Jan. 21, 2008
They may get a little tired of preparing for each other, but the next four games can go a long way in determining the post-season fate of three Big Sky Conference men's basketball teams.
Eastern Washington University is currently 3-3 and fifth in the league standings, and hopes to at least maintain that position as it plays on the road this week against two teams currently below the Eagles. Eastern closes the first half of the league season by playing at Montana on Thursday (Jan. 24) and Montana State on Saturday (Jan. 26) in a pair of games that begin at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time.
The following week, Eastern plays the same two teams at home at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., starting with a visit from Montana State on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time. Montana travels to Cheney on Sunday, Feb. 3, in a game televised live regionally by Altitude Sports and Entertainment and KSKN Channel 22 in Spokane. Tipoff in that game is 1:05 p.m. Pacific time.
Eastern is currently 8-12 overall, including a 6-3 record at home and 2-9 mark away from Reese Court. The Eagles are winless in two Big Sky road games thus far, but are well-rested after beating Northern Colorado 91-85 in overtime on Jan. 17 in their only action of last week.
"We still have yet to prove we can win a conference game on the road," said first-year EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine. "That's a hurdle we have to get over in order to make any kind of run in the conference."
Montana enters Thursday's game just 1-4 in the conference and 7-11 overall after getting swept at home by a total of just three points against Idaho State (56-54) and Weber State (68-67). Montana State is one win better at 2-3 in the conference and 10-8 overall after ending a three-game league losing streak with a win over Idaho State (74-53).
"Obviously, Montana is traditionally very good," Earlywine said. "They are struggling a little right now, but I'm sure they are looking at these next two home games as a chance to get themselves headed in the right direction in the league standings."
The Grizzlies, who were picked to finish first in the league standings by the media and second by the coaches, have won just two of their last 11 games. That in itself makes Montana a scary opponent for Earlywine and his team to face.
"In a way, we are facing an animal backed into a corner which is going to up the level of intensity," he said. "We have to be ready to match that."
In playing the same teams in back-to-back weeks, Earlywine isn't quite sure yet whether it's something he likes or not. His only recollection of ever having to do that is at the conclusion of a season when playing in the league tournament against the final opponent of the regular season.
"From that standpoint, it might be something that could help you in the league tournament," he said. "But it's not something that I would prefer. Who knows, maybe two weeks from now I'll be talking about how great it was. I don't know how to look at it -- whether it's going to be a good thing, a bad thing or somewhere in between -- because I've never done it before."
Eastern, with six players who had never played NCAA Division I basketball before -- let alone a Big Sky Conference game -- has won five of their last seven home games. That stretch has helped Eastern win seven of its last 14 games after a 1-5 start to the season.
Besides beating UNC, Eastern's league victories were home wins versus Sacramento State (76-52 on Jan. 5) and Portland State (58-57 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.
EWU, UM, MSU in the Big Sky: Eastern features two of the Big Sky Conference's top seven leading scorers in senior Kellen Williams (fifth, 13.3) and Adris DeLeon (seventh, 12.6). Williams is also third in rebounding (8.9), eighth in field goal shooting (.525), seventh in steals (1.15) and first in minutes played (36.0). DeLeon is also sixth in assists (3.3) and eighth in free throw percentage (.765).
In addition, Milan Stanojevic leads the Big Sky with 51 three-pointers made (2.6 per game) and ranks 22nd in scoring (9.2) and seventh in steals (1.15). Marcus Hinton is fourth in free throw percentage (.800) and Brandon Moore is 13th in rebounding (4.9) and eighth in blocked shots (0.85).
Montana's Jordan Hasquet is third in the league in scoring (15.6) and fourth in rebounding (7.9), and teammate Andrew Strait is 13th in scoring (11.8), eighth in rebounding (5.9) and leads the league in field goal percentage (.623). Cameron Rundles is fourth in assists (3.5) and Matt Martin is second in free throw percentage (.833) and third in three-pointers made per game (2.4).
