at ISU five times since 2000 and owning an overall mark of 9-17 in Pocatello. Eastern's only three victories in 25 all-time meetings in Ogden have all come since 2000.
Eastern has won 16 of the past 22 meetings against the Bengals. The Eagles have won 12 of the last 25 meetings versus Weber State after losing nine-straight from 1992-1996.
Idaho State, which primarily utilizes a zone defense, was a welcome foe last year for current Eagle senior Marcus Hinton. He scored 37 points against ISU, including 24 and a game-winning three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining in EWU's 82-79 home victory. In his other 23 games as an Eagle last season, he scored 113 points (4.9 average per game). He made a school-record 6-of-6 three-pointers in the win versus ISU and 10-of-10 free throws in the first meeting when he finished with 13 points.
The Bengals and Eagles both have a 1-3 record against common opponents Portland, Idaho, Washington State and Washington. However, Eastern lost to Idaho (58-59) and defeated Portland (84-75), while ISU beat the Vandals (71-69 in overtime) and lost to the Pilots (76-52).
Junior Matt Stucki, who scored 18 points and had eight rebounds in last year's victory over EWU, leads ISU with an average of 11.4 points per game. Sophomore Amorrow Morgan averages 10.5 points, up considerably from his 1.5 average a year ago.
The lone common opponent for the Eagles and Wildcats was New Mexico. Eastern lost 92-57 in Albuquerque on Nov. 12 and Weber State fell there 62-32 on Dec. 23.
Arturus Valeika is the lone Wildcat scoring in double figures at 10.5 points per game, but he failed to score in the loss to Northern Colorado. He is third in the Big Sky in rebounding at 8.4 per game, including nine boards versus the Bears. Eight other Wildcats average between 4.6 and 8.4 points per game.
Idaho State was picked to finish fifth in the league standings by the coaches and sixth by the media, while Eastern was selected to finish ninth by the media and eighth by the coaches. Weber State was picked by the coaches to repeat as league champions while the media had the Wildcats finishing second behind struggling Montana, which has lost six of its last seven games.
Eastern, with six players who had never played NCAA Division I basketball before -- let alone a Big Sky Conference game -- hopes to continue its recipe for recent success. Eastern has used discipline, defense and opportunistic offense to win six of its last 11 games after a 1-5 start.
Eastern is coming off a 76-52 victory over Sacramento State on Jan. 5 that wrapped-up a six-game homestand for the Eagles. However, EWU suffered a 79-75 setback to Northern Arizona on Jan. 3 when Eastern fell behind 10-0 and by as many as 20 in the second half.
Eastern's other league game was a 58-57 victory over Portland State on Dec. 22. The Eagles versus Vikings league match-up represented the earliest BSC start in school history for EWU. Portland State was picked to finish third in both preseason polls.
Eastern is coming off a 15-14 finish to the 2006-07 season as the last three EWU seasons have yielded a collective record of 38-49. The Eagles had their string of consecutive Big Sky Conference Tournament berths snapped at nine last season as EWU finished with an 8-8 league record.
Double-Double Machine Kellen Williams Leads Big Sky in Rebounding: Following a near triple-double in a 76-52 victory over Sacramento State on Jan. 5, senior Kellen Williams has taken over the Big Sky Conference lead in rebounding with an average of 8.8 per game.
Williams scored 22 points, had nine rebounds and dished out a career-high seven assists against the Hornets. He hit 10-of-16 shots from the field in leading Eastern in scoring for the fifth time this season and rebounding in the 16th game, including the last 13. His seven assists were three better than his previous career high of four set on two occasions in his 74-game career.
He has scored in double figures in his last nine games and has seven double-doubles this season. The Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after recording double-doubles versus both Portland and Portland State in late December, Williams has averaged 16.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and has made 57.0 percent of his field goal attempts in EWU's seven victories this season.
"Kellen has been a workhorse," praised Earlywine. "I've pointed it out to him that it's going to become tougher as the season wears on. He has gone from a 14 or 15 minute role player a year ago to a guy who is the focus of the other team's scouting report. It's going to be harder and harder for him but he is more than able to step up to that challenge."
Williams is just 6-foot-4 but leads the league in rebounding (8.8 per game), is sixth in scoring (13.1) and sixth in field goal percentage (.515). The 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., also has 20 steals with 28 assists in 17 games. One of just two seniors on this year's team, he is also averaging a team-high 35.4 minutes per game.
He has had double-doubles in four of EWU's seven victories, and had five in a six-game stretch from Dec. 5 to Dec. 29. Eastern is 4-3 when he has a double-double.
In his 74-game EWU career (57 as a starter), Williams has averaged 9.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game with a career field goal percentage of .527. He played one season at Highline Community College in the Seattle area before transferring to EWU as a sophomore.
He was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week in late December after recording double-doubles in a pair of men's basketball victories over Portland, Ore., colleges. He had 16 points and 10 rebounds in EWU's 84-75 win over Portland on Dec. 17. He then had a season-high 19 points and 11 boards in EWU's 58-57 Big Sky Conference-opening victory over Portland State as he hit the game-winning shot with five seconds to play. He finished the PSU game with 11 rebounds and a season-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, including a trio of three-pointers and 4-of-6 free throws.
"We drew up an isolation for him and he did what a fifth-year senior is supposed to do," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine of Williams, who played all 40 minutes of the game. "He didn't bail out when there was contact -- he got himself balanced and took a man's shot that went in."
Williams was also selected to the All-Tournament team at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout after averaging 11.7 points and eight rebounds in three games. He had his second double-double of the year with 13 points and 11 rebounds in EWU's 64-62 win over Alaska-Anchorage. He had 17 points and 13 boards in a 59-51 win over UC Riverside on Nov. 15. He had 13 points and 11 rebounds against Kansas on Dec. 5, and then had 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds one game later at Idaho on Dec. 9. He had 14 points and nine rebounds in a season-low 25 minutes of action in EWU's 91-59 romp over Cascade on Dec. 14.
"Kellen is playing really well," said Earlywine after the Great Alaska Shootout. "He has played a ton of minutes by default. He is certainly earning those minutes at this point, and he has become a much better defender over the last two weeks. Early in the year he was getting his fair share of rebounds, but he wasn't blocking out on the defensive end. Now, he is not only rebounding but he is blocking out and preventing his man from getting offensive rebounds. He is our workhorse right now."
Very Little Size in EWU Lineup, But Defense Much Improved: Eastern's defense has been impressive as of late, allowing its last four opponents to average just 61.5 points per game. In EWU's seven victories this season, the Eagles have held opponents to an average of 58.6 points per game. Overall, Eastern is allowing 66.4 to rank fourth in the Big Sky Conference.
