January 9, 2009

Early Big Sky Showdown on Sunday as Eagles Host Weber State

Jan. 9, 2009

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The drama of the game will just add to the day.

With former Eagle and current Detroit Pistons starting point guard Rodney Stuckey returning to have his jersey retired, the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team hosts Weber State Sunday (Jan. 11) in an early-season showdown in the Big Sky Conference. Tipoff is 1:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Both the Eagles and Wildcats enter the game coming off impressive wins. The Eagles used a late surge to hold-off Idaho State 71-65 on Thursday (Jan. 8) to improve to 9-7 on the season and 3-1 in the league. Weber State, meanwhile, improved to 2-0 in the league and 8-7 overall with an 80-66 victory over league favorite Portland State.

Stuckey will be on hand to have his jersey retired at halftime of the game which will be televised live regionally by Altitude Sports and Entertainment. Altitude is available on DirecTV channel 681 and Dish Network Channel 410. It is also available on many cable packages in Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado. Jeff Friedman will call the game with Jay Tust handling color commentary.

Tickets are available via ticketswest.com or 1-800-325-7328, with a $2 discount available for that game on adult tickets in the upper reserved section of Reese Court.

Stuckey, who is averaging 13.5 points and 5.2 assists per game for the Pistons, will also be available to the public after the game for a special autograph session. Stuckey will sign one item per person with fans provided a commemorative replica card of the banner that will hang at Reese Court.

Both EWU and WSU enter Sunday’s game with two-game winning streaks, including league road victories for both. The Eagles are now 3-6 on the road this season and 6-1 at home as they recently concluded a three-game, seven-day road trip with an 87-74 victory on Jan. 4 at Sacramento State. Eastern opened the league season with a 61-55 victory over Montana State on Dec. 6, which represented EWU’s last win over a NCAA Division I opponent until the victory over the Hornets.

The Wildcats, who were led by the 22 points and eight rebounds by Kyle Bullinger in its win at Portland State, also beat Northern Colorado in overtime 88-84 on Jan. 3. Weber State is 2-4 on opponent home courts, 2-2 at neutral sites and 4-1 at home.

Eastern and WSU have no common opponents yet this season. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 33-19, including a 32-19 record since EWU became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season. However, the Eagles are 14-10 versus WSU in Cheney and have won 13 of the last 27 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 74-64 before winning in Cheney 69-57.

Eastern’s 6-2 record after the first eight games was its best start since the 2002-03 season when EWU used a four-game winning streak to improve to 7-2. Eastern was unable to duplicate that 7-2 start by losing at Hawaii, but Eastern won its Big Sky opener after a 66-51 victory against Montana State on Dec. 6 that represents the earliest Big Sky start in EWU history.

Eastern’s Kirk Earlywine is in his second season at the helm after leading the Eagles to an 11-19 record overall and 6-10 Big Sky Conference mark last season. Season tickets, including several packages with selected games, are now on sale. Information is available at http://WWW.GOEAGS.COM.

 

 

-- Rodney Stuckey Returning to Eastern on Jan. 11 in Year He Would Have Been a Senior --

Consider it the Senior Day he was never able to receive.

 

 

Former Eastern Washington University men’s basketball All-American and current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey will have his EWU jersey retired in ceremonies that will take place on Sunday, Jan. 11 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The event takes place in conjunction with Eastern’s Big Sky Conference game against Weber State that starts at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time and will be televised live regionally on Altitude Sports and Entertainment. The Pistons play at Utah the night before, and don’t play again until Charlotte visits Detroit on Jan. 13.

Tickets are available via ticketswest.com or 1-800-325-7328, with a $2 discount available for that game on adult tickets in the upper reserved section of Reese Court. Stuckey, who is averaging 13.5 points and 5.1 assists per game for the Pistons, will also be available to the public after the game for a special autograph session. Stuckey will sign one item per person with fans provided a commemorative replica card of the banner that will hang at Reese Court.

"I am very honored and humbled to have my EWU jersey retired," said Stuckey on Dec. 30. "I have so many wonderful memories from my college days and I’m thankful to the University, the fans, my coaches and my teammates."

Stuckey played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Eastern before becoming a first-round draft choice (15th overall) by the Pistons in the 2007 National Basketball Association draft. He became Detroit’s full-time starter at point guard on Dec. 9, and on Dec. 23 had a breakthrough game with 40 points, four assists and four steals in a 104-98 victory over Chicago.