For Montana State, Carlos Taylor is the league's leading scorer (19.0) as he also ranks third in free throw percentage (.804), 10th in field goal percentage (.498) and third in three-point percentage (.475). Divaldo Mbunga is eighth in scoring (12.6), fourth in field goal percentage (.582), fifth in rebounding (6.6) and fifth in blocked shots (1.17).
In team statistical rankings, Montana State leads the league in scoring (74.8) and scoring margin (+5.2), while Montana leads the Big Sky in scoring defense (64.3). The Bobcats and Grizzlies are also ranked 1-2 in three-point field goal defense (.321 & .353), and Montana averages the fewest turnovers (12.8) in the league. Eastern's top rankings are second in turnover margin (+0.65), second in three-pointers made per game (8.0), third in scoring defense (67.2) and third in free throw shooting (.720).
"1" Was Nearly as Impressive as "42" for Big Sky Player of the Week Adris DeLeon: The 42 points were impressive, but the number "1" was also what caught the eye of first-year Eastern Washington University head coach Kirk Earlywine when looking at the statistical line of junior guard Adris DeLeon against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17.
The "point-a-minute" man poured in 42 points -- the third-most in school history -- as the Eagles cooled off one of the hottest teams in the league by defeating Northern Colorado 91-85 in overtime. That, as well as having just one turnover in 42 minutes of action, helped DeLeon share Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors with Weber State's Dezmon Harris.
DeLeon's scoring effort boosted him to seventh in the league with a 12.6 average, and he is also sixth in assists (3.3). In league games only thus far, he is third in scoring (17.5) and fifth in assists (3.8) while ranking fourth in minutes played (33.8).
He averaged 23.4 minutes in 13 non-conference games as his minutes have increased as Earlywine's confidence in DeLeon increases. DeLeon has averaged a turnover every 12.7 minutes in league play after having one every 10.1 minutes in the non-league season. Eastern had just five team turnovers against the Bears.
"I get the feeling that Adris is getting a little better and a little better with every game," said Earlywine. "It's not just the points he put up, but it's the decisions he is making. He only had one turnover in 42 minutes and that pleased me almost as much as his production."
DeLeon, who earned his nickname "2 hard 2 guard" on the streetball circuit in New York City, hit 14-of-28 shots from the field and 11-of-16 free throws. He made just 3-of-10 three-point attempts as most of his points came on drives to the basket. Eastern had a season-high 46 points in the paint, beating its previous most by 10.
The only scoring performances better in school history were the school-record 45 that current Detroit Piston scored against Northern Arizona on Jan. 5, 2006, and the 44 David Peed scored versus UC-Irvine on Dec. 13, 1988.
The 42 points DeLeon scored equaled the 19th-most in Big Sky history. In fact, he and Stuckey have the only performances of 42 or more in the league in the last seven seasons.
"I didn't even realize that he had 42," said Earlywine. "We're trying to get him to understand that he has to play with efficiency on offense. Take 20 shots to get 20 points. He's getting a little better and guys are really learning how to play with him. Obviously 42 points -- that was the difference in the game."
Eastern rallied from a late seven-point deficit in regulation as a three-pointer by Milan Stanojevic with 23 seconds to play helped send the game in overtime. Eastern then scored 12-straight points in overtime and cruised to the win.
It wasn't a must-win situation for the Eagles, but it was an important game for the Eagles to win to keep pace in the Big Sky Conference standings. In 14 of 18 league games heading into action on Jan. 17, the home team had won and the Eagles didn't want to be the first to lose two at home this season. In the other two league games on Jan. 17, the home team lost. Eastern improved to 3-3 in the league and 8-12 overall as the Eagles snapped a two-game losing streak and ended the two-game winning streak of the Bears.
Had it not been for a missed point-blank shot at the buzzer by UNC's Neal Kingman after an offensive rebound, DeLeon's effort would have all for naught.
"It was a tremendous sense of relief because they missed a put-back at the end of regulation that could have won it, said Earlywine. "It got lost in our exhilaration of winning and having Adris score 42 points. We lost sight of the fact we made a mistake on the last possession that allowed them an offensive rebound. He probably makes that shot 98 times out of 100, so we were very fortunate to win that game."
