Feb. 2, 2009
Before you can talk about the top six, you have to talk about the top seven.
Trying to find a way to snap a six-game losing streak, the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team hosts a pair of important Big Sky Conference games -- for all teams involved -- this week at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Sacramento State visits on Thursday (Feb. 5) followed by a visit from Northern Arizona on Saturday (Feb. 7) in a pair of games that begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time.
Having fallen to eighth place in the BSC standings during their skid, the Eagles are currently 3-7 in the league and 9-13 overall. Sacramento State visits this week with a 1-8 record in the Big Sky and 2-20 mark overall. Northern Arizona, which plays at Portland State prior to taking on the Eagles, is in seventh in the league with a 3-6 record, and is 6-14 overall.
"We have six conference games left and we know where we are," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "When you back yourself into a corner and dig a hole like we have, it just magnifies the importance of every one of them. We know what we need to do and we’re perfectly capable of doing it. We just have to go do it."
After closing the month of January with a 2-7 record, the Eagles are excited to open February with a pair of home games.
"Obviously, we’re in a tough stretch right now," Earlywine said. "But it’s not as tough as it was two weeks ago -- we’re playing better now. We’re going back in the right direction, but the steps we are taking need to big leaps instead of steps. We need to try to be significantly better and not just a little better."
For the Eagles, who haven’t won since beating Idaho State 71-68 on Jan. 8, victories this week are critical to their hopes of a top six finish in the league standings. The top six teams in the regular season standings advance to the six-team Big Sky Conference Tournament which starts on March 7.
Idaho State, at 4-5 in the league is currently sixth, just behind 5-5 Northern Colorado. Eastern plays the Bengals on the road on Feb. 14 and are at home versus the Bears on Feb. 21.
"Looking at it can be a little overwhelming," Earlywine said of the difficult task his team faces in February. "So the one thing in our control is how we play Thursday night against Sacramento State. We can’t look at other games -- I think that becomes a distraction and counter-productive. We need to look strictly at what we have and what we need to do, and that starts with playing well against Sacramento State on Thursday."
Eastern is coming off a pair of losses in the state of Montana last week, falling at Montana State 69-65 on Jan. 29 and 60-52 at Montana on Jan. 31. In both games, Eastern led or was tied in the second half only to see its hopes dashed in the closing minutes of each. The Eagles lost for the fifth-straight time in Bozeman and the sixth-straight time in Missoula.
Despite the setbacks, Earlywine was pleased with his team’s effort. Now, the Eagles have to put together a string of wins. Eastern certainly did that to start the season, winning six of its first eight games for EWU’s best start in six seasons.
"I thought we were a lot better in Bozeman and in Missoula," he said. "But it wasn’t enough. I thought we gave ‘B+’ efforts, and while that may be good enough in some non-conference games and in some home games, it’s not good enough to win a conference game on the road. So we have to be better yet. We had good practices every day last week, and I expect to have good practices this week. Hopefully we’ll have an ‘A’ effort instead of a ‘B’ effort."
Earlier this season, Eastern lost 72-49 at Northern Arizona before rebounding for an 87-74 win at Sacramento State. The 23-point loss to the Lumberjacks was its second-worst this season (EWU lost at Washington 83-50) and the 13-point win over the Hornets was its second-best (Eastern beat UC Irvine 78-64 on Nov. 30).
"We played maybe the poorest game we’ve played all year at NAU," added Earlywine. "We didn’t play hard enough, we didn’t play well enough and we weren’t ready. But we’re different now. I’m not sure we’re back to where we were in late November and early December, but we’re a lot closer."
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-- Eagles Still Needs Two More Wins to Match 2007-08 Total -- With nine victories this season through Jan. 8, the Eagles seemed like a cinch to match last year’s overall win total (11-19). But despite playing just three games in a spacious 17-day span, Eastern lost all three and enter action this week with a six-game losing streak.
The Eagles are now 3-10 on the road this season and 6-3 at home, with its last victory coming on Jan. 8 when the Eagles used a late surge to knock-off Idaho State 71-65. Prior to that, EWU concluded a three-game, seven-day road trip with an 87-74 victory on Jan. 4 at last-place 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.
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 on Dec. 13, but Eastern won its Big Sky opener against Montana State in the earliest Big Sky start in EWU history.
-- Eastern Improving During Six-Game Losing Streak -- Despite a six-game losing streak, Eastern has been at both its best and worst during the skid.
"We’ve done enough good things to give ourselves a chance to win, and now it’s time to take the next step," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "Instead of simply being competitive and in those games with a chance to win, we need to make the plays to pull out a victory."
In its most recent loss, Montana used a 14-6 run mid-way through the second half to break away from a 35-all tie and win 60-52 on Jan. 31. The Eagles made just 33 percent of their shots, while the Grizzlies made 46 percent in a game in which the Eagles took 22 more shots, won the rebounding battle 38-31 and had only nine turnovers.
In a 69-65 loss at Montana State on Jan. 29, the Bobcats rallied from 10 points down in each half, using a 15-4 run to lead them to the four-point win. Eastern out-shot MSU 46 percent to 39 percent, but missed its last three field goals and its last two free throws as EWU went the final 2:58 without scoring.
On Jan. 21 in Cheney, Wash., the Grizzlies handed EWU a 63-50 loss at Reese Court -- representing Montana’s second road win in 10 games this season and EWU’s second-straight home setback. The Grizzlies opened a 15-point lead at halftime and withstood a late EWU rally for the win.
