November 13, 2007

Eagles Play Home Opener Thursday Before Visiting UW

Nov. 13, 2007

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It may seem like a breather, but there is no time to take a breath.

If there was such a thing as a break in its early-season schedule, this Thursday's (Nov. 15) home game with UC Riverside is about as close as it gets to one for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team and new head coach Kirk Earlywine. Tipoff at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., is approximately 7:45 p.m. as it follows EWU's women's game against Nevada that begins at 5:30 p.m.

Eastern sandwiches this week's game against a Big West Conference opponent between early-season foes that include two Pacific 10 opponents, one from the Mountain West, one from the Atlantic Coast Conference and a fifth upper-division foe from either the Big 10 or the Horizon League. The Eagles know the importance of continuing to improve after suffering season-opening losses against high-level foes by margins of 27 and 35 points.

Earlywine's seven-man squad opened the 2007-08 season with a 68-41 loss at 10th-ranked Washington State on Nov. 9. Three nights later on Nov. 12, Eastern fell 92-57 to New Mexico at the famed "Pit" in Albuquerque, N.M.

This Thursday's contest is one of only two home games in Eastern's first 11 outings of the season. The other is West Coast Conference foe Santa Clara on Nov. 29.

UC Riverside is also 0-2 and is coming off 79-58 loss at the University of Texas-Arlington on Nov. 12 and a 68-56 setback to Texas Tech three nights earlier. The Highlanders were 7-24 overall last year and 1-13 in the Big West, and also have a first-year head coach -- Jim Wooldridge.

Larry Cunningham, who averaged 13.7 points and 4.7 rebounds a year ago, had 35 points and seven rebounds in the two games combined with 22 versus UTA. He scored 14 in the only previous meeting between EWU and UCR on Dec. 10, 2005, in an 85-70 Eastern victory in Riverside. Kellen Williams had 17 points for Eastern as a sophomore.

The murderer's row lineup of opponents continues for the Eagles after the UC Riverside game. Eastern travels to Washington on Sunday (Nov. 18) to play the Pacific 10 Conference Huskies. Tipoff in that game is 3:05 p.m. in a game televised regionally on Fox Sports Net.

Washington beat Seattle Pacific 86-77 in an exhibition game on Nov. 5, and officially opens its season Nov. 13 against New Jersey Tech in a pre-season NIT game in Seattle. The Huskies will host either High Point or Utah the next night.

Washington is 8-1 all-time against Eastern, with the lone loss a 62-58 Eagle victory in December 2002. In the four meetings since then the Huskies have averaged 94.3 points and have entered the game nationally ranked in the last three.

The Eagles then spend Thanksgiving with three games at the Great Alaska Shootout, including their opener versus Virginia Tech of the ACC. In their second game, Eastern will play either Michigan (Big Ten) or Butler (Horizon). Eastern also plays at nationally-ranked Kansas on Dec. 5, and on Dec. 22 opens Big Sky Conference play at home against Portland State in the earliest BSC start in school history.

Eastern's first two opponents (WSU and UNM) had a 41-25 record last year, including a 26-8 record by the Cougars. Washington, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Butler all had at least 19 victories a year ago, and collectively were 92-45.

Eastern is coming off a 15-14 finish to the 2006-07 season as the last three EWU seasons have yielded a collective record of 38-49. The Eagles had their string of consecutive Big Sky Conference Tournament berths snapped at nine last season as EWU finished with an 8-8 league record.

 

EWU Head Coach Kirk Earlywine on Playing UC Riverside After WSU & UNM Games: "At Washington State and New Mexico we were a little bit overwhelmed by their size, athletic ability and numbers. UC Riverside is an opponent out of the Big West as opposed to the Mountain West and Pac 10. We certainly can't have any less of an effort level against them. But it's a game against a team from a conference that is much more playable for us at this point with just eight players available to us."

 

Earlywine on Playing at Home: "It will be good to play at home. I know I've said several times since I took the job that I always thought Reese Court was about the toughest place to play in the Big Sky because of the student support Eastern gets. We need that right now -- we need to play a home game. We play only two of our first 11 at home, so it's nice to come home and try to correct some of the things we did poorly at New Mexico."