Against UNC, 89 of 91 Points Scored by Quartet: Four Eagles -- Adris DeLeon, Milan Stanojevic, Kellen Williams and Brandon Moore -- combined for all but two of EWU's 91 points in Eastern's 91-85 overtime victory over Northern Colorado.
DeLeon scored 42, Stanojevic had 12 and Moore finished with 14. Williams had his eighth double-double of the season with 21 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Moore played 38 minutes, DeLeon and Stanojevic logged 42 and Williams played all 45 minutes.
"Kellen Williams continues to do more than I think any of us thought he would," said first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine. "Maybe the biggest thing in that game was that we received production from Brandon that we desperately need. We are starting to get a good idea of what we are going to get from Milan and Adris on a daily basis, and we know what Kellen is giving us. But we need Brandon to get us double figure points in each game, and that's going to be a product mostly of him staying out of foul trouble."
After Having Just Five Against UNC, Turnovers Key in Eagle Victories: In more than 20 years of coaching basketball, first-year Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine can't remember a team of his having fewer turnovers. But he was there for the last time the Eagles had such a low number.
The Eagles had only five turnovers in EWU's 91-85 overtime win over Northern Colorado on Jan. 17, matching the number Eastern had on Feb. 16, 2006, in a 76-73 win over Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Earlywine was as an assistant coach at Weber State under Joe Cravens in that game, one of just three victories EWU has ever had in Ogden in a current total of 26 games.
"I'm not sure if I've ever been in a game where the team I was coaching only had five turnovers -- especially in an overtime game," he said. "That was very pleasing to me. I'd take nine victories just like it if we can limit our turnovers like that. To keep it at five is excellent."
In forcing 18 turnovers and having just five themselves, the Eagles continued a recent trend at Reese Court. At home Eastern is averaging just 12.8 and forcing 17.7 per game for a positive difference of 4.9 per game. On the road, Eastern is averaging 15.0 and is forcing just 12.2 for a negative difference of 2.8 per game.
The Eagles are 6-3 at home where they have made 43.5 percent of their shots from the field. However, away from home EWU is just 2-9 on 37.6 percent shooting.
In league games only, Eastern leads the Big Sky in turnover margin -- forcing 16.2 and having just 12.3 themselves for a margin of 3.83. Overall, Eastern is second (forcing 14.7, committing 14.0, difference of 0.65).
"On nights that you struggle shooting at around 40 percent from the field, it becomes even more important that you don't waste possessions," Earlywine explained. "Our guys are starting to understand that and value possessions on both ends of the floor. Early on this season we were really valuing defensive possessions and we slipped a little in that regard. But we've really started to value how important each possession is on offense in the Big Sky. We are probably going to be in a lot of close games and every turnover and bad shot is magnified."
Williams Has Now Led EWU in Rebounding in 19 of 20 Games This Season With Eight Double-Doubles: With his eighth double-double against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17, senior Kellen Williams extended a pair of impressive streaks despite EWU losses to Idaho State and Weber State.
He has now led Eastern in rebounding in 19 of 20 games this season, including a current streak of 16-straight games. Four times in that stretch he has been tied for the team lead in that category, with the only time he has not led the squad coming on Nov. 18 at Washington when he finished with a season-low four and Brandon Moore had five.
Williams has also scored in double figures in 12-straight games dating back to Nov. 29 when he had a season-low two points against Santa Clara. He has scored in double figures in 16 total games this season and has been EWU's leading scorer five times.
He has eight double-doubles this season, with his latest coming in a 21-point, 13-rebound effort in a 91-85 overtime win over Northern Colorado in which he played all 45 minutes. He has had double-doubles in five of EWU's eight victories, and had five in a six-game stretch from Dec. 5 to Dec. 29. Eastern is 5-3 when he has a double-double.
In a 76-52 victory over Sacramento State on Jan. 5, Williams had a near triple-double with 22 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Williams has averaged 17.1 points, 10.5 rebounds and has made 60.4 percent of his field goal attempts in EWU's eight 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 ranks third in the league in rebounding (8.9 per game), is fifth in scoring (13.3), eighth in field goal percentage (.525) and seventh in steals (1.15). The 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., has a team-leading 23 steals with 35 assists in 20 games. One of just two seniors on this year's team, he is also averaging a team-high 36.0 minutes per game.