Prior to the losses to the Montana schools, Eastern was coming off an 83-61 loss at league favorite and defending champion Portland State on Jan. 24. The Eagles led by as many as seven late in the first half, but PSU runs of 24-5 and 15-0 turned the promising start into a blowout.
The losing streak started on Jan. 11 with a 77-69 home loss to Weber State in which EWU fell behind by as many as 17 points in the second half after a nearly five-minute scoreless stretch in the first half. The Eagles followed that with a 75-68 loss at Northern Colorado in which the Bears turned a one-point game into seven-point win in the final 32 seconds.
Eastern has played some good stretches of basketball in its last four outings, but consistency has been a problem. Eastern rebounded well (29-25 against PSU and 38-31 against Montana on Jan. 31), took care of the ball well (just 14 turnovers total in two games versus Montana and only eight against MSU) and shot well (49 percent versus PSU and 46 percent against MSU). But they have also not rebounded well (41-32 versus Montana on Jan. 21 and 40-32 versus MSU), not handled the ball well (19 turnovers versus PSU) and not shot well (31 and 33 percent in games against Montana).
Last year at this juncture of the season, the Eagles were mired in a four-game losing streak -- all in games against Montana and Montana State -- to go from 3-3 in the league to 3-7. Eastern won three of its last six games, but the damage was done as EWU finished 6-10 in the league and failed to qualify for the league tournament for the second-straight season.
EWU finished the league season 5-3 at home and 1-7 on the road last year, and thus far are currently 2-2 at home and 1-5 on the road in league games. Eastern will have to lose less at home or win more on the road if they hope to qualify the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the first time since EWU had a nine-season streak of berths (1998-2006).
During its six-game losing streak, EWU has made only 39 percent of its shots from the field, including only 28 percent of its three-point attempts (33-of-118). Opponents, meanwhile, have made 47 percent from the field and 37 percent (46-of-123) from the arc.
But the most glaring difference is at the free throw line where Eastern has been out-scored by more than double -- 107-52. Opponents have received 70 more attempts from the stripe -- an average of nearly 12 per game. In fact, the Eagles have had more field goals than their opponents (140 to 137) during the losing streak, with 62 more field goal attempts.
Scoring dry spells and opponent runs have been Eastern’s undoing as of late.
"Early in the year we were grinding out possessions and grinding out a full 40-minute game," said Earlywine prior to the MSU-UM weekend. "We haven’t done that as much lately. We are going through stretches where we don’t score, and at those times you have to be extraordinarily tough with the ball and rebounding. We are not doing that well enough for long enough to win right now."
-- Big Sky Scoring Leader an Academic All-America Nominee -- Eastern’s Benny Valentine is not only the Big Sky Conference scoring leader, but the 5-foot-7 point guard from Omaha, Neb., has been nominated for Academic All-America honors. The business major has a 3.40 grade point average in just over one year at EWU after transferring from Texas Tech and redshirting the 2007-08 season. He was selected as EWU’s December Scholar-Athlete of the Month.
He leads the league with a 16.4 scoring average, having scored two more points this season than Loren Leath from Sacramento State and Anthony Johnson from Montana (both have 16.3 averages). Valentine, a candidate for Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year accolades, 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.
For the season, he has made 39 percent of his shots from the field, 35 percent of his three-pointers (46-of-131) and 73 percent of his free throws to go along with averages of 3.0 assists (fifth in the league), 1.4 steals (fifth) and 2.9 rebounds per game. He has led Eastern in scoring in 13 games thus far, with a pair of 30-point performances, six outings with at least 20 and 19 of 22 games in double figures.
In EWU’s nine victories this season, he has averaged 19.1 points on 44.2 percent shooting from the field. In Eastern’s losses, those figures fall to 14.5 points and 36 percent shooting.
In a four-game stretch from Jan. 4 to Jan. 15, Valentine averaged 24.5 points on 35-of-63 shooting from the field (54.0 percent), 12-of-24 from the three-point stripe (50.0) and 18-of-24 from the line (75.0). In one of those games, he made 11-of-16 shots to finish with 31 points in a 75-68 loss at Northern Colorado on Jan. 15. He scored 33 points three games earlier against Sacramento State on Jan. 4 when he finished with his best scoring game of the season. It was 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.
"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.
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. 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 Having Season of Highs and Lows -- Eastern 6-foot-9 junior center Brandon Moore is having a season of highs and lows, and his shooting percentages and fouls are a great indicator of his recent trials and tribulations. Moore is from Graham, Wash., and is a 2005 graduate of Bethel High School.
Moore had 10 points and seven rebounds against Montana on Jan. 31, and had a 17-point performance one game earlier at Montana State. But 13 of his points against the Bobcats came in the first half and he finished the game with just three rebounds.
Moore is the only Eagle to have started all 22 games this season and is averaging 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game to rank 19th and third, respectively, in the Big Sky Conference. In his 79-game career (39 as a starter), Moore has averaged 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds while making just under 50 percent of his shots from the field.
Moore had three double-doubles in Eastern’s first 12 games of the season, but hasn’t had any in the 10 games since. A career 60.8 percent free throw shooter entering the season, he has made 64.5 percent this year to increase his career mark to 62.2 percent. He had made 17 of his last 19 attempts heading into EWU’s Jan. 24 game at Portland State.
However, his field goal percentage has gone the opposite direction. Entering the year he had made 52.2 percent in his career, but this year it has dropped to 45.6 to give him a career mark of 49.5 percent.