In back-to-back games versus Portland State and UC Santa Barbara, EWU held those two teams to just 109 total points. The Eagles were superb at the end of those games, holding PSU without a field goal for the last 7:04 of the 58-51 victory. In that stretch, the Vikings missed their last five shots and had four turnovers. Eastern overcame a 12-point deficit in the second half against UCSB by holding the Gauchos without a field goal in the last 6:16.
"It's becoming evident that we are going to be in a bunch of grinder games that are going to end up being one or two possession games that are going to be a coin toss at the last media timeout," said Earlywine, whose team battled back against UCSB to come within four with 3:35 to play. "Every mistake is magnified in those games and every bucket is bigger."
"I think our guys are getting more comfortable in those type of games," he added. "The difference between winning the conference and finishing last in the conference is how you do in those six or eight games that come down to the last possession."
Eastern has just two players on its roster 6-foot-7 or taller, but the Eagles have gone from allowing 82.6 points per game a year ago to a current average of just 67.1 per game. Senior Kellen Williams, in fact, is just 6-4 but leads the league in rebounding (8.8 per game).
"Our little guys are going to have to go out there and compete," said first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine. "That is the way it has been all year -- we can either use that as an excuse or we can find a way to win. Our little guys found a way to hang in there with Portland State and kind of forced them to go small a couple times."
"We are going to have to deal with our size issues from time to time," he added. "When we do, we are going to throw out some hodge-podge lineups at our opponents and we have to go rebound by committee."
Eagles Start Attempt at Repeating History by Avoiding It: First-year head coach Kirk Earlywine has a little bit of history on his side that he was quick to point out when he was introduced as EWU's head coach last June. He is hoping that Eastern can contend for the Big Sky regular season title a year after not even qualifying for the conference tournament.
"The last three years in the Big Sky, the team that won (the regular season conference title) and hosted the (six-team) tournament was not in the tournament the year before," he explained, citing the success of Weber State (2007), Northern Arizona (2006) and Portland State (2005). "I don't see any reason why we can't make it four in a row and be hosting the Big Sky Tournament at Reese Court next March."
With Fifth-Highest Strength of Schedule, EWU Plays Nine of First 11 on the Road: Eastern's first 11 games -- all taking place in a month-long span from Nov. 9 to Dec. 9 -- included nine road games. Thankfully, the second month of the season -- Dec. 10 to Jan. 9 -- included exactly zero road games.
To make matters more difficult was the fact EWU had one of the toughest strength of schedule ratings in NCAA Division I, with a ranking of fifth in the Sagarin computer ratings at one point during that stretch. Through games of Jan. 6, EWU's strength of schedule was rated 98th.
Eastern lost to 10th-ranked Washington State 68-41 on Nov. 9 and fell 85-47 at No. 3 Kansas on Dec. 5 in games against Pacific 10 Conference and Big 12 Conference foes, respectively. The game against the Jayhawks equaled the highest-ranked team Eastern has ever played.
Eastern also lost five other games to teams from high-level leagues -- 82-68 to Washington of the Pacific 10, 69-52 to Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast, 61-53 to Michigan of the Big 10, 92-57 to New Mexico of the Mountain West and 66-57 to Santa Clara of the West Coast.
Eagles Better in Second Half Than First Half: Eastern has now been outscored in the first half 556-476 (average score of 33-28), with its first halftime lead of the season coming in a 65-54 win at Missouri-Kansas City on Dec. 3. The team's only other halftime leads were 36-22 versus Sacramento State on Jan. 5 and against Cascade on Dec. 14 by a 60-30 margin just one game after falling behind at intermission 26-17 against Idaho. Eastern has had three first-half performances of 19 or fewer points this season.
In the second half, Eastern has been outscored by just one point -- 572-571 (average score of 34-34). Eastern has either had advantages or been tied after halftime in 10 games.
Three of Eastern's victories -- Portland, Alaska Anchorage and UC Riverside -- have featured second-half comebacks after trailing at intermission. In those three outings combined, Eastern was out-scored by 18 points in the first half (95-77) before turning the tables for a 37-point advantage in the second half (130-93).
Versus Portland on Dec. 17, Eastern used a 52-39 scoring advantage in the second half to rally from a four-point halftime deficit. A 13-2 run in the second half was the turning point in the 84-75 victory.
Against Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 24, Eastern fell behind at halftime for the seventh time in seven games by a 26-23 margin. But the Eagles went on a 19-4 run to overcome the three-point halftime deficit and open a 12-point lead. Although Eastern had to hold off a furious rally by the Seawolves, EWU outscored them 41-36 in the second half.
In Eastern's first victory this season, a 59-51 triumph over UC Riverside on Nov. 15, Eastern held the Highlanders to 18 points in the second half as new EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine recorded his first official win. Eastern made only 21 percent of its shots in the first half in falling behind by as many as 14 and 33-22 at halftime, but held UCR without a point for a nearly seven-minute span in the second half.
In another game, a 79-75 loss to Northern Arizona on Jan. 3, Eastern rallied from a 20-point deficit in the second half in a game in which the Eagles trailed early 10-0 and at halftime 42-29. Eastern out-scored the Lumberjacks 30-17 in the final 9:50.
Eagles Picked to Finish In Back of the Pack: Defending Big Sky Conference Champion Weber State is the coaches' pick to repeat as men's basketball champion, while the media like the Montana Grizzlies to win it all in 2007-08. Both preseason polls were released Nov. 1 by the Big Sky Conference.
Northern Colorado is in its second year in the Big Sky Conference. Unlike 2006-07, the Bears are eligible to compete in the conference tournament. The top six finishers in the regular season will advance to the postseason tournament, which begins on Saturday, March 8 with first-round games. The semifinals and championship will be played March 11-12 at the site of the regular-season champion.
School (First-place votes) - Points
1. Weber State (4) - 60
2. Montana (4) - 57
3. Portland State (1) - 52
4. Northern Arizona - 44
5. Idaho State - 37
6. Montana State - 33
7. Northern Colorado - 19
8. Eastern Washington - 15
9. Sacramento State - 12
School (First-place votes) - Points
1. Montana (14) - 218
2. Weber State (8) - 200
3. Portland State (2) - 183
4. Northern Arizona (2) - 155
5. Montana State - 114
6. Idaho State - 111
7. Sacramento State - 74
8. Northern Colorado - 56
9. Eastern Washington - 55
EWU-Idaho State Series History (Since 1983-84): Eastern has won 16 of the past 22 meetings against the Bengals, including a sweep in the 2001-02, 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. Idaho State swept the Eagles in the regular season in 2002-03, but Eastern won the third meeting by a 76-67 score in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Last year, Eastern lost 78-65 in Pocatello before rebounding for an 82-79 home win.
Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 27-23 against the Bengals, including an 18-7 record in Cheney and 8-15 mark in Pocatello (1-1 on neutral courts). Eastern lost eight-straight games to ISU from 1993 to 1997, and leads in the all-time series 30-24 (20-6 in Cheney, 9-17 in Pocatello, 1-1 neutral).
Last Season in Pocatello - Idaho State 78, Eastern Washington 65: Idaho State was in the zone Jan. 11 at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho, as the Eagles became the third victim of ISU's zone defense in a 78-65 loss that kept Idaho State on top of the league standings at 3-0.
At the time, Eastern had season lows for points, field goal percentage overall (20-of-52 for 39 percent) and three-point shooting percentage (6-of-29 for 21 percent). In its first three Big Sky games, ISU opponents averaged just 59.3 points and made only 37 percent of their shots against the Bengals. Those three opponents made just 23-of-91 treys for a measly 25 percent.
"That's why they play that zone," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "We had some opportunities to score out there and had shots we usually make. It's just unfortunate we didn't."
Eastern sophomore Rodney Stuckey led the Eagles with 17 points, five points and three steals, but he was held to six points less than his season average entering the game of 23.3 that ranked sixth in NCAA Division I. He missed all five of his three-point attempts in finishing the game 6-of-13 from the field, and also had six turnovers.
As a team, Eastern was held to 21 points less than its season average of 86.4 points per game. Its previous low in a game came in a 91-68 loss at Santa Clara exactly a month earlier on Dec. 11. Eastern entered the ISU game ranked fifth nationally in scoring and was 25th in field goal percentage (.492).
The Bengals used runs of 6-0 and 11-0 to open an early 32-14 lead with 4:53 to play in the first half. Idaho State led by as many as 19 points in the first half before settling for a 36-23 lead at halftime. In the second half, both teams scored 42 points.
"In the second half we were aggressive against their zone and tried to attack it with balance and the pass inside," said Burns. "In the first half we were too passive and we settled. If you are taking jump shots and they are going in, then you will stretch the zone and can drive it at them. But they were just daring us to shoot it. We had to find a way to shoehorn it into the middle and we were able to do that. But we came up a little short."
Eastern cut the lead to six on a basket by Stuckey with 11:15 to play in the game, but the Bengals went on a 6-2 run to re-open a 10-point bulge. Eastern was able to cut it to single digits only four times after that and never any less than eight.
"We had momentum on our side and we had a couple of possessions that could cut into that lead even more," said Burns. "But we couldn't knock one down and we also had a turnover at that time. When you get down like we did, your margin for error is very small. You have to play efficient basketball. For a few minutes we came close to that, but you have to make a lot of shots in that situation."
Besides Stuckey's 17 points, Marcus Hinton came off the bench to score 13 points on perfect 10-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. Paul Butorac added 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds, but made just 3-of-7 shots from the floor and 4-of-9 free throws.
Idaho State had four players score in double figures, led by the 18 points off the bench by Matt Stucki. The Bengals out-rebounded Eastern 34-29 and made 47 percent of their shots from the field. David Schroeder and Akbar Abdul-Ahad had 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Last Season in Cheney - Eastern Washington 82, Idaho State 79: Marcus Hinton nailed his sixth three-pointer of the game -- and just his 13th of the season -- with 2.6 seconds to play as Eastern Washington University beat Idaho State 82-79 Feb. 22 in a critical Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Hinton finished with a game-high 24 points after entering the game averaging just 5.1 points per game on the season. He was just 7-of-17 from three-point range entering the game, but made all six of his treys against Idaho State's zone defense to finish 9-of-11 overall from the field. His previous season high for points was 15 in November against The Evergreen State.
"You've got to take your hat off to Marcus Hinton -- that was an unbelievable performance," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns of the junior from Tacoma, Wash. Marcus didn't get a lot of opportunities early, and that shows the quality of the kid he is because when he came in he maximized his opportunities. We don't win without him tonight."
Sensational sophomore Rodney Stuckey added 23 points and a career-high 10 assists, making 10-of-11 free throws. Stuckey became just the fourth player in school history to go over the 1,400-point mark.
The game featured 13 ties and 16 lead changes, but Eastern appeared to have the upper hand when Stuckey sank a pair of free throws with 34 seconds left to give EWU a 79-75 lead. However, a pair of ISU baskets knotted the score at 79 with 12 seconds to play.
On EWU's next possession, Stuckey brought the ball up court, and like he did all night long, fired a pass to Hinton on the opposite side of the court. Hinton swished it, and Idaho State did not get a shot off in the final 2.6 seconds.
Eastern made 10-of-20 three-point attempts and made 55 percent of its shots from the field overall. Eastern also sank 16-of-20 free throws and out-rebounded ISU 31-24. Paul Butorac added 15 points and eight rebounds for Eastern, and had one blocked shot that gave him 99 in his career. He also had two dunks to give him 100.
"With the zone defense that Idaho State plays, it's not so much about plays as it is about making plays," said Burns. "Our guys did that tonight and you have to take your hat off to them for that. We tried to keep focus -- we knew we could win and we did."
Idaho State stayed in the game by forcing 18 Eastern turnovers which the Bengals turned into 26 points. Idaho State finished with 15 fast break points.
EWU-Weber State Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 18-31 against Weber State (18-32 all-time). The Eagles are 13-10 in Cheney, 3-21 in Ogden and 2-0 on neutral courts versus the Wildcats since 1983-84 (3-22 in Ogden all-time). Eastern's lone victories in Ogden came in 2005 (76-73), 2001 (81-70) and 2000 (90-78) when Eastern snapped the Wildcats' 30-game home winning streak, which at the time was the fourth longest in NCAA Division I.
The Eagles have won 12 of the last 25 meetings after losing nine-straight from 1992-1996. Eastern has defeated the Wildcats three times in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament (72-53 in 2004, 62-57 in 2002 and 83-67 in 1990). Last year, Eastern lost in Ogden 93-84 before winning in Cheney just 11 days later, 89-74. That started a stretch in which EWU won four of its last five games of the season, but failed to advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Last Season in Ogden - Weber State 93, Eastern Washington 84: Eastern Washington was hot, but Weber State was hotter in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Jan. 27 at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah.
