Eagles Face Enormous Challenge Against "Freight Train"
March 3, 2008
Kirk Earlywine has seen his share of performances on the road in his eight seasons as a men's basketball coach in the Big Sky Conference.
But what he witnessed last week was a "freight train going full speed" through the state of Montana as Portland State averaged 102 points per game in recording wins by 52 and 28 points. Now, Earlywine's Eagles must conclude its season against the regular season Big Sky champions on Tuesday (March 4) in Portland, Ore.
Eastern enters Saturday's game having not played since Feb. 23, and since then has been eliminated from contention for one of six spots in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Vikings, meanwhile, made 70 percent of their shots to win at Montana State 96-68 on Feb. 28, then crushed Montana in Missoula 108-56 on March 1 with a 63 percent shooting night. Portland State made an incredible 25-of-42 three-pointers as point guard Jeremiah Dominguez made 11-of-14 en route to a 50-point weekend.
"That road trip last week by Portland State might be the most impressive road trip in the history of the conference," said Earlywine, who spent seven seasons as an assistant coach at Weber State and is in his first season as EWU's head coach. "To go on the road and win by 28 in Bozeman and turn around and win by 52 in Missoula is unfathomable. They shot 66 percent on the road trip, they made 60 percent from beyond the arc and they averaged 102 points. I can go on and on and on -- it's just mind-boggling what they did last week."
"I'm not sure exactly how we are going to slow them down right now," he added. "They are like a darn freight train going full speed at the moment. We certainly have our hands full."
The Vikings are 13-2 in the league and 20-9 overall, and went on their Montana tear after falling to Cal State Fullerton 88-69 in an ESPN BracketBusters game on Feb. 23. Portland State has won its last 11 league games after a 2-2 start.
One of those early losses by PSU was a 58-57 loss in Cheney back on Dec. 22 when the league season began for both schools. Eastern won that game on a leaning eight-foot bank shot with five seconds to play by EWU senior Kellen Williams. The Eagles enter Tuesday's season finale 11-18 overall and 6-9 in the conference, with Williams and Marcus Hinton the lone EWU seniors.
"It certainly has the attention of our players," Earlywine said of the recent performances by the Vikings, who will host the semifinals and championship game of the Big Sky Tournament at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore. "This is our last game and we are kind of playing for pride. I told them that as long as you are involved in any competitive endeavor and somebody is keeping score, you play to win. We've prepared for this game with the same sense of urgency and just as hard as when we played them on Dec. 22. I hope our players will come out and play just as hard as the first time we played them."
Only the top six teams in the league advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament, which begins on March 8 with quarterfinal games at campus sites (No. 4 Idaho State hosts No. 5 Montana and No. 3 Weber State hosts No. 6 Montana State). The tournament then moves to Portland for the semifinals on March 11 (No. 2 Northern Arizona and No. 1 PSU receive byes to the semifinals) and the championship game on March 12. The semifinals are televised by Altitude Sports and Entertainment and the championship game is on ESPN2.
After losing at Northern Colorado 63-53 on Feb. 23, Eastern's final chance at a tournament berth came down to needing lots of help from other Big Sky teams. But the Eagles didn't get much -- including Idaho State knocking off Sacramento State 52-51 and Montana State getting swept at home -- and EWU will have to miss the tournament for the second-straight year after making nine-straight trips from 1998-2006.
"It's an opportunity for Marcus and Kellen to win their last game," said Earlywine. "It's an opportunity for us to finish the season with a win and beat a team that has proven to be, without question, the best team in the conference this year. There is still something to play for even though it will be our last game."
Putting Eastern in dire straits recently was the fact Eastern had lost three league games at home by margins of four, seven and two (average margin of 4.3). Getting swept at home by Montana State (64-57 on Jan. 26) and Montana (59-57 on Feb. 3) were the biggest blows.
Five of EWU's league setbacks have come by four points or less. Eastern's nine league losses are by an average of 8.3 points per game, and just 7.0 if an 80-61 loss at Montana is eliminated.