On Jan. 11 in a 77-69 loss against Weber State, foul trouble limited Moore to 10 total minutes. He was 4-of-4 from the free throw line and 0-of-0 from the field after getting fouled on the only field goals he attempted. He had four points and five rebounds before fouling out. One game earlier he had no fouls in a 17-point, seven-rebound effort against Idaho State. Against Northern Colorado on Jan. 15, he was 8-of-10 from the line but just 1-of-8 from the field.
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 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.
-- Genao and Dunn Adding Inside Scoring -- Senior newcomer Andy Genao has had a pair of double-doubles in his last three games, following a stretch in which junior newcomer Mark Dunn had scored in double figures in three of four games.
Genao is coming off a 14-point, 12-rebound performance at Montana on Jan. 31, and had eight points and seven boards one game earlier versus Montana State. He had a season-high 20 points with 10 rebounds and four assists on Jan. 24 at Portland State. He has had four double-doubles in 22 games this season, and for the year is averaging 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds while making 46 percent of his shots from the field.
Dunn scored in double figures against Weber State (14 on Jan. 11), Montana (14 on Jan. 21) and Portland State (10 on Jan. 24). But in EWU’s first 16 games of the season, he had just three double figure scoring performances. However, since recording season highs for both points (14) and rebounds (9) in a loss to Weber State, the 6-foot-8 Dunn has had just 11 rebounds in the five games since. He was scoreless against Montana State on Jan. 29 and had just two in the next game against Montana on Jan. 31. For the season, the junior college transfer is averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while making 50.0 percent of his shots from the field.
-- EWU in Big Sky-Only Statistics -- In league games only, Eastern leads the Big Sky in offensive rebounds (10.7 per game), is second in turnover margin (+2.0 per game) and third in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.10). Eastern is last in field goal percentage offense (.313) and three-point shooting (.313), and eighth in scoring defense (69.3) and field goal percentage defense (.473).
Individually, Benny Valentine ranks third in scoring (17.2), fifth in three-pointers made (2.2 per game), 11th in steals (1.6) and eighth in assists (3.0). Brandon Moore is sixth in rebounding (6.2), third in offensive rebounds (2.5) and 11th in free throw percentage (.767, 23-of-30).
-- Dry Spells and Scoring Runs -- Recent Eastern games have been punctuated by long scoring dry spells for EWU and opponent runs.
Against both Montana schools last week, second-half scoring runs of 15-4 by the Bobcats and 14-6 by the Grizzlies led to Eastern defeats. Prior to that, Eastern was out-scored 24-5 over an eight-minute span to turn a seven-point EWU lead at Portland State into a 12-point deficit. Later in the game, Eastern went 5:06 without scoring as PSU used a 15-0 run to win easily, 83-61.
On Jan. 11 at home, the Eagles went 4:54 without scoring as Weber State went on a 17-2 run to turn a 23-18 deficit into a 32-25 advantage in the 77-69 Wildcat win. Against Northern Arizona in a 72-49 road loss on Jan. 2, the Eagles went the final 7:57 without a field goal as they were out-scored 14-4 in that stretch. The Eagles went 9:11 without a point against Boise State, and on Dec. 20 versus Washington, Eastern had a stretch of 8:22 without a field goal and an additional 5:03 stretch without a point in the 80-53 loss.
But at other times this season, Eastern has had more than enough offense. The Eagles scored 87 points in an 87-74 win over Sacramento State on Jan. 4 after scoring just 97 combined in losses to BSU (57-48) and NAU (72-49). Before the Sac State victory, Eastern’s last win was a 90-87 victory on Dec. 22 over Evergreen State, which entered the game 7-2 and was the 16th-ranked team in NAIA Division II. The Geoducks were coming off an 82-68 win over that division’s No. 1 ranked team and defending national champion, Oregon Tech.
-- Eagles Were an Early Leader in the Big Sky in Scoring Defense -- The Eagles currently rank sixth in the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense, allowing 69.9 per game (Montana leads at 65.8 per game). Through eight games -- and a 6-2 record -- the Eagles were allowing just 66.1 to lead the league. 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 lead.
In their 13 losses this season, Eastern has allowed 72.0 points and 48.3 percent shooting. In EWU’s nine victories, those figures drop to 66.8 and 44.4. Eastern is 5-3 when it holds opponents to 65 points or fewer and 6-3 when it holds opponents to 43 percent shooting or less. The Eagles are 1-6 when allowing at least 75 points.
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) in a 57-48 loss.
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."
-- Eagles Unbeaten When They Score 70 or More -- Eastern has won all six games this season when the Eagles score at least 70 points. When they make at least 45 percent of their shots they are 8-2, with the lone losses coming in back-to-back games at Portland State on Jan. 24 and at MSU on Jan. 29.
Eastern is 5-3 when holding opponents to 64 or fewer points and 6-3 when holding them to 43 percent shooting or less. The Eagles are 6-2 when EWU has a better field goal percentage than its opponent. In addition, the Eagles are 6-4 when they out-rebound opponents and 6-4 when they hold opponents to 31 rebounds or less. Eastern is also 6-5 when forcing more or equal turnovers and 4-0 when the Eagles force at least 15 turnovers.
-- 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.
DeLeon has averaged 5.2 points in an average of 14.9 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 4.3 points and 2.5 rebounds in 15.5 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, started well for the Eagles. Eastern picked up road wins at UC Irvine, Portland and Sacramento State, and won six of its first seven games at Reese Court.