Eastern made 55 percent of its shots from the field, but Weber State's 67 percent shooting was too much for the Eagles to overcome as EWU lost 93-84 in a failed bid for its third-straight victory.
Rodney Stuckey had another sensational outing for the Eagles with a double-double that consisted of 29 points and a career-high 10 assists. He also led the Eagles with six rebounds and four steals, while Paul Butorac finished with a career-high 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
"You can't be disappointed with what we did offensively," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "We had 84 points, 21 assists, only 11 turnovers and 55 percent shooting -- that's a good night offensively."
However, EWU couldn't stop Weber State's David Patten and Dezmon Harris as they combined for 41 points on 14-of-20 shooting. Two other players scored 13 points each on 10-of-14 shooting. The Wildcats never trailed and held off several comeback attempts by the Eagles in the second half.
"At times we were pretty good," said Burns. "Defensively we allowed ourselves get screened along the baseline and at times it allowed them to get layups and open shots. We had a great effort on Thursday night, but we looked lethargic at times tonight. That's something we will improve upon."
Eastern fell behind by as many as 11 in the first half as Weber State used runs of 8-0 and 11-5 to take command. The Eagles trailed by five at halftime and were within two at 51-49 with 18:03 to play. Weber State led 67-54 when EWU went on a 12-2 run that included five points by Brandon Moore, including a three-point play that cut the lead to 69-66 at the 8:11 mark.
On the next possession, Patten hit a long three-pointer as the shot clock expired, giving Weber State a six-point advantage. Eastern cut the lead to three one more time, but Weber State went up by 11 again as the Wildcats made 10 free throws in the last 4:22 to seal it.
"That was obviously a huge, huge play," said Burns of Patten's trey. "We did a great defensively that possession. If he would have missed the shot, we could have gone to the other end with a chance to tie it. It was one of those plays where it probably changed the momentum of the game."
Eastern forced 16 turnovers, but was out-rebounded 34-20. Weber State missed only 16 shots in the game, but had 14 second-chance points as it grabbed nine offensive rebounds.
"At times I was disappointed with our defensive effort, but at other times we did a great job defensively," Burns added. "You have take your hat off to them for going 8-of-14 from the three-point line. We were down by three when Patten hit that long, 29-foot bomb at the end of the shot clock. You have to credit them for making a play."
Stuckey made 12-of-22 shots from the field and played all 40 minutes of the game. Kellen Williams was the third Eagle to score in double figures with 13 points and six rebounds.
Last Season in Cheney - Eastern Washington 89, Weber State 74: Thanks to a season-high 34 points by sophomore Rodney Stuckey, Eastern Washington University opened a four-game Big Sky Conference men's basketball homestand with a huge 89-74 victory over league-leading Weber State Feb. 7 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Eagles.
"I'm very pleased with our effort tonight," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "For our team to go through their recent losing streak and respond like they did tonight with this effort speaks volumes of our team."
"Tonight was a home game and we were in a must-win situation, so to come out on top under those circumstances was huge," added Burns. "If we lose tonight, then, boom, we are in a tailspin. It's not an easy thing to respond to that kind of pressure, but our guys responded very well tonight."
Stuckey, ranked seventh in NCAA Division I entering the game with a 23.8 scoring average, was again remarkable as he also finished with seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. He made 10-of-19 shots from the floor and 12-of-14 free throws as he recorded the 13th 30-point game of his career and equaled the 14th-most points in school history. His previous high this season was 33 against Lewis-Clark State.
Eastern had a 41-19 advantage on the boards, and made 55 percent of its shots from the field. Eastern made 64 percent in the second half while Weber cooled off to shoot just 42 percent after intermission and 48 percent in the game. On Jan. 27 in a 93-84 loss to the Wildcats, Weber State made 67 percent from the field.
Both Stuckey and Weber State's Juan Pablo Silveira scored 20 points in the first half en route to a 42-all deadlock at intermission. Stuckey scored 14 points after halftime but Silveira scored only five in the second half to finish the game with 25.
"I thought we had a lot more defensive energy tonight than we have had in the past and we rebounded pretty well," said Burns. "We limited Weber State to one shot and we did a better job at covering up their shooters, Juan Pablo Silveira was absolutely on fire in the first half and we were getting stuck on some screens that were leaving him wide open. We did a better job in the second half of fighting through those screens and preventing the easy shot."
Eastern led the entire second half, scoring the first five points to open a 47-42 cushion. Weber State cut the lead to one twice, but Eastern built a 70-60 advantage with 9:12 to play. The closest the Wildcats came after that was seven, and Eastern had its biggest lead of the night at 16 with 1:08 to play.
Paul Butorac scored 12 points with five rebounds, Michael Taylor scored 11 and Matt Penoncello added 10 points and three assists. Kellen Williams had a team-high 10 rebounds to go along with four points and three assists.
"We stopped playing zone defense in the second half because in the first half Weber State was 7-of-8 from three," explained Burns, whose team held WSU to 4-of-9 shooting from the three-point stripe in the second half. "And even though we were getting stuck on some screens they still had to make those shots and probably five of those seven were contested. When they are shooting like that it kind of eliminates zone defense as an option just because with their big guys they can put five guys on the court that can hit that three pointer, so we had to put the zone defense to bed at halftime tonight."
MORE EWU NOTES
Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins: In the last nine seasons (including this season), Eastern has entered Big Sky Conference play with a collective 45-67 (.401) record. Those difficult schedules have yielded a 77-44 (.636) Big Sky Conference record in that span (through games of Jan. 5). Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last eight years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.
This year, Eastern entered conference play 5-8, which compares favorably to the previous eight seasons (in order) -- 6-6, 5-8, 3-10, 4-9, 8-6, 6-8, 5-5, 3-7. One of Eastern's worst pre-conference records was in 2003-04 (4-9), yet resulted in an 11-3 league mark, Big Sky regular season and tourney titles and the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. In the 1999-2000 season -- EWU's final season under former head coach Steve Aggers -- the Eagles were just 3-7 before sharing the Big Sky Conference regular season title with Montana as they both finished 12-4 in conference play.
Eagles Get First Great Alaska Shootout Victory During Difficult Stretch: The Eagles won for the first time in six all-time games at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout with a 64-62 victory over host Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 24. 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.
Eastern's 19-4 run to start the second half was the key in Eastern's win over the Seawolves, a NCAA Division II team who failed to defeat a Division I foe in their tournament for only the sixth time in 30 tournaments. EWU was led by the 13 points and 11 rebounds by senior Kellen Williams.
