March 5, 2009
Eastern Washington University junior guard Benny Valentine concluded his first year on the Eagle men’s basketball team by earning second team All-Big Sky Conference honors as selected by the league’s head coaches, the conference office announced Thursday (March 5).
The 5-foot-7 Valentine redshirted the 2007-08 season after transferring from Texas Tech University where he played for Bobby Knight. He is originally from Omaha, Neb., and is a 2005 graduate of Omaha Central High School.
Valentine finished ranked third in the league with a 15.2 scoring average, ranking behind Anthony Johnson from Montana (17.5 average) and Loren Leath from Sacramento State (15.6).
For the season, Valentine made 40 percent of his shots from the field, 34 percent of his three-pointers (53-of-155) and 72 percent of his free throws to go along with averages of 3.1 assists (fifth in the league), 1.5 steals (fourth) and 2.8 rebounds per game. He led Eastern in scoring in 15 games, with a pair of 30-point performances, six outings with at least 20 and 24 of 29 games in double figures.
The Eagles finished 12-17, improving by one victory over the 2007-08 season’s 11-19 mark. Both teams finished 6-10 in Big Sky Conference play, with a seventh-place finish followed by a tie for sixth place in 2008-09. However, Eastern lost the tiebreaker with Montana State this year and failed to qualify for the BSC Tournament for the third-straight season after a string of nine-straight appearances.
In EWU’s 12 victories this season, Valentine averaged 17.8 points on 46.6 percent shooting from the field. In Eastern’s losses, those figures fell to 13.4 points and 34.6 percent shooting.
More on Valentine . . .
The All-Big Sky honor capped a productive first season for Valentine. He was selected earlier this season to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII men’s basketball team released Feb. 5. The squad is selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Valentine has a 3.40 grade point average as a business administration major.
He was also Eastern’s December Scholar-Athlete of the Month and in late November earned Big Sky Player of the Week accolades.
While he scored 30 points on two separate occasions earlier this season, two of his best games came in February when Eastern was trying to keep alive its hopes of a postseason berth. In a 60-59 home win over Northern Colorado on Feb. 21, he scored 12 of EWU’s last 18 points in the last 7:39 of the game, including the final eight points of the game in the must-win victory. Valentine sank two free throws with eight seconds to play to give Eastern a three-point lead, and he also had a pair of steals and two assists to go along with his 8-of-11 shooting from the field as he finished with 18 points.
Three games earlier in a 54-50 win against Northern Arizona, Valentine scored 13 points and had seven assists in a game in which the largest lead for either team was four points. He made 6-of-10 shots from the floor, including the only three-point shot he tried. His seven assists were a season-high by two. He also had three rebounds and a pair of steals, including one theft in crunch time that helped give EWU the lead for good. Tied at 50 with 2:09 left, Valentine had a steal and assist on a fast-break basket by Gary Gibson that gave EWU the lead for good and a two-point advantage with 1:21 to play.
"I thought Benny Valentine played his best game of the year by far, by a wide margin," said head coach Kirk Earlywine of Valentine’s performance against NAU. "He ran the team. He got shots for his teammates. He had seven assists, a season high. He wasn’t out there chucking shots. I thought that he was the key to the win and he didn’t have to score 25 or 30 points to help us."
Earlier, 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.
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.
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.