"It's disappointing, to be perfectly honest," added Earlywine, whose team was picked to finish eighth by the coaches and ninth by the media. "Home losses to Montana State and Montana are the ones we will look back on and are looking back on right now. We are kicking ourselves because they cost us a chance to get into the conference tournament. I thought that if we could get into the tournament, we've proven we can beat anybody. I know expectations were not very high for this team, but they were high within the team and by the coaches. It's disappointing to not be playing in the conference tournament."
Eastern, with six players who had never played NCAA Division I basketball before -- let alone a Big Sky Conference game -- hit its high point with a 3-3 league record in after a win over Northern Colorado on Jan. 17. At that time, Eastern was 8-12 overall and had won seven of its last 14 games after a 1-5 start to the season. Since the 3-3 league start, Eastern lost four in a row against the Montana schools but has won three of its last five.
Before Eastern's home sweep over Weber State (69-57 on Feb. 14) and Idaho State (63-53 on Feb. 16), Eastern recorded a 59-57 road win at Sacramento State on Feb. 7. Prior to that, Eastern's last win was a 91-85 overtime victory over Northern Colorado on Jan. 17. Eastern's other 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.
Last year in finishing 8-8 in the league, Eastern had its string of nine-straight berths snapped after it became the first Big Sky team since the league expanded to eight teams in the 1970-71 season to not qualify for the tourney with a .500 record or better.
EWU & PSU in the Big Sky: Eastern features two of the Big Sky Conference's top 10 leading scorers in senior Kellen Williams (fifth, 13.4) and Adris DeLeon (11th, 12.5). Williams is also second in rebounding (8.3), seventh in field goal shooting (.503), 10th in steals (1.17) and first in minutes played (35.3). DeLeon is also sixth in assists (3.1) and eighth in free throw percentage (.750).
In addition, Milan Stanojevic is third in the Big Sky with a total of 63 three-pointers made (2.2 per game to rank third) and ranks 29th in scoring (7.9). Brandon Moore is 11th in rebounding (5.6) and 10th in blocked shots (0.69). Starting point guard Gary Gibson is 13th in assists (2.3) and 10th in steals (1.17).
Eastern's top team rankings are second in turnover margin (+1.31 per game), second in three-point field goal defense (.352), third in scoring defense (66.8), third in free throw shooting (.720) and third in three-pointers made per game (7.4). Eastern, with seven or less turnovers in three league games this season, is second in the league in turnovers committed with an average of 13.7 per game.
The Vikings have three players ranked in the top 15 in the league in scoring, including Jeremiah Dominguez (14.4, third), Deonte Huff (13.3, sixth) and Scott Morrison (11.5, 15th). The 6-foot-11 Morrison is also second in field goal shooting (.599), sixth in rebounding (6.2) and first in blocked shots (1.71), while Dominguez leads the league in three-pointers per game (2.64) and free throw percentage (.833), and is second in steals (1.86), third in assists (4.00), fourth in three-point field goal percentage (.443) and 11th in field goal percentage overall (.480). Huff is seventh in rebounding (5.9), fifth in free throw percentage (.781), ninth in field goal percentage (.491) and 10th in assists (2.7).
As a team, PSU leads the Big Sky in scoring (74.6), scoring margin (+6.5), three-pointers made per game (8.93), three-point percentage (.392) and three-point percentage defense (.343). In league games only, PSU showed its dominance by leading the Big Sky in scoring (80.6), scoring margin (+13.3), three-point field goal percentage offense (.489) and defense (.416) and rebounding margin (+7.1).
Previous Meeting: A leaning eight-foot bank shot with five seconds to play by Eastern senior Kellen Williams gave the Eagles a 58-57 victory over Portland State Dec. 22 in the Big Sky Conference men's basketball opener for both schools at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Williams had 19 points and 11 rebounds as the Eagles won for the fifth time in their last eight games. The shot by Williams capped an outstanding night for him as he made 6-of-9 shots from the field, 3-of-4 from the three-point stripe and 4-of-6 free throws. His performance helped the 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., win Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors.