 

Tough Early-Season Schedule a Formidable Task for Earlywine and Undermanned Eagles: This week's opening games provide 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, and returning redshirt Jack Loofburrow is out indefinitely with a foot injury. 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 leaves the Eagles with nine players, and true freshman Petar Milasinovic has missed both EWU games thus far after injuring his ankle on Nov. 2. 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.

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.

 

Earlywine on Tough, Early-Season Stretch: "That maybe makes the UC Riverside game that much more important. It's a tough stretch right now, but I knew back in August what the challenges that were ahead of us. We have to find a way to get better. We have to be better Thursday night than we were on Monday night. That's going to be the goal all the way through the season. We were not better against New Mexico than we were against Washington State, and that's disappointing. Each night out we have to be better than we were the previous game, and we took a step backward against New Mexico. Now we have to catch ourselves."

 

Eastern 12-65 Versus the Pacific 10 Conference: With losses to Washington each of the last four seasons and a 1-8 record all-time against the Huskies, Eastern is now 12-64 all-time versus current members of the Pacific 10 Conference. Eastern has a current seven-game losing streak versus the Pac 10 after losing at Washington State 68-41 on Nov. 9.

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).

 

Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern is 1-12 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.

11/9/07 vs. #10 Washington State

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.

Last 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:

12,016 - 11/12/06 vs. New Mexico - L, 57-92

10,215 - 11/9/06 vs. Washington State - L, 41-68

10,000 - 11/24/06 vs. Washington - L, 83-90

11,879 - 12/19/05 vs. Gonzaga - L, 65-75

14,535 - 12/28/04 vs. Arizona - L, 45-79

12,000 - 12/21/04 vs. Gonzaga - L, 70-83

10,216 - 11/20/04 vs. Wichita State - L, 62-80

16,840 - 3/19/04 vs. Oklahoma State - L, 56-75

12,299 - 12/31/03 vs. Gonzaga - L, 49-70

11,031 - 12/5/03 vs. Iowa - L, 54-70

11,268 - 11/21/03 vs. Oklahoma - L, 59-69

10,210 - 3/12/03 vs. Weber State - L, 57-60

11,000 - 12/22/02 vs. Gonzaga - L, 64-67

16,374 - 11/15/02 vs. Wisconsin - L, 55-81

10,432 - 12/28/01 vs. Indiana - L, 60-87

12,533 - 11/24/01 vs. Minnesota - L, 68-86

14,759 - 11/25/00 vs. Michigan State - L, 61-83

 

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.

Weber State, who shared the regular-season title in 2006-07 with Northern Arizona and beat the Lumberjacks in the championship game, garnered four first-place votes from the coaches and 60 total points. Montana also earned four first-place votes from the coaches, who are not allowed to vote for their own team. The Grizzlies received 57 points from the coaches. Portland State earned the other coaches' first-place vote, and 52 total points. Northern Arizona was tabbed fourth by the coaches with 44 points.

The media had the same four teams as its top squads, but selected Wayne Tinkle's Montana Grizzlies first. The Grizzlies received 14 of 26 first-place votes, and 218 total points. Weber State, led by reigning Big Sky Coach of the Year Randy Rahe, earned eight first-place votes and 200 total points. Like the coaches, the media selected Portland State third. Ken Bone's Vikings earned two first-place votes and 183 total points. Northern Arizona was picked fourth, earning two first-place votes and 155 total points. Mike Adras' Lumberjacks have played in the conference championship game three of the last four years.

The coaches selected Idaho State fifth, followed by Montana State, Northern Colorado, Eastern Washington and Sacramento State. The media picked Montana State fifth, followed by Idaho State, Sacramento State, Northern Colorado and Eastern Washington.

Weber State lost Big Sky MVP David Patten, but returns three starters from last year's team which finished 11-5 in conference and 20-12 overall. The Wildcats will be led by junior guard Juan Pablo Silveira, senior forward Arturas Valeika, and senior guard Dezmon Harris. Silveira was a second team All-Conference pick last season.

Montana returns junior first-team all-conference forward Jordan Hasquet, senior All-Conference forward Andrew Strait, and sophomore guard Cameron Rundles, the 2006-07 Big Sky Freshman of the Year. Montana was 10-6 in conference last season, and 17-15 overall.