"I don't think everybody appreciates how good of a win that was over Alaska-Anchorage," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "They have a really good team, and two great players. The Great Alaska Shootout has been going on for 30 years, and 24 of those years Anchorage has beaten a Division I team in that tournament. Although they are a Division II team, that was certainly not a gimme win. They are a very good Division II team to begin with and they played on their home court with their home crowd. It was a good win, and I was happy with that."
Eastern started the season 1-5, including losses by 27 points to Washington State of the Pacific 10 (68-41), 35 to New Mexico of the Mountain West (92-57) and 14 to Washington of the Pac-10 (82-68). Eastern's lone win in that stretch was a 59-51 victory at home over UC Riverside on Nov. 15 when the Eagles rallied from a 14-point deficit.
Eastern's first two opponents (WSU and UNM) had a 41-25 record last year, including a 26-8 record and NCAA Tournament appearance by the Cougars. Washington, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Alaska Anchorage all had at least 19 victories a year ago, and collectively were 82-47. Like Washington State, Virginia Tech also advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I was happy with the trip in general," said Earlywine of his team's trek to Alaska. "We were competitive against Virginia Tech -- we played better against Virginia Tech than we did the previous game against Washington. We were even better against Michigan than Virginia Tech, and we were within one point with a minute and a half to go. We got better each game in Alaska, and that is what we went up there to do."
Tough Early-Season Schedule a Formidable Task for Earlywine and Undermanned Eagles: This early stretch of difficult games has provided a formidable task for first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine, who was named as head coach at EWU on the late date of June 14, 2007. He pieced together a makeshift roster built around returning starter Kellen Williams and returning letter winners Brandon Moore and Marcus Hinton.
Besides those three players, EWU's roster entering the season included one 2006-07 redshirt and nine newcomers. However, three of the new players are transfers and are not eligible to play this season. In addition, walk-on Blake Solomon would have been a 10th newcomer but he had to leave the team because of his wife's health.
That left the Eagles with 10 available players, and freshman Petar Milasinovic is redshirting after suffering early season ankle and rib injuries. Returning redshirt Jack Loofburrow missed Eastern's first five games with a foot injury and has played sparingly since then.
Thankfully, Adris DeLeon was cleared to play by the NCAA over questions regarding his junior college transcripts. His appeal was approved on Nov. 9 in time for him to play that night against Washington State, giving EWU eight players in uniform.
DeLeon was not eligible prior to that, but the seven players Eastern did have available helped engineer a 91-49 romp over NCAA Division III Pacific in an exhibition game on Nov. 3. Five scored in double figures, led by the 25 of true freshman Trey Gross who was making his collegiate basketball debut.
Focus on Offense Pays Dividends: The Eagles focused on defense early in the year, then spent more practice time on the offensive end. It showed in a pair of games against Cascade and Portland.
On Dec. 9 in a disappointing 58-48 loss at Idaho, Eastern suffered through an almost unimaginable offensive drought. The Eagles went 16:10 without a field goal and missed 16-straight shots from the field. That outing left Eastern with a season scoring average of just 55.6 points per game.
But EWU responded to score 175 points in its next two games, including a 91-59 victory over Cascade on Dec. 14 and an 84-75 win over Portland on Dec. 17. Eastern made a season-high 56 percent of its shots from the field against the Pilots, shattering its previous high of 47 percent in a win at Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 24.
Particularly noteworthy was EWU's three-point shooting as six different players hit treys in those two victories. Eastern had a school-record 16 on 27 attempts in the victory over Cascade and followed that with an 11-of-22 performance versus Portland. Eastern made 27 of 49 three-point attempts in that two-game stretch after making just 2-of-11 against Idaho.
Regardless of the offensive success, first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine will continue to preach defense to his squad.
"Some nights it goes in and some nights it doesn't," said Earlywine. "That's why we have been spending 70 percent of our practice time on defense. I think our team at times becomes offensive sensitive, and when shots don't go in they don't guard as hard. We have spent a lot of time talking about that and working on it."
Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern is now 1-14 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year before. Seven of the 13 games came under former head coach Mike Burns and five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.
12/5/07 vs. #3 Kansas - L, 47-85
11/9/07 vs. #10 Washington State - L, 41-68
12/15/06 vs. #22 Oregon - L, 74-100
11/24/06 vs. #16 Washington - L, 83-90
12/19/05 vs. #8 Gonzaga - L, 65-75
12/16/05 vs. #11 Washington - L, 74-91
12/28/04 vs. #14 Arizona - L, 45-79
12/21/04 vs. #13 Gonzaga - L, 70-83
12/5/04 vs. #14 Washington - L, 56-89
3/19/04 vs. #3 Oklahoma State - L, 56-75
12/31/03 vs. #16 Gonzaga - L, 49-70
11/21/03 vs. #14 Oklahoma - L, 59-69
11/15/01 vs. #10 St. Joseph's - W, 68-67
11/25/00 vs. #4 Michigan State - L, 61-83
1/21/85 vs. #10 DePaul - L, 50-72
Big Crowds: Eastern's first two games of the 2007-08 season drew crowds of 10,216 (at Washington State) and 12,016 (at New Mexico), marking the 16th and 17th times since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. The 18th came on Dec. 12 when Eastern lost to Kansas at legendary Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
In the 2006 season, the Eagles played in front of 10,000 at Washington after the previous two games there drew 9,876 (2005) and 9,418 (2004). In the 2004-05 season, Eastern played in front of a crowd of 14,535 fans at Arizona, 10,216 at Wichita State and 12,000 against Gonzaga. Three of the 10,000+ crowds also came in the 2003-04 season. Several other games have been played in the first game of pre-season tournaments that have drawn at least that many fans, but the Eagles haven't faced the host team.
Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win all 17 of those games in which it has played in front of at least 10,000 fans. Here is a list of those crowds:
16,840 - 3/19/04 vs. Oklahoma State - L, 56-75
16,374 - 11/15/02 vs. Wisconsin - L, 55-81
16,300 - 12/5/07 vs. Kansas - L, 47-85
14,759 - 11/25/00 vs. Michigan State - L, 61-83
14,535 - 12/28/04 vs. Arizona - L, 45-79
12,533 - 11/24/01 vs. Minnesota - L, 68-86
12,299 - 12/31/03 vs. Gonzaga - L, 49-70
12,016 - 11/12/06 vs. New Mexico - L, 57-92
12,000 - 12/21/04 vs. Gonzaga - L, 70-83
11,879 - 12/19/05 vs. Gonzaga - L, 65-75
11,268 - 11/21/03 vs. Oklahoma - L, 59-69
11,031 - 12/5/03 vs. Iowa - L, 54-70
11,000 - 12/22/02 vs. Gonzaga - L, 64-67
10,432 - 12/28/01 vs. Indiana - L, 60-87
10,216 - 11/20/04 vs. Wichita State - L, 62-80
10,215 - 11/9/06 vs. Washington State - L, 41-68
10,210 - 3/12/03 vs. Weber State - L, 57-60
10,000 - 11/24/06 vs. Washington - L, 83-90
Eagles 0-15 Versus Big 12: Eastern Washington has lost all 15 games it has played against current members of the Big 12 Conference, including an 0-4 record versus Nebraska. In the last three meetings against Big 12 foes, Eastern has played a nationally-ranked team. Here is the complete list:
12/30/80 - L - Nebraska - 68-82 - A
1/12/84 - L - Kansas State - 57-64 - A
1/14/84 - L - Nebraska - 71-105 - A
1/9/85 - L - Kansas State - 43-81 - A
12/16/88 - L - Missouri - 68-81 - A
12/21/91 - L - Nebraska - 67-102 - ~
12/2/94 - L - Colorado - 67-87 - #
11/29/97 - L - Baylor - 51-67 - A
11/20/99 - L - Baylor - 61-68 - A
12/18/99 - L - Colorado - 61-79 - A
12/16/00 - L - Kansas State - 56-70 - A
12/31/02 - L - Nebraska - 60-63 - A
11/21/03 - L - #14 Oklahoma - 59-69 - $
3/19/04 - L - #3 Oklahoma State - 56-75 - %
12/5/07 - L - #3 Kansas - 47-85 - A
~ -- Nebraska Ameritas Classic in Lincoln, Neb. (2nd)
# -- Mile High Classic in Boulder, Colo.
$ -- Sooner Invitational in Norman, Okla.
% -- NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. (first round)
A -- Away
Shootout Was Late Addition for New Coach: Under the duress of a short time frame in which to work, new Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine filled his roster and schedule for the 2007-08 men's basketball season during the summer months.
One of his decisions was to agree to become a last-minute replacement at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska. Eastern, which was 0-3 in its only other appearance in the Shootout in 2005, was a late replacement for Liberty in the eight-team tourney.
"The schedule was pretty much complete," Earlywine said at the time. "The wrinkle with the Great Alaska Shootout only added to my to-do list."
Eastern 12-66 Versus the Pacific 10 Conference: With losses to Washington each of the last five seasons and a 1-9 record all-time against the Huskies, Eastern is now 12-65 all-time versus current members of the Pacific 10 Conference. Eastern has a current eight-game losing streak versus the Pac 10 after losing at Washington State 68-41 on Nov. 9 and Washington 82-68 on Nov. 18.
Eastern's win at Washington in the 2002-03 season snapped a five-game losing streak versus Pacific 10 Conference opponents dating back to Eastern's 83-82 overtime win versus Washington State on Dec. 22, 1997, in Kennewick, Wash. That victory was Eastern's first-ever victory over a Pacific 8 or Pacific 10 Conference opponent since the inception of the conference in 1968. It was also Eastern's first win over Washington State since Dec. 1, 1952, when the Eagles pulled out a 72-71 overtime win in Pullman. The Cougars had led the all-time series 49-10 and had won 17-straight games over the Eagles prior to that EWU victory.
Prior to falling at 16th-ranked Washington 90-83 on Nov. 24, 2006, Eastern's last game against a Pacific 10 opponent was a 91-74 loss to 11th-ranked Washington on Dec. 16, 2005. In the 2004-05 season, Washington was ranked 14th in the nation and defeated EWU 89-56. The Huskies also prevailed 104-91 in 2003, but Eastern defeated the Huskies 62-58 in December 2002. Washington won the previous four meetings which all took place between 1990 and 1997.
Other recent meetings against the Pac 10 have yielded losses to Oregon (100-74 on Dec. 15, 2006), Arizona (79-45 on Dec. 28, 2004), California (56-27 on Nov. 16, 2001 and 94-63 on Nov. 25, 1998), Oregon State (58-50 on Dec. 19, 2000 and 78-62 on Dec. 15, 1999) and Washington State (91-72 on Dec. 5, 1998).
Earlywine on his EWU Debut Against Pacific: "I was excited and I was anxious -- I know the players were. We had a number of guys who have never played a Division I basketball game before tonight. And for that matter, I've never been a head coach in a Division I basketball game before so there was a little bit of anxiety on my part too. Mostly because I wanted our fans and our students to see a team on the floor that they were proud of. I think our guys played very, very hard. We were unselfish on the offensive end, which I really like. We gave an effort that our fans and our students can be proud of."
Earlywine on Trey Gross Against Pacific: "I'd like to say that he surprised me, but he really didn't. He did exactly what he's done in practice. He's been our most consistent perimeter guy in practice. He has terrific basketball savvy. I'd like to claim that that's coaching, but he showed up with that. For an 18-year-old to go out there and get those kind of numbers in his first game, albeit an exhibition game, it was still pretty impressive."
Earlywine on Piecing Together a Roster: "It's been very difficult after taking over in the middle of June. We granted a (letter of intent) release to anybody who asked for one and some of them chose to do that. During the course of the summer where I would normally be recruiting players for the following year, I was trying to piece together a roster for this year. It was the difficult, and the fact we added 10 new players to three returning players has made it very, very hard."
Earlywine on Yearly Goal to Win Big Sky: "I don't want to term it a rebuilding year and I don't want to say that there is a three-year plan or a four-year plan or anything like that. I think that would be a tremendous disservice to Kellen Williams and Marcus Hinton -- our two seniors. When I took the job I said our goal every year would be to win the Big Sky. The past three winners of the Big Sky were teams that were not in the conference tournament the year before. We would like to make it four. I haven't seen anything yet from our guys that leads me to believe we aren't capable of doing that."
Earlywine on Familiarity with the Big Sky: "There were five new coaches last year, so I don't know the league as well as you think I would being only one year removed. Familiarity of the road trips will be a little bit of an advantage. More than anything else I think maybe its more of an advantage in terms of recruiting knowing what level of player we need to win this league and not wasting time chasing guys that are going to sign higher or ones that maybe aren't good enough to win in this league. When you go to a new league there is a feeling out process with recruiting that I don't have."