Eastern survived a pair of long field goal-less stretches to pull out a game that included 12 ties and 16 lead changes for EWU. The last stretch was for 6:35 and included nine-straight misses, ended by Williams' drive and basket.
However, Portland State didn't fare any better and went the last 7:04 without a field goal. The Vikings missed their last five shots and had four turnovers down the stretch, with their last four points scored at the free throw line where they were just 7-of-19 for the game.
The Eagles were out-rebounded 36-32, but forced 19 turnovers and had just 15 themselves. Adris DeLeon was EWU's only other player in double figures with 11 as he made 7-of-9 free throws but just 2-of-16 shots from the field. He also had four assists.
Portland State was led by Deonte Huff with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Andre Murray had 15. Jeremiah Dominguez and Scott Morrison, who have combined to average more than 25 points per game this season, had a collective 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting with 10 turnovers against EWU.
Williams Six Rebounds from Ranking Fifth in School History: Senior Kellen Williams is just six rebounds from finishing his EWU career fifth on the school's all-time career rebounding list. He is sixth with a current total of 520 in his career, with Dave Pounds fifth with 526 from 1967-70. The top four are Chris White (620 from 1998-01), Randy Buss (858 from 1970-72), Dave Hayden (1,139 from 1970-73) and record-holder Ron Cox (1,273 from 1974-77).
And if Williams can score 15 points against Portland State on March 4, he could improve his career scoring average to an even 10.0 per game. Currently, he has averaged 9.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and has made 52 percent of his shots in his 86-game career (69 as a starter). He played one season at Highline Community College in the Seattle area before transferring to EWU as a sophomore.
Williams has 10 double-doubles in 29 games this season. His most recent double-double came on Feb. 7 when he had 16 points and 13 rebounds to help Eastern defeat Sacramento State 59-57. Of the 11 double-doubles in his career, five have come at home at Reese Court where he averaged 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds this season on 52.1 percent shooting from the field.
Williams is just 6-foot-4 but ranks second in the Big Sky Conference in rebounding (8.3 per game), sixth in scoring (13.4), eighth in field goal shooting (.503) and ninth in steals (1.17). The 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., has a team-leading 34 steals with 46 assists in 29 games. One of just two seniors on this year's team, he is also averaging a league-high 35.3 minutes per game.
Williams has averaged 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and has made 57.3 percent of his field goal attempts in EWU's 11 victories this season. Eastern has used a total of 10 lineups this season, but the one constant has been Williams. He has started all 29 EWU games this season, and the next-most starts by an Eastern player are 25.
Williams had his eighth double-double against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17 to extend a pair of impressive streaks. He has now led Eastern in rebounding in 22 of 29 games this season, but had his streak of 16-straight games snapped at Montana on Jan. 24. Also versus UNC, he had extended his streak of scoring in double figures to 12-straight games dating back to Nov. 29 when he had a season-low two points against Santa Clara. He extended it to 13 versus Montana but had it snapped at MSU on Jan. 26.
He has scored in double figures in 22 total games this season and has been EWU's leading scorer eight times. He has had double-doubles in six of EWU's 11 victories, and had five in a six-game stretch from Dec. 5 to Dec. 29. Eastern is 6-4 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. His double-double against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17 was a 21-point, 13-rebound effort in a 91-85 overtime win over Northern Colorado in which he played all 45 minutes.
"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."
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."
Seniors Finish Reese Court Career as Winners: Seniors Kellen Williams and Marcus Hinton contributed greatly to Eastern's home sweep as they were playing the final home games of their Eastern careers on Feb. 14 and 16.
Williams, a 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., had 22 points, 17 rebounds, six steals and five assists in victories over Weber State (69-57) and Idaho State (63-53). He has averaged 9.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and has made 52 percent of his shots in his 86-game career (69 as a starter).