He had another huge game with 38 points and seven assists in a 98-92 victory over Sacramento on Jan. 2 to help him earn NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. He helped the Pistons win four-straight games to earn the honor, averaging 23 points, 5.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

Detroit pushed its winning streak to seven before an 84-83 loss at Portland on Jan. 7 in which Stuckey scored 13 points and had seven assists. The Pistons are now 13-4 in games Stuckey has started and 21-12 overall heading into the game against Utah.

Considering that this would have been his senior season at EWU had he remained in college, it’s appropriate that Stuckey is being honored in such a manner. He spent three years on the EWU campus and still has many friends in Cheney, including former high school teammate Aaron Boyce, who is an All-America wide receiver for the Eagle football team.

"It will be great to be back at Eastern where it all began," Stuckey added. "I know it will be a special day and I’m happy to share this experience with all the people who supported me throughout my college career."

Stuckey was an All-American at Eastern -- both athletically and academically -- after averaging 24 points per game in each of his two seasons (2005-06 and 2006-07). He helped EWU win 30 games in two seasons and had a 3.34 grade point average. A 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., Stuckey was a NCAA non-qualifier and had to sit out the 2004-05 season at EWU.

"We’ve talked about honoring Rodney by retiring his jersey for some time now," said Eastern Athletic Director Bill Chaves. "What he accomplished here in two seasons and Detroit in two more is nothing short of phenomenal, and it’s thrilling to watch his progress in the NBA. We’re excited to have him back on campus to give him the recognition he deserved but didn’t get because of how highly-regarded he was by the NBA."

Through 31 games this season heading into the Utah game (17 as a starter), the second-year pro is averaging 13.5 points, 5.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 29.0 minutes per game. In his 88-game career (19 as a starter), Stuckey is averaging 9.7 points, 3.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 22.5 minutes per game.

In his first four games as a full-time starter (including a three-game winning streak), he averaged a double-double -- 15.5 points and 10.0 assists. In his 40-point output against Chicago, Stuckey made 15-of-24 shots from the field with his outstanding driving and finishing ability. He also sank 9-of-11 free throws, and his passing has also been exceptional. Since taking over as a starter, he has averaged 6.4 assists in those 14 games to go along with a 18.8 scoring average.

Although several Eastern football players have been honored previously in such a manner -- including the retired No. 84 jersey of Bob Picard -- it’s believed that no Eastern men’s basketball player has had his jersey retired. Eastern’s all-time leading basketball scorer (1,741) and rebounder (1,273) Ron Cox is another candidate after being drafted in the sixth round by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1977, but an injury kept him from playing a game in the NBA.

Cox was inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998, and Stuckey will no doubt join him as a member as soon as soon as he’s placed on the ballot. Another such professional is current Tennessee Titan offensive tackle Michael Roos, who is also a prime candidate to have his jersey retired in the near future. Roos recently became the first-ever Eastern football player to be selected to the Pro Bowl and was also selected as a first team All-Pro selection as one of the top two offensive tackles in the NFL.

"Rodney and Michael have both had unprecedented success in the professional ranks for former Eastern student-athletes," said Chaves. "We are extremely proud of them both and greatly look forward to honoring Rodney on Jan. 11. The great talent he put on display for Eastern fans for two seasons is now being watched by a world-wide audience. It’s truly exciting."

More on Stuckey may be found at:
http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html

 

-- Infamy for Valentine and Joshua Lewis-- When Benny Valentine missed a free throw with a half-second remaining in the first half against Idaho State on Jan. 9, little did he know he would have so much in common with former Eagle Joshua Lewis.

Thanks to a 16-of-16 free throw effort in the second half, the Eagles finished with a 20-of-21 night from the line. The 95.2 percent accuracy equaled the school record set in a 95-77 loss at Portland on Dec. 10, 1994 in Portland, when EWU was also 20-of-21. The only player to miss was Lewis, who made 5-of-6 in the game. Eastern made its first eight and its last 12 in that game. Lewis is now living in the Los Angeles area and attended this year’s Eastern versus UC Irvine game.

 

-- Valentine Nets 33 Versus Hornets to Strengthen Big Sky Scoring Lead -- Just when it looked like he would fall out of the Big Sky Conference scoring lead, 5-foot-7 point guard Benny Valentine recorded a season-high 33 against Sacramento State on Jan. 4. After scoring 14 in a win over Idaho State, he continues to lead the league with a 16.5 average, followed by Loren Leath from Sac State at 15.1.

Against the Hornets, the 5-foot-7 Valentine finished with his best scoring game of the season, and his first of more than 16 in nine games since getting 29 and 21 in back-to-back games in late November against Minnesota and UC Irvine, respectively. A transfer from Texas Tech who redshirted last season at EWU, Valentine made 11-of-19 shots from the field, 4-of-6 three-point attempts and 7-of-9 free throws to go along with four assists and three steals.