EWU in Exhibitions: Eastern has won its last 12 exhibition games, which are contests that do not count in EWU's season record or statistics, dating back to the last loss on Nov. 13, 1999, to the Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder. In that 73-71 loss, former Pepperdine player Shann Ferch made a three-point play with 19 seconds to lift NBC to the win. Here is a list of recent exhibition games:
11/3/07 - Pacific - W, 91-49
11/4/06 - Northwest Nazarene - W, 98-55
11/13/05 - UC-San Diego - W, 75-44
11/13/04 - Central Washington - W, 79-63
11/12/03 - Ukraine Touring Team - W, 83-55
11/7/03 - Northwest Sports - W, 100-79
11/7/02 - Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder - W, 99-72
11/1/02 - Northwest Sports - W, 117-73
11/2/01 - NBC Thunder - W, 108-106
10/10/01 - Alumni - W, 94-85
11/14/00 - SON Blue Angels - W, 90-78
11/4/00 - NBC Thunder - W, 72-63
11/13/99 - NBC Thunder - L, 71-73
11/5/99 - The Hoop USA - W, 106-64
A Look at the 2007-08 Eagles: Just three short years ago in 2004, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball program was basking in the glow of playing in its first-ever NCAA Tournament.
Now, it's the job of new Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine to return the Eagles to prominence after three EWU seasons that yielded a collective record of 38-49. In the 2006-07 season, the Eagles had their string of consecutive Big Sky Conference Tournament berths snapped at nine.
Earlywine has a little recent history on his side in that effort.
"The last three years in the Big Sky, the team that won (the regular season conference title) and hosted the (six-team) tournament was not in the tournament the year before," he explained, citing the success of Weber State (2007), Northern Arizona (2006) and Portland State (2005). "I don't see any reason why we can't make it four in a row and be hosting the Big Sky Tournament at Reese Court next March."
Eastern's program was rebuilt from 1995-2000 by Steve Aggers, then Ray Giacoletti took the program to new heights from 2000-2004 with a NIT Tournament berth in 2003 followed by the NCAA berth in 2004. Giacoletti was 69-50 overall and 41-17 in the Big Sky in his four seasons. His .707 winning percentage in conference games is fourth-best in the 44-year history of the league among coaches with at least four seasons at the helm.
Giacoletti and Earlywine share common threads in coming to Eastern. Both were assistants at large Division I schools (Giacoletti at Washington and Earlywine at Utah) and both had head coaching experience at NCAA Division II schools (Giacoletti at North Dakota State and Earlywine at Pfeiffer).
"With the tradition over the last nine or 10 years at Eastern with coach Aggers and coach Giacoletti, this is a place that has proven that it can win the Big Sky Conference," he said. "Unless you're in the top 20 or 25 where you're trying to get to the Final Four, every school should have as their goal to win their conference, and that will be our first and foremost goal every year."
Earlywine has added nine new players to three returning letter winners and a returning redshirt. The returning players include senior 6-foot-4 forward Kellen Williams, the lone returning starter who averaged 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in 2006-07. He is a 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, and played one year at Highline Community College in the Seattle area.
The other two players returning made their Eagle debuts last season.
Sophomore center Brandon Moore came off the bench in 26 of the 27 games he played. The 2005 graduate of Bethel High School in Graham, Wash., averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds while making 59.8 percent of his shots from the field. Eastern's biggest player at 6-9, 240 pounds, he was selected as the team's most inspirational player.
Marcus Hinton started nine of 25 games and was named the team's most improved player. The 6-3 guard finished the season with 33 points in his last two games, including 24 and the game-winning shot in an 82-79 win over Idaho State on Feb. 22. A 2004 graduate of Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., and transfer from Centralia (Wash.) Community College, Hinton finished with a 6.0 scoring average and made 14-of-25 three-point attempts.
Earlywine New Coach at Eastern: Eastern Washington's new head coach is Kirk Earlywine, a former assistant coach at Big Sky Conference rival Weber State.
Earlywine, 43, was named head coach on June 14, 2007, by EWU President Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo. He is the 16th head coach in the history of Eastern, which will celebrate its 100th recorded season of men's basketball in the 2007-08 season.
He comes to EWU after spending one season as the top assistant coach at UNC Wilmington - his 21st as an assistant at the NCAA Division I level. He also spent the 1995-96 season as a head coach at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C.
His 22-year collegiate coaching career includes seven seasons at Weber State where he worked as associate head coach on the staff of Joe Cravens. The Wildcats won 116 games while Earlywine was there - the most in the Big Sky in that span.
The 2002-03 Weber State team had a perfect 14-0 Big Sky finish. The Wildcats defeated Eastern 60-57 for the Big Sky title, then lost to Wisconsin 81-74 in the NCAA Tournament. The following season, Eastern advanced to its first-ever NCAA Tournament before going 38-49 the past three seasons under Mike Burns.
Earlywine's team at Pfeiffer was 21-8 overall and 14-4 in conference play to advance to the NCAA Division II Championships. It was the school's first season as a D-II member after playing previously as a member of the NAIA.
He took over the team in July 1995 with only two players returning and picked up a 71-62 first-round NCAA Division II Tournament victory over 12th-ranked N.C. Central. The season ended with a 49-47 loss to undefeated and No. 1 ranked Virginia Union in the regional semifinals.
Earlywine's first full-time post as an assistant coach came in 1987-88 under the colorful Rick Majerus at Ball State. He worked two seasons for Majerus in Muncie, Ind., including an outstanding campaign in 1988-89 that featured the Mid-American Conference title, a 29-3 record and a first-round victory over Pittsburgh in the NCAA Tournament.
Earlywine then followed Majerus to Utah in 1989-90 and stayed four seasons. In his second year in Salt Lake City, the Utes went 30-4, captured the Western Athletic Conference title and reached the "Sweet Sixteen" with a sterling 30-4 record. Utah advanced to the NIT Final Four in 1991-92 and captured the WAC championship once again in 1992-93.
His next stop as an assistant came in 1993-94 when Earlywine served on Leonard Drake's staff at Central Michigan. He spent two seasons with the Chippewas before landing his first head coaching job at Pfeiffer, where one of Earlywine's assistants was a young Benny Moss.
More than 10 years later, Earlywine's 21st year as a D-I assistant came in the 2006-07 season at UNC Wilmington where he worked for Moss.
Eastern Just The Fifth BSC School to Make Nine-Straight Tournament Appearances: Although its streak came to an end in the 2006-07 season, Eastern is just the fifth school in league history to make nine-straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern started the streak back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.
Weber State had its string of 24-straight appearances stopped in 2005-06, and Montana had a string of 21-straight from 1978-98. The other streaks were 16 by Idaho (1981-96) and 11 by Nevada (1982-92). Two years ago, Eastern equaled the streak of eight by Northern Arizona (1997-04).