But losing a pair of league home games -- 77-69 to Weber State on Jan. 11 and 63-50 to Montana on Jan. 21 -- were blows head coach Kirk Earlywine was hoping to avoid. Of the first 18 league games played, Weber’s victory was just the fifth road breakthrough. Two of the home losses at the time were owned by 0-4 Sac State.
"It’s becomes even more difficult when you give away a home game," said Earlywine, whose team is trying to return to the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the first time since EWU had a nine-season streak of berths (1998-2006).
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.
-- 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. Entering the 2008-09 season, Eastern had a full roster of 14 players that included six returning letter winners. Returning starters were center Brandon Moore and guards Trey Gross and Gary Gibson, but Gross left the team in December.
-- 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.
-- EWU-Sacramento State Series History (Since 1983-84) -- The Eagles have won the last six meetings dating back to a 88-69 Hornet victory on Jan. 7, 2006, in Sacramento. Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 22-7 versus Sacramento State.
The Eagles have won 15 of their last 18 games against the Hornets, and have an 13-1 record versus Sacramento State in Cheney and a 9-6 record in Sacramento. Eastern has won the last 12 meetings at home against Sac State, dating back to a 68-67 Hornet victory on Jan. 19, 1995.
-- Earlier This Season . . . Eastern Washington 87, Sacramento State 74 -- Even though it was a foul-filled road game against an opponent with just one win this season, it was a team victory the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team needed badly.
Junior Benny Valentine and seniors Adris DeLeon and Milan Stanojevic combined for 62 points as the Eagles improved to 2-1 in the Big Sky Conference with an 87-74 victory over Sacramento State Jan . 4 at the Hornets Nest in Sacramento, Calif.
"It was a complete team effort, and it had to be because of our foul trouble," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine, whose team was whistled for 32 fouls. Six of Eastern’s 10 players finished with four fouls, but none fouled out.
"We needed everybody to contribute and everybody did," he continued. "Our physical effort was very good even though we fouled too much."
With both teams shooting at a nearly a 50 percent clip and Sac State attempting more free throws (42) than field goals (41), the game came down to turnovers. Eastern had just 11 while forcing 18, giving Eastern a 30-14 advantage in points off turnovers. Eastern also had a 35-33 rebounding advantage and had 17 second chance points to Sac State’s four.
The victory was Eastern’s first over a NCAA Division I foe in nearly a month as EWU improved its overall record to 8-7 with just its second victory in the last seven outings. The Hornets fell to 1-14 overall and 0-2 in the conference.
"When the other team shoots 42 free throws you probably fouled too much," Earlywine said with a slight chuckle. "But it was a good win and I liked our cohesiveness by the players on the bench as well as the floor. I saw signs of us getting back to where we were a month ago in terms of our chemistry and role recognition. That’s a hard thing to put your finger and define. But I liked the feel of our team against Sac State."
Valentine, who entered the Sac State game as the Big Sky’s leading scorer with a 15.5 average, scored 33 points off the bench in only his third game as a non-starter this year. Adris DeLeon added 17 points and three assists in his first start of the season and sixth game overall since becoming cleared to play in mid-December. Stanojevic added 12 points and had a career-high seven rebounds.
The 5-foot-7 Valentine finished with his best scoring game of the season, and his first of more than 16 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. "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."
Eastern trailed only once at 5-3, and there were just three ties until EWU took the lead for good on a three-pointer by Valentine with 9:18 remaining in the first half. That ignited a 17-3 Eagle run in a five-minute span as EWU took a 35-21 advantage.
Valentine and DeLeon combined for all but two of Eastern’s points in that run, with Valentine scoring seven and DeLeon getting eight. They combined for 29 of EWU’s first-half points as the Eagles led 46-34 at intermission.
In the second half, the Eagles built a 17-point lead before the Hornets cut it to nine at the 15:20 mark. Valentine scored five points and Brandon Moore scored four in the 9-0 Eastern run that followed, giving EWU its biggest lead of the night at 65-47 with 13:08 left. The Eagles trailed by no less than 12 the rest of the way and by as many as 19 at 76-57.
The Eagles finished the game making 31-of-66 shots from the field for 47 percent, compared to 19-of-41 for the Hornets for 46 percent. Eastern made 16-of-22 free throws for 73 percent, and Sac State made 30-of-42 for 71 percent.
-- EWU-NAU Series History (Since 1983-84) -- The Eagles have lost the last five meetings and seven of the last eight, and haven’t defeated the Lumberjacks since a 73-61 victory on Feb. 4, 2006. Eastern also has a five-game losing streak in Flagstaff, Ariz., dating back to Jan. 15, 2004 when Eastern was victorious 63-57.
Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 20-30 versus Northern Arizona, including a 6-18 record in Flagstaff, Ariz., 13-11 in Cheney and 1-1 on neutral courts. Eastern trails in the all-time series 20-31 (6-18 in Flagstaff, 13-12 in Cheney, 1-1 neutral).
Eastern had won six-straight games against the Lumberjacks and nine of the last 11 until falling 77-64 in Flagstaff on Feb. 5, 2005. The Lumberjacks beat EWU 105-95 on Jan. 5, 2006, in a game in which Eastern’s Rodney Stuckey scored a school-record 45 points. Eastern defeated the Lumberjacks 73-61 in Cheney on Feb. 4, 2006, but lost twice in both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 season.
Until a 72-65 victory in Flagstaff in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern had lost nine-straight meetings there since Feb. 16, 1991. Coupled with a win later in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern swept the regular season meetings with the Lumberjacks for the first time in 10 years. Eastern duplicated that feat in 2003 and 2004.