"He was very selective in the first half -- he took nine shots but I thought all nine of them were really good, open shots," said Earlywine after the Sac State game. "There will be some games where we need him to shoot more, but there are more games where we need him to run our team and get more shots for the other players who are shooting a high percentage. He needs to pick his spots, and tonight he did that."

Valentine saw his average drop from a high of 20.3 after the UC Irvine game on Nov. 30 to 15.5 heading into EWU’s meeting with Sac State. In those previous eight games, the Texas Tech transfer had averaged 11.9 points while making just 36-of-113 shots for 32 percent and 14-of-46 three-pointers for 30 percent. He also had more turnovers (31) than assists (26) in those eight games. Nevertheless, he has led Eastern in nine games thus far and has scored in double figures in all but two games.

In a 75-55 loss at Hawaii, he had his first double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds to go along with a team-high five assists. However, he also had six turnovers against the Rainbow Warriors, and for the season is averaging 3.1 assists and 3.1 turnovers per game.

A redshirt at Eastern last season, Valentine was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after leading the Eagles to three-straight NCAA Division I victories in a six-day stretch in November.

Valentine then scored 29 points against Minnesota on Nov. 26, and followed that with 21 in EWU’s 78-64 victory over UC Irvine on Nov. 30. He followed that by scoring 15 at Portland in a 63-58 Eastern victory, including 12 in the second half and 10 of Eastern’s last 11 points in the final 3:13. He made three of four shots from the floor and all four of his free throws in that stretch.

And in a 61-55 win over Montana State, Valentine scored 10 points in the first half and finished with 15 for the game to go along with four assists and three steals. He assisted on three-straight baskets in the second half to give EWU a four-point lead en route to a 33-22 scoring advantage in the second half.

"Benny trusted his teammates," said head coach Kirk Earlywine after the MSU win. "Sometimes when things aren't going as well as we would like it is easy for him to go off on his own, get shots for himself and try to score. He kept throwing the ball to the right spot. It's good for him to trust his teammates like that."

En route to winning Big Sky Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25, Valentine averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals in EWU’s previous three games -- all victories over NCAA Division I opponents. He made 46.2 percent of his field goal attempts (18-of-39) and 68 percent of his free throws (19-of-28) as Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59).

He had 28 points and four assists versus UTA, a NCAA Tournament participant last year and the defending Southland Conference champion. Valentine is originally from Omaha, Neb., and is a 2005 graduate of Omaha Central High School.

"Against Texas Arlington and Minnesota we needed him to score for us," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "In other games, we’ve just needed him to run our team. But against UC Irvine (on Nov. 30) we needed him to do both within the same game. In the first half when we were struggling, we needed him to score and he did. In the second half, we needed him to run our team, get the ball inside and do the things that got us the 18-point lead, and he did that as well. It’s very encouraging that he is gaining a feel and understanding for what our team needs at particular moments and be willing to do that."

The Eagles found out against Idaho how important it was to have Valentine on the floor. He scored 13 points and had four assists in 29 minutes versus the Vandals, nailing all four of his free throws in the last two minutes while playing with four fouls. Eastern led by as many as 21 in the second half versus the Vandals, who were able to rally without Valentine in the game and pulled to within six with 2:19 left. He took just one shot in the first half, but EWU led 41-23.

"Idaho is quick and athletic all over the floor," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "So whenever we took Benny out of the game, it certainly made things more difficult for us in terms of getting a good shot."

 

-- Moore Up to Three Double-Doubles for the Season -- Eastern 6-foot-9 junior center Brandon Moore had his third double-double of the year with 22 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high three assists in EWU’s 90-87 win over Evergreen State on Dec. 22. Moore is from Graham, Wash., and is a 2005 graduate of Bethel High School.

Moore made 6-of-12 shots from the field and 10-of-13 free throws against the Geoducks, and seven of his rebounds came on the offensive end. The 6-foot-9 Moore came just one point from his career high of 23 points set as a freshman against Evergreen State. His assists tied his career high from that game.

Moore’s other double-doubles this season came against Idaho (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Texas Arlington (16 points, 11 rebounds), giving him five in his career. He had a near-miss at Boise State on Dec. 29 when he finished with 12 points and nine boards. He also has seven double figure rebounding performances as an Eagle.