Interestingly, Montana's 77-69 victory over the Lumberjacks on Feb. 28, 2005, extended Eastern's streak and ended NAU's. Eastern's streak started in 1998 with an end-of-year victory at Montana. That "winner advance, loser eliminated" game ended Montana's 21-year streak.
Eastern is now 7-9 in 10 appearances in the league tournament. Eastern ended its season with losses to Montana in both 2005 and 2006, but the year before won the title with a 71-59 championship game victory over Northern Arizona.
Here is a list of Eastern's appearances in the Big Sky Tournament.
2006 - Semifinal (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #2 Montana - L, 71-73 (ot)
2006 - Quarterfinal (Cheney, Wash.) - #3 seed vs. #6 Portland State - W, 81-75
2005 - Quarterfinal (Missoula, Mont.) - #6 seed vs. #3 Montana - L, 48-58
2004 - Championship (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #2 Northern Ariz. - W, 71-59
2004 - Semifinals (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 72-53
2003 - Championship (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #1 Weber State - L, 57-60
2003 - Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #4 Idaho State - W, 76-67
2002 - Championship (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Montana - L, 66-70
2002 - Semifinals (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Weber State - W, 62-57
2001 - Championship (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #1 CS Northridge - L, 58-73
2001 - Semifinals (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Northern Arizona - W, 58-53
2000 - Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Northern Arizona - L, 65-82
1999 - Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) - #6 seed vs. #3 Portland State - L, 74-80
1998 - Quarterfinals (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #6 CS Northridge - L, 98-104 (ot)
1990 - Championship (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #1 Idaho - L, 62-65
1990 - Semifinals (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 83-67
Four Eagle seniors - Paul Butorac, Rhett Humphrey, Neal Zumwalt and Derek Risper - played their final home games in EWU uniforms on Feb. 24 when Eastern beat Sacramento State 80-72. Including a 71-70 victory over UC Santa Barbara and an 82-79 win over Idaho State, Eastern ended the season with its first three-game winning streak of the season. The Eagles won four of their last five games.
The top six teams in the league advanced to the Big Sky Tournament. Eastern finished in a tie for fifth, but tiebreakers kept the Eagles out of the tourney for the first time since 1997. Regular season champ and tourney host Weber State went on to win the title and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Eastern is just the fifth school in league history to make nine-straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern started the streak back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member.
With a home win over Weber State on Feb. 7, Eastern was 1-4 against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament (Weber State, Oregon, Gonzaga and UNLV). Oregon and UNLV both advanced to the Sweet 16.
Eastern played eight of its first 10 league games on the road, and Eastern won four of those games. During the brutal road stretch, Eastern logged 6,557 miles during the five-week stretch of games. Between Jan. 3 and Feb. 3, Eastern was on the road 19 of 32 days.
En route to earning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors for the third time in the 2006-07 season and the seventh time in his career, Rodney Stuckey scored a season-high 36 points in Eastern's 92-86 home loss against Portland State on Feb. 10. He scored in double figures in 58 of 59 games in his career, and was Eastern's leading scorer in all but seven. He had a streak of 15 in a row broken when Marcus Hinton made a game-winning three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left in EWU's 82-79 victory against Idaho State on Feb. 22. Hinton scored 24 and Stuckey had 23.
Setting a school record in the process, Marcus Hinton made a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds to play to give Eastern an 82-79 victory over Idaho State on Feb. 22. He made all six of his treys to break the school's single game percentage record that was previously held by Greg Gaulding with a 5-of-5 performance versus Gonzaga on Jan. 20, 1987. Hinton finished with a game-high 24 points after entering the game averaging just 5.1 points per game on the season. In Eastern's next game - an 80-72 win over Sacramento State - he scored all seven points in a 7-0 EWU run in the second half to give Eastern the lead for good. For the weekend, he made 12-of-17 shots (7-of-8 three-pointers) for 33 points in just 37 minutes of action.
Rodney Stuckey averaged 24.4 points in 59 career games - 24.8 as a senior and 24.2 as a junior - with a total of 1,438 points that moves him into fourth on EWU's all-time leaders list. It took him just 43 career games to join 14 others as the only Eastern players in school history to score 1,000 points in a career.
Eastern ranked third in NCAA Division I with an average of 84.2 points per game that was also the fourth-best average in school history. VMI was the nation's leader at 100.9 per game. Rodney Stuckey was seventh individually with an average of 24.6 points per game and 18th in steals with an average of 2.4. Eastern was also ranked sixth in assists (17.7) and sixth in field goal percentage (.495). Paul Butorac was eighth in field goal percentage (.640).
Eastern's average of 84.2 points per game was a pace that ranked just behind the school record of 90.0 set by the 1971-72 team. The 1970-71 squad averaged 86.3 and in 1975-76 Eastern averaged 85.2. The last time Eastern scored or allowed points in the 80's came in 1990-91 when the Eagles averaged 80.9 and allowed 82.0.
With 99 blocked shots in his career, Paul Butorac broke the school record of 79 held by Chris White (1998-00). He set the record against Washington on Nov. 27 when he had three blocks. Although no records exist for dunks, Butorac had 101 career dunks, including 41 as a senior. He had five at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3.
On his way to setting a total of 10 school records, Rodney Stuckey broke the school's career free throw record against Sacramento State on Jan. 25. He had 376 in his two-year career to break the school record of 317 set by Randy Buss from 1970-72. Stuckey's 465 attempts are second, just 34 from EWU's record of 499. He made 15-of-16 free throws against the Hornets, missing his final attempt that would have equaled the Big Sky and EWU records for single game free throw percentage (16-of-16) set by Jason Lewis on Jan. 27, 2001, against Weber State.
Although the final score wasn't indicative of how close the games actually were, Eastern's road games against Montana State (84-67 loss) and Montana (85-78 loss) featured 22 ties and 29 lead changes. Eastern won at UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 17 in a game that featured 15 lead changes and eight ties. Four of Eastern's losses were nail-biters, including a 102-98 loss at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3 in which the Eagles held a three-point lead with 3:32 remaining. Eastern lost to then-16th ranked Washington 83-70 in a game that featured 13 ties and 16 lead changes before the Huskies pulled away. Eastern also narrowly lost at UNLV 82-79 after rallying from a 15-point deficit with 7 1/2 minutes to play. The Eagles opened Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 28 with an 82-79 loss to Montana State in which Bobcat Carlos Taylor made a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer for the win.