-- Earlier This Season . . . Northern Arizona 72, Eastern Washington 49 -- A long road trip yielded a long game for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team Jan. 2 at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz.
The Eagles suffered through a 36 percent shooting night while Northern Arizona made 58 percent as the Lumberjacks defeated EWU 72-49 in the second Big Sky Conference game of the season for both teams.
Northern Arizona used a 12-2 run in the second half to open a double-digit lead as the Eagles scored only 17 points after halftime on 5-of-23 shooting for 22 percent. Eastern went the final 7:57 of the game without a field goal while the Lumberjacks scored 36 points in each half.
Junior Benny Valentine led the Eagles with 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting and Milan Stanojevic added 11 on 4-of-6 shooting. Brandon Moore chipped in six points and five rebounds, but EWU was out-rebounded 33-26 after having a commanding 83-57 advantage in that statistic in its last two games. The Lumberjacks also had just 14 turnovers compared to 15 for the Eagles.
There were six ties and four lead changes early in the game as Eastern scored seven-straight points to take a 22-20 lead. The Eagles trailed 36-32 at halftime, but overcame a 3-of-13 shooting start to make 10 of their last 14 to finish at 48 percent in the first half (13-of-27).
But in the second half, the Eagles made three of their first five shots before going cold for the rest of the game. The Eagles trailed just 42-40 when the Lumberjacks went on a 12-2 run to take 54-42 lead with 11:45 left.
Eastern could come no closer than 11 the rest of the way as the Eagles closed the game by making just two of their last 18 shots in the game. Northern Arizona’s largest lead was 23 points.
Kirk Earlywine COMMENTS
-- On Progress of Team Heading Into MSU/UM Weekend -- "I think we’re closer than we were two or three weeks ago, but we have to do it for 40 minutes and we have to find a way to win. I’ve tried to put my finger on how and why we’ve lost that ability. I do think we’re closer -- in the first half against Portland State we played very well. I think we played well during stretches against Montana -- we didn’t score but we were playing well."
-- On Defense After Weber State Loss -- "Part of it is that we’re playing a little bit faster and we’ve changed a little bit offensively to score some more points. The challenge for our players and coaches is for us to score points and be efficient on offense while still defending well. The most disappointing thing about our defense at the moment is the fact that we are fouling too much, or at least we are being called for too many fouls. We have to look to see what we can change because when you put a team on the line 40 times it’s hard to win. There’s a delicate balance there. We need to continue to play hard on defense, but we need to do it without fouling. That’s going to be our challenge."
-- On Areas That Need Work After MSU Win -- "We’re still very, very sloppy and not anywhere near where we need to be in terms of execution of running our sets and how we are managing the shot clock late in possessions. That was evident against Montana State. Defensively, we missed a couple of switches (against MSU) and we were very fortunate because we gave a couple of their very good shooters open looks from the arc that they didn’t knock down."
-- On 31-6 Run Against UC Irvine After Falling Behind 18-8 on Nov. 30 -- "Those 10 or 12 minutes where we were playing really well were preceded by eight or nine when we were playing really bad, so I guess it evens out. I don’t know why we made the mistakes we made early in the game to allow them to make so many three-point shots. They were just inexcusable in my eyes and we have to eliminate things like that in order for us to be good."
-- On Eagle Newcomers Against UC Irvine on Nov. 30 -- "I was really pleased with Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen. We received 28 points, 11 rebounds and only two turnovers out of those two players. They have continued to play very well and are staying within their roles in what we’ve asked them to do. That is encouraging. Mark Dunn continues to be very solid for us. He’s not going to win any beauty contests, but he continues to do what we need him to do to help us win games."
-- On Contributions from 2007-08 Redshirts Benny Valentine, Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen -- "It’s been critical and vital. Last year, we opened the season with only three players with NCAA Division I experience. And none of them had played a game for me. This year we have players that have been through it and those redshirts who also have a year in our system. They know what we want and how we want it. It’s a big factor, and those players are older as well. Jeff and Andy are both fifth-year seniors and Benny is a fourth-year junior. They aren’t as prone to the peaks and valleys of a college season as much as younger players might be. They understand how to stay the course so you don’t have those inconsistent swings in play."
-- On Continuing to Improve -- "We played very, very well at UC Irvine -- we rebounded well and we guarded well. But our block out and our conversion defense slipped noticeably in the next game. I told our players that a sign of a good team and a mature team is that when areas that are identified as needing to be improved or corrected, those things are improved and corrected immediately."
-- On Whether Playing Games With Just One Day of Preparation Time Helps During Conference Play -- "You can make that case, but I would rather not have that right now. There are things we see in games that we need practice time to work on live and at full speed, but we just simply can’t with one day between games. At this time of the year, playing games with just one day of preparation is not a good thing. But there is some benefit because you will in conference play when you have to play Thursday and Saturday. Hopefully by that time we won’t have major things that need to be worked on or fixed -- just minor tinkering."
-- On Winning Against Experienced Texas Arlington -- "They made a terrific run late in the season in the NCAA Tournament, and they have guys who have been through big games and close games. It showed in their poise and they seemed to keep their focus. They made big shots and they had no panic in their eyes. That is a good basketball team and a good win for us."
-- Rodney Stuckey Returns 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 had his EWU jersey retired in ceremonies that took place on Sunday, Jan. 11 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The event took place in conjunction with Eastern’s Big Sky Conference game against Weber State that was televised live regionally on Altitude Sports and Entertainment. He spent more than an hour afterward signing autographs and taking photos with Eastern fans.