Portland State placed fourth in the Big Sky last season, finishing 9-7 in league and 19-13 overall. The Vikings advanced to the conference semifinals, falling to Weber State. The Vikings return senior Dupree Lucas, the 2006-07 Newcomer of the Year, as well as senior center Scott Morrison, and senior guard Deonte Huff.

Northern Arizona lost All-Conference stalwarts Ruben Boykin Jr., Stephen Sir, and Tyrone Bazy, but returns junior point guard Josh Wilson and senior center Kyle Landry.

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. The first games of the regular season are on Friday, Nov. 9.

Coaches' Poll

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

Media Poll

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

 

SERIES HISTORY

Two Years Ago - Eastern Washington 85, UC Riverside 70: Once the turnovers stopped, the points started flowing for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.

Freshman sensation Rodney Stuckey scored 30 points and the Eagles made 58 percent of their shots in the game to defeat winless UC Riverside 85-70 Dec. 10, 2005, in Riverside, Calif.

Eastern had 30 turnovers in the game against the 0-6 Highlanders, including 20 in the first half when the Eagles led just 37-35 at halftime. But a trio of scoring runs in the second half and improved ball-handling and rebounding performances helped the Eagles lead by as many as 18 in the waning moments of the game.

"It's a really difficult style of basketball to play against," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "The difficulty comes in the sense that you don't want to get caught up in doing what they are doing. Unfortunately, for long stretches in the first half we did that, and we turned the ball over and didn't rebound as well as we were capable. In the second half at critical moments we took care of the basketball and we were able to rebound. Our front line did a great job down the stretch rebounding the basketball, and I thought that was the key for us."

Stuckey has now scored 73 points (24.3 average) during Eastern's winning streak as he equaled the 27th-best performance in school history. He made 10-of-12 shots from the field -- including all three of his three-point attempts -- and 7-of-9 free throws, and added five assists and three steals.

Stuckey scored 10 in the first half and 20 in the second half -- the exact opposite of Eastern's turnover totals in each half.

"Rodney really picked up some slack offensively," praised Burns. "To score 30 points on 12 shots is pretty good."

But he wasn't the lone contributor of big numbers as the team made 31-of-53 field goals and 17-of-27 free throws, and finished with 10 blocked shots and a 42-33 rebounding advantage.

Sophomore Kellen Williams had 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, and junior Paul Butorac had 13 points, five blocked shots and nine rebounds as he made five of seven shots. Deuce Smith, the team's lone senior, chipped in nine points, a career-high eight assists and three steals.

"Deuce stepped up big," said Burns. "He's a senior and we look to him to do that. Butorac was one rebound shy of a double-double, and Derek Risper had seven rebounds in 12 minutes, which was a heckuva a job. There were a lot of positives, but we still have a lot of work to do."

Coming one blocked shot from EWU's single game record of six, Butorac's performance against the Highlanders one game after teammate Jake Beitinger had five against Cal State Northridge. Butorac already has 18 this season after no Eagle in the last two seasons had more than 12 for the year.

"Paul does a good job to contest a shot either on his man or helping across the lane on somebody else's man," said Burns. "Some of those we would like him to stay down and try to take a charge on, but I'll tell you what, he has been making it difficult for the opposition's big men."

The Highlanders made just 39 percent of their field goal attempts as the Eagles have held their last three opponents to 37 percent shooting from the field. For the season, Eastern opponents are shooting at a 41 percent clip compared to 49 percent for the Eagles. Eastern has made 54 percent from the field during its winning streak.

Eastern led by as many as seven points in the first half, but fell behind 41-39 early in the second half on a three-pointer by Rickey Porter, who led the Highlanders with 24 points. Stuckey then scored five points in a 7-0 run as Eastern took the lead for good.

But EWU couldn't shake UC Riverside, and led just 60-57 with inside of 10 minutes to play.

"I was lucky that I wasn't wheeled-off in a straight-jacket midway through the second half,
joked Burns. "It goes back to that style of play. They force you do what they want you to do."

But Stuckey did what he wanted to do, and he scored four points in a 5-0 run that opened an eight-point advantage for the Eagles. He then scored six more points in an 8-0 run as Eastern put the game out of reach with a 78-62 lead with 3:34 to play.