Hinton, a 2004 graduate of Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., is averaging 5.9 points in his 54-game EWU career (30 as a starter). He scored 12 second-half points and had three rebounds against Weber State, then had 11 points, six rebounds and three steals versus Idaho State.
In four career games against the Bengals, Hinton has averaged 13.0 points per game. Last year's Reese Court meeting against ISU was one to remember as he scored 24 points and hit a game-winning three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining in EWU's 82-79 victory over the Bengals. He made a school-record 6-of-6 three-pointers in the win versus ISU and 10-of-10 free throws in the first meeting when he finished with 13 points.
Moore Impressive in Last Seven Games: Sophomore Brandon Moore has averaged 11.9 points and 7.0 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting in his last seven games. However, in his most recent outing at Northern Colorado on Feb. 23, he played just 22 minutes because of early foul trouble and finished with only two points and one rebound.
But prior to that the 6-foot-9 Moore helped lead the Eagles to a crucial home sweep over Weber State (69-57) and Idaho State (63-53) 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.
He had his second double-double in his last four games against Weber State when he had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Moore, who is from Graham, Wash., and is a 2005 graduate of Bethel High School, bettered his previous season high of 15 points against Alaska-Anchorage on Nov. 24. He made 8-of-10 shots from the floor and 5-of-8 from the free throw line as he came just two points from his career high of 23 points in his freshman season against The Evergreen State (11/21/06).
"At times this year we've lacked the ability to score the ball in the paint, and tonight Brandon Moore was just terrific," Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine said after the WSU win. "It takes a lot of pressure off the perimeter guys and the perimeter shooting when you have a guy getting points in the paint. And then when we did miss shots, he went up and got four offensive boards."
In the victory over Idaho State, Moore had a team-high 14 points as the Eagles inched closer to a playoff berth. Moore made 6-of-10 shots and added four rebounds as Eastern had a 38-20 advantage in points in the paint.
"I wish I could take credit for it, that I came up with some great drill scoring in the post," said Earlywine of Moore after the ISU game. "We haven't changed our scheme or what we've been doing in practice. I think it's just an accumulative effect of what we've been working with Brandon on."
"Brandon was trying to do calculus and we went back to the addition and subtraction tables with him," Earlywine added. "It's starting to come together -- it's a credit to him. He's been a very, very willing learner and he's got a very high work capacity. All the extra work that he's done -- we've been taking him back to junior high stuff. Getting one particular mechanical flaw out his offensive game in the post has really helped him."
Shooting Still Needing Improvement: In Eastern's last eight games since making 50.8 percent of its shots against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17, the Eagles have made just 40.8 percent of its shots from the field. Post players Kellen Williams, Brandon Moore and Matt Brunell have combined for 50.6 percent (89-of-176) shooting during that stretch, but the rest of the team has made only 35 percent (106-of-302).
The Eagles are now 8-1 when they shoot a better field goal percentage than their opponent and 3-17 when they don't. Only four times this season has EWU made at least 47 percent, and the Eagles have won all four of those games.
Eastern had better percentages than both Weber State and Idaho State in a pair of home victories in February, but made only 43 percent against the Wildcats before improving a bit with a 46 percent night against ISU. Eastern followed by getting out-shot by nearly 12 percent in a loss at Northern Colorado on Feb. 23 (43.9 percent to 55.6 percent).
Very Little Size in EWU Lineup, But Defense Impressive at Times: Eastern's defense has been impressive at times, allowing 59 or less points 12 times this season -- including both games of a home sweep in mid-February. In EWU's 11 victories this season, the Eagles have held opponents to an average of 60.2 points per game. Overall, Eastern is allowing 66.8 to rank third in the Big Sky Conference.
In home wins over Weber State (Feb. 14) and Idaho State (Feb. 16), Eastern held those teams to a collective total of 110 points. In back-to-back games versus Portland State and UC Santa Barbara in December, 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 66.8 per game. Senior Kellen Williams, in fact, is just 6-4 but ranks second in the league in rebounding (8.3 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. We are going to have to deal with our size issues from time to time. When we do, we are going to throw out some hodge-podge lineups at our opponents and we have to go rebound by committee."