"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. He had nine points and a pair of assists in a win at Denver on Jan. 9 and 19 points and two assists in a loss Jan. 10 at Utah. Following that road stretch, the Pistons were 14-5 in games Stuckey had started and 22-13 overall.
Considering that this would have been his senior season at EWU had he remained in college, it was appropriate that Stuckey was 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. At the ceremony, Boyce presented a framed photo collage to Stuckey on behalf of EWU Athletics.
"I’m happy to share this experience with all the people who supported me throughout my college career," Stuckey said.
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 33 games this season (19 as a starter), the second-year pro was averaging 13.5 points, 5.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 29.2 minutes per game. In first 90 games of his career (21 as a starter), Stuckey was averaging 9.8 points, 3.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 22.7 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. In his first 16 games since taking over as a full-time starters, the Pistons were 11-5 as he averaged 18.1 points and 5.9 assists.
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. The great talent (Rodney) 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:
-- 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.
-- Eagles Register First League Win on Dec. 6 -- Eastern opened Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 6 with a 61-55 victory over Montana State The league opener came less than a month into the 2008-09 campaign, and was the earliest start to the Big Sky schedule in EWU history. Benny Valentine finished with 15 points, four assists and three steals in the win over the Bobcats.
With the victory over MSU, the Eagles were in first place in the league for nearly a month.
"I will caution our players that we were 1-0 last year in the conference as well and ended up not playing in the conference tournament," said head coach Kirk Earlywine after the MSU win. "So while it’s a good start and it certainly beats the alternative of being 0-1, there is still a long ways to go."
-- More on Eastern’s Hot Start -- Eastern’s 6-2 start to the 2008-09 season was a complete turnaround from last year when the Eagles were 2-6 after eight games and had been out-scored by an average of more than 12 points per game. Eastern didn’t win its sixth game of the season until Dec. 22.
This season, EWU won its sixth game on Dec. 6 against Montana State. Through eight games, the Eagles had a 535-529 scoring advantage despite losing to a pair of Big Ten Conference foes by a combined 37 points. Eastern out-rebounded opponents by one per game, and had averaged just 12.5 turnovers per game.
As a result, Eastern won all four of its games decided by six points or fewer, and its victories came by margins of three, five, five, six, 10 and 12. Last season, Eastern was 3-6 in games decided by five points or less, with all six setbacks coming during conference play.
"The combination of us defending fairly well and limiting our turnovers have been the two things in particular (that have helped win close games)," explained Earlywine after the MSU win. "Our offensive rebounding hasn’t been overwhelming, but we seem to get them at the right time. Those three things have allowed us to win games, but our statistics as a whole makes you wonder how are we winning those. But it’s been timely, clutch plays, and somebody seems to make a basket at the right time. Andy Genao came up with three buckets, including two tough baskets, in the last 2:35 against Montana State. Maybe the stars are aligned right now because we are finding ways to win tough games."
The last time Eastern was 6-2 to start a season came in came in 2002-03 when that squad began the year 3-2 and stretched it to 7-2 with a four-game winning streak. That year the Eagles lost to Weber State 60-57 in the Big Sky Tournament championship game with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Current Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine was an assistant coach that season for the Wildcats, who were 14-0 in the league and 26-6 overall.
-- Four-Game Grind Ends With 3-1 Mark -- Eastern closed a stretch of four games in eight nights with an 88-67 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 26. In the first three games of its four-game grind, Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59). The win over Texas Arlington was particularly impressive because the Mavericks were a NCAA Tournament participant last year and are the defending Southland Conference champions.
"It seemed like those were the types of games that slipped away from us a year ago," said Earlywine, particularly of his team’s narrow victories over the Anteaters and Mavericks. "I don’t know if that means we are improved or the basketball gods are smiling on us at the moment. I know we are better at this point than we were a year ago at this time. How much I don’t know yet.
"Having a guard out there in Benny Valentine that can make plays and handle the ball against pressure certainly helps you in those late-game situations," added Earlywine. "Those are very good wins for us and are a sign that we’re advancing and becoming better as a program."
Eastern opened its season with a 66-50 loss on Nov. 14 at Illinois of the Big Ten Conference in a game that was tied at 35 at halftime. However, Eastern went 8:05 without a field goal during a 15-1 Illinois run in the second half to spoil a combined 27-point outing for new Valentine and returning 6-9 center Brandon Moore.
-- Eagles Versus the Big Ten Conference -- Eastern is now 0-6 all-time versus the Big Ten Conference. Before this season, the last meeting against the league took place last November against Michigan in a 61-53 loss.
11/26/08 - L - Minnesota - 67-88 - A
11/14/08 - L - Illinois - 50-66 - A
11/23/07 - L - Michigan - 53-61 - ~
12/5/03 - L - Iowa - 54-70 - #
11/15/02 - L - Wisconsin - 55-81 - $
12/28/01 - L - Indiana - 60-87 - %
11/24/01 - L - Minnesota - 68-86 - A
11/25/00 - L - Michigan State - 61-83 - &
~Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska
#Gazette Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa
$NABC Classic in Madison, Wisc.
%Ameritech Hoosier Classic in Indianapolis, Ind.
&Spartan Classic in Lansing, Mich.
A -- Away
-- Eagles Versus Ranked Teams -- This may be the first time since the 2002-03 season that Eastern has not played a nationally-ranked team. The Eagles have played 12 such games in the five seasons since then.