So far this season, Moore is averaging 11.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game to rank 15th and third, respectively, in the Big Sky Conference. In his 73-game career (33 as a starter), Moore has averaged 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds while making just over 50 percent of his shots from the field.

 

-- Eagles Were an Early Leader in the Big Sky in Scoring Defense -- Heading into action on Jan. 10, the Eagles currently rank fourth in the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense, allowing 69.4 per game (Montana leads at 67.3 per game).

Before holding Boise State to 57 points on Dec. 29, the Eagles had allowed an average of 78.3 in their previous four games to fall out of the Big Sky Conference lead in scoring defense. Through eight games -- and a 6-2 record -- the Eagles were allowing just 66.1 to lead the league.

In their seven losses this season, Eastern has allowed 72.7 points and 49.5 percent shooting. In EWU’s nine victories, those figures drop to 66.8 and 44.4. But recently, Eastern allowed 87 points in a win (Evergreen State) and just 57 in a loss (Boise State).

In its first six victories of the season, Eastern had allowed only 62.5 per game while holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting from the field and 29.0 percent from the three-point stripe. But in their seventh win, a 90-87 triumph over Evergreen State, the Geoducks made 66 percent from both the field overall (35-of-53) and the three-point stripe (10-of-15). Eastern followed that by holding Boise State to 42 percent shooting overall (20-of-48) and 18 percent from the arc (2-of-11).

Ideally, Eastern would like to win with defense like it did in its league opener on Dec. 6. Eastern held Montana State to just 22 second-half points as the Bobcats made only 29 percent from the field after intermission. The result was Eastern’s best defensive performance of the season by allowing MSU just 55 total points, eclipsing the 58 Eastern allowed one game earlier against Portland in a 63-58 win. The Pilots scored only nine points in the final 8:21, including a fairly meaningless basket with 16 seconds to play. But in the eight minutes prior to that, the Pilots were just 1-of-7 from the field with four turnovers.

"I know we’re not going to shut anybody out -- I tell our players that all the time," said Earlywine. "But we need to make teams earn their points. For the most part against Portland, we did not give them points -- they had to earn them."

 

-- DeLeon and Busch Finally Cleared to Play -- The 75-55 Hawaii loss on Dec. 13 marked the season debuts for returning 12-game starter Adris DeLeon and junior college transfer Chris Busch. Both missed the first eight games of the season before being officially cleared to play on Dec. 12 after final exams from fall quarter were completed and grades submitted.

So far this season, DeLeon has averaged 5.0 points in an average of 15.6 minutes per game. He made his first start of the season against Sacramento State on Jan. 4 and responded with 17 points and three assists. Busch, who scored a team-high 13 at Washington on Dec. 20, is averaging 4.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game. Busch is a transfer from Merritt Junior College in California while DeLeon averaged 12.5 points and 3.1 assists in 27 games last year for EWU.

 

-- Eagles Win Three on Road, Six at Home -- The schedule, with just one occurrence of back-to-back road games until the start of league play, has started well for the Eagles. Eastern picked up road wins at UC Irvine, Portland and Sacramento State, and has won six of seven games at Reese Court.

Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season. As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.

"I like looking at this schedule more than the one we had last year," said Earlywine. "I like the balance of home games versus road games, and I like the fact we aren’t playing more than two consecutive road games."

 

-- Eagles Picked to Finish as High as Seventh -- The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball program has been picked to finish as high as seventh in the Big Sky Conference in preseason polls released Oct. 22 by the Big Sky Conference.

The league’s head coaches selected EWU seventh, while the media picked EWU to finish eighth in the nine-team league. Last year, the Eagles finished 11-19 overall and seventh in the league with a 6-10 mark under first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine.

The Eagles had only three players with NCAA Division I experience on their roster last year and a total of just eight players who participated in at least 15 games. This season, Eastern has a full roster of 14 players that include six returning letter winners. Returning starters are center Brandon Moore and guards Trey Gross and Gary Gibson.

 

-- Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins -- In the last nine seasons (including the 2007-08 season), Eastern has entered Big Sky Conference play with a collective 45-67 (.401) record. Those difficult schedules have yielded an 81-53 (.604) Big Sky Conference record in that span. Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last nine years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.

In 2007-08, Eastern entered conference play 5-8, which compares favorably to the previous eight seasons (most recent are listed first) -- 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.

 

 

SERIES HISTORY

-- 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 19-32 against Weber State (19-33 all-time). The Eagles are 14-10 in Cheney, 3-22 in Ogden and 2-0 on neutral courts versus the Wildcats since 1983-84 (3-23 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 13 of the last 27 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 74-64 before winning in Cheney 69-57.

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