Turnovers A Positive at Home for Eagles: At home, Eastern is averaging just 11.9 turnovers and forcing 17.6 per game for a positive difference of 5.7 per game. On opponent home courts, Eastern is averaging 15.6 and is forcing just 13.1 for a negative difference of 2.5 per game.
At times, that turnover margin has equated to victories for the Eagles. Eastern is 9-6 when is forces more turnovers but just 2-12 when it doesn't. The Eagles have had three performances of seven or less turnovers during the league season.
Shooting at home and away also shows a huge difference. The Eagles are 8-5 at home where they have made 42.6 percent of their shots from the field. However, away from home EWU is just 3-13 on 38.7 percent shooting. For the season, Eastern has made 40.5 percent of their shots compared to 46.4 for their opponents.
"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 after EWU's Jan. 17 victory versus Northern Colorado in which EWU had only five turnovers. "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."
Back to Second Half Rallies: After going three games from Jan. 26-Feb. 3 with a halftime lead -- and losing all three -- Eastern returned to its normal identity of being a second-half team. The Eagles rallied from a 31-25 deficit at intermission at Sacramento State on Feb. 7 for a 59-57 victory, then fell behind 37-26 at Northern Arizona. Eastern rallied from a pair of 13-point deficits in the second half against the Lumberjacks, only to lose 68-64 in the final seconds. Eastern held halftime leads in home victories over both Weber State (69-57 on Feb. 14) and Idaho State (63-53 on Feb. 16).
For the season, Eastern has held halftime leads in just nine of 29 games this season. Eastern has been out-scored by 92 points in the first half (936-844 for an average score of 32-29), but has been out-scored in the second half and in overtime by a total of just 21 points (1000-979 for an average score of 35-34).
Rodney Stuckey Update: Former Eagle and NBA rookie Rodney Stuckey made the first start of his professional career on March 1, 2008, in a 103-73 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers when he finished with nine points, five rebounds and a pair of assists. Prior to that, he had his career-best scoring games with 13 points in back-to-back Detroit victories versus Charlotte (113-87 on Feb. 10) and Portland (91-82 on Feb. 8). At the All-Star break, the Pistons had won 10-straight games and had the second-best record in the league at 39-13. Stuckey averaged 10.6 points and 3.6 assists the seven games prior to the break while making 52 percent of his shots from the field (30-of-58). In the 34 career games he has played since missing 25 games with a hand injury, Stuckey is averaging 6.1 points, 2.7 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 0.8 steals per game.
EWU-PSU Series History (Since 1983-84): Portland State has won just once in the last six meetings, with that coming by a 92-86 score in Cheney on Feb. 10, 2007. Eastern has come away victorious five of the last six times the teams have met in Portland, including the last two.
Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 16-9 versus the Vikings. All of the meetings have come since 1997 when PSU joined the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles have won 14 of the last 18 meetings, and Eastern is 10-3 in Cheney and 6-5 against PSU in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) since 1983-84. Eastern leads the overall series 17-12, with EWU owning an 11-4 record in Cheney and 6-7 mark in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) against the Vikings.
Earlier This Season in Cheney - Eastern Washington 58, Portland State 57: Senior Kellen Williams delivered an early Christmas present to the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
His leaning eight-foot bank shot with five seconds to play gave the Eagles a 58-57 victory over Portland State Dec. 22 in the Big Sky Conference men's basketball opener for both schools at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Williams had his sixth double-double of the year with 19 points and 11 rebounds as the Eagles won for the fifth time in their last eight games. The game, Eastern's earliest BSC start in school history, was a game matching teams picked to finish at opposite ends of the league standings. Eastern was picked to finish last in the media poll and eighth by the league's head coaches. The Vikings were picked to finish third in both preseason polls.
"That's a heck of a win," said first-year EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine of winning his debut as a head coach in a Big Sky game. "Even though it was an ugly offensive game for us, we maintained our composure better than we did earlier in the year when things weren't going smooth. We took some bad shots tonight, but they weren't early in the shot clock and we made them guard us first. I think that we have made a lot of improvement in that area in the past month."