Eastern is 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 -- The Eagles played in front of 14,422 fans at Illinois on Nov. 14, which is the sixth-largest crowd EWU has ever played against. A crowd of 11,977 were on hand on Nov. 26 when EWU played at Minnesota. Those were the 19th and 20th times since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win in all 20 of those games.
Eastern’s first two games of the 2007-08 season drew crowds of 10,216 (at Washington State) and 12,016 (at New Mexico), Later in the year on Dec. 12, 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.
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
14,422 - 11/14/08 vs. Illinois - L, 50-66
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
11,977 - 11/26/08 vs. Minnesota - L, 67-88
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
-- Schedule Tough, but More Manageable in 2008-09 -- Eastern’s 2008-09 schedule is once again difficult, with road games scheduled against the likes of Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii, Washington and Boise State. However, back-to-back road games are rare.
"It’s a challenging schedule, but it’s a little more playable than a year ago in terms of the balance of home games versus away games," explained Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We don’t get stuck on the road too long."
In all, Eastern has six non-conference home games and seven on the road. Eastern opens the season at Illinois and UC Irvine, but after that, only during the league season does Eastern play back-to-back road games again. 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."
Last season, Eastern played a trio of NCAA Tournament teams (Kansas, Washington State and Portland State), and this year the same is true. Texas-Arlington, which lost to Memphis 87-63 in the first round, plays at EWU on Nov. 22. Boise State, a 79-61 loser to Louisville, hosts the Eagles on Dec. 29 and is scheduled to play at Eastern the following season.
The Eagles will play Big Sky Conference rival Portland State on Jan. 24 before hosting the Vikings in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 28. Last season, Eastern lost at Kansas 85-47 and PSU fell to the eventual national champions 85-61 in the NCAA Tournament.
"We have some games against the power conferences that our guys are really excited about," said Earlywine of the schedule. Besides games against the Big 10, Pacific 10 and Western Athletic Conference, Eastern plays a home-and-home series against UC Irvine, a team from the Big West Conference which won seven of its last nine games of the 2007-08 season.
League play – believe it or not – starts just seven games into the season with a home game versus Montana State on Dec. 6. A nine-team league and the participation of some teams in the ESPN Bracketbusters in February, necessitates the early start.
"I’m definitely not in favor of playing conference games the third week of the season," said Earlywine. "But one good thing is that it’s a conference game on a Saturday at home with our students here. We did not have too many of those last year. We hope we will have a heckuva crowd with our students right before final exams with the Bobcats coming to town."
Earlywine expects Portland State to be the early favorite to repeat as league champions. The past two seasons there have been six first-year coaches in the league, and Earlywine thinks those two years of building programs by those schools will payoff this season.
"The word out there is that everybody thinks the Big Sky is going to be very, very good. I would agree," he said. "Portland State and Montana are loaded, and you can never count out Northern Arizona – Mike Adras keeps doing it year-after-year. And I think Idaho State has a chance to make a huge jump. The league is going to be good."
-- EWU in Exhibitions -- Until falling 58-56 to Carroll College on Nov. 1, Eastern had won its last 12 exhibition games, which are contests that do not count in EWU’s season record or statistics. It’s last exhibition loss came 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:
11/8/08 - Puget Sound - W, 90-66
11/1/08 - Carroll - L, 56-58
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
-- Three Eagles Miss Carroll Game -- Of the three Eagles who missed Eastern’s exhibition opener against Carroll College, returning center Brandon Moore had a knee injury and returned to play 14 minutes against Puget Sound. Forward Chris Busch and guard Adris DeLeon were not cleared to play.
The absence of those three players made it difficult for Earlywine to get a good feel for his team and how the team’s five newcomers blend with six returning letter winners and three returning redshirts in game situations.
"It was hard because there are some questions I have about this year’s team that we needed the exhibition games and early-season games to answer in terms of combinations in our lineup, minutes and so forth," explained Earlywine. "I couldn’t get any of those questions answered against Carroll.
"I didn’t see as much personnel as I would have liked, and obviously I was disappointed but not discouraged at all," he added. "I knew that when we scheduled Carroll that they would come in and be competitive and would compete. I didn’t want to schedule somebody that we were going to beat by 20, 25, or 30 points and not get anything out of the game.
-- Earlywine Sees Carroll Loss as Learning Opportunity -- Earlywine wasn’t as concerned about the loss to Carroll as he was with the learning opportunities.
"Like I told our guys, that loss will be long forgotten and meaningless in March if we can use the things that we learned from that loss to get better and improve," he said. "We need to keep taking steps in the direction we need to go.
"I also told our players that Ohio State (by Findlay) and Michigan State (by Grand Valley State) were defeated by non-Division I teams last year," Earlywine added. "It’s not the end of the world. What we do from here to improve is much more important than the final score in an exhibition game."
-- Positives from Carroll Game -- Returning starter Trey Gross scored 17 to lead the Eagles against Carroll, and returning guard Milan Stanojevic chipped in 11. Six-foot-8 Mark Dunn added seven points and 10 rebounds, and Gary Gibson had six points, three steals and three assists -- all in the second half as he fueled EWU’s comeback from a 19-point deficit.
"Certainly, Mark Dunn’s play was a positive," Earlywine said. "Double-digit rebounds for him was a pleasant surprise. His conditioning continues to get a little better and a little better and his play was very encouraging. He certainly played more minutes against Carroll than he would have if Brandon had been healthy.