In his 77-game EWU career (60 as a starter), Williams has averaged 9.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game with a career field goal percentage of .529. 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 Impressive at Times: Eastern's defense has been impressive at times, allowing 59 or less points eight times this season, including four of EWU'a last seven games. In EWU's eight victories this season, the Eagles have held opponents to an average of 61.9 points per game. Overall, Eastern is allowing 67.2 to rank third 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 66.3 per game. Senior Kellen Williams, in fact, is just 6-4 but ranks third in the league in rebounding (8.9 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 Better in Second Half Than First Half: Eastern has had halftime advantages in the first half in just three games this season and has been out-scored by a total of 102 points. But in the second half and overtime, Eastern has had advantages or been tied in 13 games with an overall advantage of 15 points.
Against Northern Colorado, Eastern trailed 38-36 at intermission, but had a 35-33 edge in the second half and a 20-14 advantage in overtime. A week earlier, Eastern out-scored Idaho State 34-32 after trailing 26-22 at halftime. Against Weber State, Eastern had a 38-32 advantage after intermission following a 42-26 deficit at intermission. The Eagles actually led 18-4 early against the Bengals, but were out-scored 22-4 the rest of the half.
Eastern has been outscored in the first half 662-560 (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 and overtime, Eastern has outscored opponents 698-683 (average score of 35-34).
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-UM Series History (Since 1983-84): Eastern is 15-35 against the Grizzlies since 1983-84 and snapped a six-game losing streak when the Eagles beat the Grizzlies 74-71 on Dec. 30, 2006. In the other meeting in the 2006-07 season, Eastern lost at Montana 85-78. Since 1983-84, Eastern is 7-18 in Missoula, 8-15 in Cheney and 0-2 on neutral courts versus the Grizzlies. Montana leads the series overall 49-39.
In the 2005-06 season, Montana swept the Eagles in three games -- 78-72 in Missoula, 68-46 in Cheney and 73-71 in overtime in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Flagstaff, Ariz. In both regular season meetings a year ago, Eastern had leads before succumbing to Montana second-half comebacks. In the overtime loss, Eastern trailed by 14 before a late 10-0 run put Eastern back into the game. But Eagle freshman Rodney Stuckey missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer to end regulation. Montana then went on a 6-0 run in overtime to end Eastern's season.
Prior to that losing streak, Eastern won 10 of the previous 14 meetings including regular season sweeps three-straight conference seasons from 2001-03. However, the Grizzlies snapped a four-game losing streak to the Eagles when the fifth-seeded Grizzlies upset second-seeded EWU 70-66 in the 2002 Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game.
Included in the series history was an 81-75 victory in Missoula to end the 1998-99 season that clinched the sixth and final berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the Eagles. That victory snapped Eastern's eight-game losing streak in Missoula, and a home win in 1998 snapped a 10-game losing streak overall in the series.
A 77-75 Eagle home loss at the end of the 2000-2001 regular season gave Montana a share of the Big Sky Conference men's basketball title in front of 5,426 fans at Reese Court in Cheney. The Eagles had taken a 12-point lead with 8:06 to play in the second half, but went the next 6:21 without scoring. During Montana's 17-0 run, the Eagles missed 10-straight field goal attempts while the Grizzlies made 6-of-7 shots. The loss was Eastern's first in eight conference home games. Montana made 4-of-6 free throws in the last 23 seconds to clinch the win and hold off Eastern's comeback attempt that included a trio of three-pointers in the last 1:45.
Last Season in Missoula - Montana 85, Eastern Washington 78: Montana took advantage of its second chances but Eastern Washington University didn't as the Eagles fell to Montana 85-78 Feb. 3 in a pivotal Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.
Eastern missed its last five field goal attempts, including three on possessions with the chance to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes. Montana made five free throws in the last 23 seconds to clinch the win and salvage a split of its season series against EWU. Eastern went the final 3:49 without a field goal.