The shot by Williams capped an outstanding night for him as he made 6-of-9 shots from the field, 3-of-4 from the three-point stripe and 4-of-6 free throws. His performance helped the 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., win Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors.
"We drew up an isolation for him and he did what a fifth-year senior is supposed to do," said 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."
Eastern survived a pair of long field goal-less stretches to pull out a game that included a season-high 12 ties and 16 lead changes for EWU. The last stretch was for 6:35 and included nine-straight misses, ended by Williams' drive and basket.
However, Portland State didn't fare any better and went the last 7:04 without a field goal. The Vikings missed their last five shots and had four turnovers down the stretch, with their last four points scored at the free throw line where they were just 7-of-19 for the game.
"I've talked before about our team being offensive sensitive, but I thought for the first time this year that we were not offensive sensitive," explained Earlywine. "When things were going bad for us on the offensive end, we knuckled down and became tougher on the defensive end."
Eastern made just 38 percent of its shots from the field, including only 6-of-25 three-pointers after making 27-of-49 in victories over Cascade (91-59) and Portland (84-75) to start a current three-game winning streak.
The Eagles were out-rebounded 36-32, but forced 19 turnovers and had just 15 themselves. Adris DeLeon was EWU's only other player in double figures with 11 as he made 7-of-9 free throws but just 2-of-16 shots from the field. He also had four assists.
The first half featured seven ties and four lead changes as the Eagles and Vikings were knotted at 32 at intermission. Eastern built a 23-17 lead with 8:20 left in the half, but the Eagles went the final 4:56 without a field goal as PSU knotted the game at 32 at intermission.
Williams led the Eagles with nine points and seven rebounds in the first half, and DeLeon added eight points on 6-of-7 free throw shooting. Eastern made just 10-of-24 shots, including only 3-of-14 three-pointers. Portland State was much better, making 14-of-22 from the field in the first half for 64 percent. But The Vikings made only 1-of-9 free throws in the first 20 minutes.
MORE EWU NOTES
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
Eagles Lose Halftime Leads After Rarely Having Them: In Eastern's first 21 games of the season, Eastern had halftime advantages just three times and was out-scored by a total of 112 points. But in the second half and overtime, Eastern had advantages or been tied in 12 of those games with an overall advantage of six points.
But all of that changed in the next three games, starting when Montana out-scored Eastern 37-28 in the second half on Jan. 24 in Missoula. In those games, Eastern had leads at halftime and with 10 minutes left in all three of them, and in the first two Eastern had leads with five minutes left. Those were the first times this season Eastern has lost in those three situations, giving them records of 4-3 at halftime, 5-3 with 10 minutes left and 6-2 with five remaining.
Eastern led Montana State at halftime 44-27 on Jan. 26, but lost 74-69 when the Bobcats rallied from deficits of 20 points in the first half and 19 in the second half. In a rematch on Jan. 31, the Eagles led 33-27 at halftime before falling 64-57. And after leading Montana 26-24 at halftime and 45-44 with 10 minutes to play, Eastern lost 59-57.
All totaled, Eastern out-scored the Bobcats and Grizzlies in the first half 103-78 and were out-scored 119-80 in the second half. Including the Montana game on Jan. 24, Eastern was out-scored by 48 points (156-108) in the second half during a four-game losing streak.
Eastern's first halftime lead of the season came in a 65-54 win at Missouri-Kansas City on Dec. 3 when the Eagles led 34-21 at intermission. 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.
Against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17, 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.
Three of Eastern's victories -- Portland, Alaska Anchorage and UC Riverside -- 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.
"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.
He averaged 23.4 minutes in 13 non-conference games as his minutes increased as Earlywine's confidence in DeLeon increases. Following the win over UNC, DeLeon had 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.
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."
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 an 81-52 (.609) Big Sky Conference record in that span (through games of Feb. 23). 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.