"I also thought Gary Gibson’s play in the second half was a positive," he added. "But those two things were really about the extent of the good news from the Carroll game."
-- Practice Time a Premium for Eagles -- One of Kirk Earlywine’s early-season concerns in preparing for a mid-November opener is the lack of practice time prior to that opener after practices began on the late date of Oct. 17.
"I think more than anything else, the five fewer days of practice this year makes it difficult," he explained. "This year it was the nature of the calendar -- we start practice on the Friday nearest to October 15th. A year ago that was October 12th and this year it was on October 17th. So we lost five days of practice this year.
"I think as you establish a program and have more returning guys in your program, that’s probably a little easier to overcome," he said. "But it’s not enough time when you have new players and are trying to establish a program. We were nowhere near to being ready to play a full game against Carroll -- we hadn’t even scrimmaged or had referees in our gym yet. We certainly looked like it."
-- Moore Impressive in Last Eight Games of 2007-08 Season-- Sophomore Brandon Moore averaged 11.3 points and 7.6 rebounds on 53.1 percent shooting in the last eight games of the 2007-08 season. He closed the season with seven points and 12 rebounds in a loss at Portland State, but in his previous game at Northern Colorado he played just 22 minutes because of early foul trouble and finished with only two points and one rebound.
The 6-foot-9 Moore helped lead the Eagles to a crucial home sweep over Weber State (69-57) and Idaho State (63-53) in mid-February as he scored 35 points and had 14 rebounds. He made 14-of-20 shots in the two games and added two blocked shots and two steals. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive end, including four offensive boards versus Weber State.
-- More on the Big Sky Conference Polls -- Ken Bone’s Portland State Vikings have been selected by the coaches and the media to capture the 2008-09 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball title in preseason polls released Oct. 22. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
Portland State, which finished 23-10 in 2007-08, earned seven first-place votes from the coaches and 63 total points. The Vikings earned 23 of 26 first-place votes from the media and 230 total points.
Portland State won the regular-season title in 2007-08, finishing 14-2 in conference. The Vikings won their first ever postseason championship, downing Northern Arizona 67-51 in the championship game. Portland State’s season came to an end with a loss to eventual national champion Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Vikings return Big Sky MVP Jeremiah Dominguez, a senior guard from Salem, Ore. Dominguez averaged 14.2 points and four assists per game. The Vikings are expected to be bolstered by Phil Nelson (Washington), Dominic Waters (Hawai’i) and Jamie Jones (Portland), who all sat out last season after transferring from Division I institutions.
The University of Montana was selected second in both polls. The Grizzlies earned two first-place votes from the coaches and 56 total points. Montana also earned two first-place votes from the media and 180 total points. Wayne Tinkle’s Grizzlies finished the 2007-08 season 14-16, losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Championship. The Grizzlies will be led by senior forward Jordan Hasquet, and junior guard Ryan Staudacher. Montana will also benefit from the addition of Division I transfers Jack McGillis (Oregon State) and Michael Taylor (Eastern Washington).
Joe O’Brien’s Idaho State Bengals were selected third in both polls. The Bengals received one first-place vote from the media, and 169 total points. In the coaches’ poll, the Bengals earned 49 total points. Idaho State returns four starters from a team that finished 8-8 in conference play last season, including senior guard Matt Stucki and junior guard Amorrow Morgan. The Bengals returned seven of the top eight scorers from last year’s squad.
Northern Arizona, which has advanced to the Big Sky Championship game three consecutive years, was picked fourth by the coaches and fifth by the media. Weber State, which claimed the 2006-07 championship, was tabbed fourth by the media and fifth by the coaches. Northern Arizona will be led by senior guard Josh Wilson, who ranks fifth on the Big Sky’s career assists list with 551. Weber State will be led by senior forward Daviin Davis and senior guard Kellen McCoy.
Northern Colorado, entering its third year of league play, was picked sixth in both polls. Tad Boyle’s Bears return four starters and nine lettermen from the 2007-08 team, which won 13 overall games. Leading the way is senior forward Jabril Banks, who averaged 13.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior.
Rounding out the polls were Eastern Washington, Montana State and Sacramento State. EWU was picked seventh by the coaches and eighth by the media. Montana State was picked seventh by the media and eighth by the coaches. Sacramento State, which enters the season with new coach Brian Katz, was selected ninth in both polls.
Weber State will be the first team to play this season, opening against Miami, Ohio, on Wednesday, Nov. 12 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Westwood, Calif. Six other Big Sky teams open play on Friday, Nov. 14.
The Big Sky Championship begins with quarterfinal games on Saturday, March 7. The semifinals and championship will be played on Tuesday, March 10, and Wednesday, March 11 at the home of the regular-season champion.
The semifinal games will be televised on Altitude Sports & Entertainment. The championship game will be shown live on ESPN2.
Team (First-place votes) - Total Points
1. Portland State (7) - 63
2. Montana (2) 56
3. Idaho State - 49
4. Northern Arizona - 41
5. Weber State - 34
6. Northern Colorado - 29
7. Eastern Washington - 22
8. Montana State - 14
9. Sacramento State 10
Team (First-place votes) - Total Points
1. Portland State (23) - 230
2. Montana (2) 180
3. Idaho State (1) - 169
4. Weber State 165
5. Northern Arizona - 153
6. Northern Colorado - 104
7. Montana State - 76
8. Eastern Washington - 64
9. Sacramento State - 38
-- 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
12/16/88 - 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
-- 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