"They did a great job with their effort," Burns said of his team's rally from an 11-point deficit with 6:50 left. "I can't ask any more from them from that perspective. It was a game where we battled and battled and battled. We got down by 11 in the second half, but we gutted it out and got it all the way back to two. We had a couple of opportunities with some good looks to tie the game, but it just didn't happen for us."
For the first time this season, Eastern suffered a third-straight loss in a game that featured 13 ties and 17 lead changes. The Eagles concluded a stretch in which eight of 10 conference games were on the road.
Rebounding won the game for the Grizzlies as they out-rebounded EWU 39-24, getting 16 second chance points on 17 offensive rebounds. In a 74-71 loss to EWU in December, the Grizzlies were out-rebounded by three.
"We were doubling the post in some instances, and its tough when you have a guard rolling down the backside trying to box a big guy out," explained Burns. "There were a couple of instances where it was real physical. You have to give them credit for coming down with the ball."
Rodney Stuckey led the Eagles in scoring for the 12th-straight game -- and 48th time in 54 career games -- with 19 points. He also had seven assists as he finished 6-of-16 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
Paul Butorac added 14 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, and Omar Krayem chipped in 10 points. Brandon Moore, who was sick and missed the previous game, came off the bench to finish with nine points and seven rebounds.
The Grizzlies were led by its starting front line of Jordan Hasquet, Matt Dlouhy and Andrew Strait with 54 points and 23 rebounds between the three of them. Hasquet had a double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Dlouhy added 14 points and seven rebounds and Strait had 14 points with five boards.
Last Season in Cheney - Eastern Washington 74, Montana 71: Sophomore Rodney Stuckey did his part with 28 points, but four Eagles off the bench played prominent roles for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team in a 74-71 Big Sky Conference victory over Montana Dec. 30 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Kellen Williams and Brandon Moore helped spark the Eagles by combining for 25 points and 16 rebounds as the Eagles rallied from a 13-point deficit in the first half and seven points down in the second half. Rhett Humphrey and Matt Penoncello also played significant minutes off the bench as EWU outscored UM's bench 35-14.
The win snapped a six-game losing streak for the Eagles against the two-time defending Big Sky Tournament champions. It was the first win over the Grizzlies for third-year Eagle head coach Mike Burns.
"We needed this win badly -- we couldn't afford to come out of the gates and get swept at home during conference play," said Burns. "Our level of defensive intensity was where it needed to be tonight and that translated to success."
The Grizzlies were picked to finish first in the Big Sky media poll and second in the coaches poll.
"We did a great job of gutting it out tonight," said Burns. "Montana is a great team and there's a reason they have had the success they have had the last couple of years. For us to beat them when we were down double digits early is big."
Williams finished with 13 points and nine rebounds in 23 minutes of action, and helped ice the game with a pair of free throws with eight seconds to play. Moore finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes. Humphrey added five points and a pair of assists in 23 minutes and Penoncello had five points and outstanding defense in 31 minutes.
Williams and Moore had the key plays down the stretch when the game was tied at 64 with three minutes to play. Williams rebounded his own miss to give Eastern the lead for good at 66-64. On Montana's next possession, Moore batted away the ball that led to a fast-break basket by Stuckey after an assist from Humphrey to give Eastern a 68-64 advantage with 2:04 left.
Eastern had three turnovers in the last 47 seconds to help the Grizzlies stay in the game, but Eastern made its last six free throws in the final 56 seconds to preserve the win. Stuckey made two of the shots and Williams sank four as EWU finished the game 23-of-29 from the line.
Eastern out-rebounded Montana 35-32 and made 44 percent of its shots in the game. Montana made 46 percent, but just 39 percent in the second half. Montana was 1-of-11 from the three-point stripe in the second half after making 5-of-8 in the first 20 minutes.
EWU-MSU Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 18-30 against Montana State. Eastern has won 10 of the last 16 after winning just once in the previous 13 games. However, Eastern is just 1-3 against the Bobcats the last two seasons, including getting beat in Cheney (82-79) and in Bozeman (84-67).
Since 1983-84, Eastern is 5-19 in Bozeman and 13-11 in Cheney against the Bobcats. EWU trails in the all-time series 24-36 (18-13 in Cheney, 6-23 in Bozeman, 0-0 neutral).
Last Season in Bozeman - Montana State 84, Eastern Washington 67: Eastern Washington had is second-worst shooting night of the season and Montana State had its best as the Bobcats surged past the Eagles in the second half for an 84-67 Big Sky Conference Feb. 1 at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, Mont.
Montana State made 50 percent of its shots from the field while Eastern made just 41 percent. Eastern's 20-of-49 performance was the second-worst of the season behind the 40 percent (27-of-67) the Eagles made at Washington on Nov. 24. It was also the second-fewest points EWU has scored all season, ranking only behind the 65 the Eagles scored in a 78-65 loss at Idaho State.
"That was unusual for us," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "If we shoot our normal percentage we probably would have been fine."
"They mixed up defenses, man and zone, but we knew what they were in," he added. "We had some open looks and we got the ball inside a little bit, but we couldn't knock down shots."
Eastern entered the game ranked second in the Big Sky with a .498 field goal percentage. Montana State was last at .401, and also ranked last in three-point field goal percentage at .312. The Bobcats made 12-of-23 treys against EWU for 52 percent.
Sophomore Rodney Stuckey equaled his season and career average with 24 points, but made just 6-of-18 shots from the field. He made all 12 of his free throws and also led the Eagles with five rebounds and three assists.
Paul Butorac added 14 points, four rebounds and three assists for the Eagles. Omar Krayem, who missed the last two games with a hand injury, chipped in 12 points and Kellen Williams had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals. Matt Penoncello had a game-high four steals to go along with five points and five rebounds.
Five Bobcats scored in double figures, led by the 16 of freshman redshirt Branden Johnson. He made 6-of-9 shots from the field and 4-of-5 three-point attempts. Carson Durr had a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds as MSU out-rebounded Eastern 36-25, including 19-10 in the second half.
Last Season in Cheney - Montana State 82, Eastern Washington 79: The number 13 was unlucky for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team Dec. 28 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Montana State's Carlos Taylor made a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to lift Montana State to an 82-79 victory over the Eagles in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.
The Bobcats sank 13 treys in the game to pull off the upset. Eastern also missed crucial free throws down the stretch and a total of 13 for the game.
The game featured 13 lead changes and six ties as MSU led by as many as nine points in the first half and eight in the second half. It was the first home loss in six games this season for the Eagles, who led early by seven points but never led by more than one in the second half.
"We are very disappointed after a loss like this, especially at home," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "At times our energy wasn't where it should have been in the first half and that cost us in the second half. You can't fool around in games like these.
"We have to tip our hats to Montana State, though. They were very good tonight and made big shots when they needed to make them."
Eastern was led by sophomore Rodney Stuckey with 26 points, seven assists, four steals and four rebounds in 36 minutes of action. But he suffered an off-night from the perimeter, making only 9-of-20 shots overall. He was just 1-of-6 from the three-point line and missed four free throws after entering the game as the Big Sky's leading free throw shooter with a .883 percentage.
Four other Eagles scored in double figures, including center Paul Butorac with 13 points and six rebounds. Kellen Williams and Derek Risper had 10 points each, with Williams collecting eight rebounds and Risper finishing with seven.
Eastern was out-rebounded 38-36 and both teams made 47 percent of their shots. Eastern actually had six less turnovers -- 15-9 -- than MSU.
The game came down to three-pointers as the Bobcats finished 13-of-32 for 41 percent while Eastern was just 4-of-18 for 22 percent. Montana State made 9-of-16 free throws for 56 percent while Eastern made 21-of-34 for 62 percent. The Eagles, however, made just three of its last eight free throws in the final 3:16.
Montana State was led by Taylor's 20 points, with Casey Durham adding 12 and four assists. Nick Dissly finished with a double-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, and Branden Johnson added 11 points and four rebounds.
MORE EWU NOTES
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.
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.
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 78-46 (.629) Big Sky Conference record in that span (through games of Jan. 17). 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.