 

EWU vs. UW Series History: The Eagles are 1-8 all-time against the Huskies, including a 1-7 record in Seattle and 0-1 in Cheney. Former Eagle head coach Ray Giacoletti (now at Utah) was a Husky assistant coach in three of the meetings (1994-96).

When the teams met on Dec. 29, 1996, the game was delayed one day due to the death of Eastern guard Rodrick McClure who was killed in an automobile accident on Dec. 26 in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nev. His stepfather James Addison also died in the accident as he was driving McClure to the airport to catch an early-morning flight back to Spokane for Eastern's basketball practice later in the day. Heavy snow in the Seattle area limited the crowd at UW to just a few hundred people, and Eastern's trip home was delayed because of snow on Snoqualmie Pass.

12/13/89 - L - Washington - 58-74 - Seattle

11/25/94 - L - Washington - 48-64 - Seattle

11/28/95 - L - Washington - 55-74 - Cheney

12/29/96 - L - Washington - 54-81 - Seattle

12/14/02 - W - Washington - 62-58 - Seattle

11/29/03 - L - Washington - 91-104 - Seattle

12/5/04 - L - #14 Washington - 56-89 - Seattle

12/16/05 - L - #11 Washington - 74-91 - Seattle

11/24/06 - L - #16 Washington - 80-93 - Seattle

 

Huskies Have Scored Lots of Points and Forced Lots of Turnovers in Last Four Meetings: In the last four meetings with the Huskies, Washington has scored an average of 94.3 points per game. That came after the Eagles held UW to 58 in a 62-58 EWU victory on Dec. 14, 2002. Washington leads the all-time series 8-1.

In those previous four meetings, Washington has forced an average of 19.3 turnovers per game and scored an average of 27.3 points off 77 Eagle miscues. In the 2004 meeting, Eastern nearly set a school record with 30 turnovers as the Eagles lost 89-56. Washington scored 45 of its 89 points off Eagle turnovers as Eastern's turnover total was one away from the school record of 31. That record was set on Nov. 28, 1995, in a 74-55 loss to Washington in Cheney, Wash.

 

Last Season - #16 Washington 90, Eastern 83: Senior center Paul Butorac nearly had a triple-double for the Eastern Washington University basketball team Nov. 24 at Bank of America Arena in Seattle, Wash. -- 14 points, nine rebounds and 10 stitches after taking an elbow to the mouth.

That was the kind of battle it was for the Eagles, who eventually succumbed to 16th-ranked Washington 90-83 in a game that featured 16 lead changes and 13 ties. A sellout crowd of 10,000 attended the dogfight.

"That was a courageous effort by our players at an extraordinarily difficult place to play," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "We came in and battled, but, unfortunately, we couldn't get over the hump down the stretch."

Rodney Stuckey led the Eagles for the 32nd-straight game in scoring with 31 points -- the eighth 30-point performance in 35 career games for the sophomore from Kent, Wash. He also had four assists and six rebounds, and junior Omar Krayem added 18 points with four three-pointers for EWU.

Eastern led 77-75 with five minutes to play on a trey by Krayem, but the Eagles managed only one more field goal the rest of the way against the Huskies, who improved to 5-0. Eastern fell to 2-3.

Eastern was out-rebounded 48-37, and allowed the Huskies to score 19 second-chance points off 17 UW offensive rebounds. But even more disappointing was his team's shooting in the second half as the Eagles made just 32 percent after sinking 52 percent in the first. Stuckey made 10 of his first 17 shots, but missed his next five as he eventually finished 11-of-25.

"Part of the way they got some of their rebounds in the second half was that we missed a lot of shots," said Burns. "We had some open looks that were an eyelash from going in. But again, I'm proud of the effort our team put forth."

Although Washington scored 24 points off turnovers, Eastern had just 16 turnovers total against the Huskies. But after already suffering a narrow 82-79 loss at UNLV this season, Burns isn't looking for moral victories.

"The 12 faces in our lockerroom aren't necessarily overly interested in moral victories either," he said. "We took a step forward tonight. And it was a necessary step. They get out and pressure things defensively and we knew we needed to move the ball efficiently without turning the ball over. We did that and are getting better."

Butorac played only 24 minutes after missing the last 4 1/2 minutes of the first half and the opening 4 1/2 minutes of the second half. He took an elbow from Washington 7-footer Spencer Hawes and Butorac's mouth needing seven stitches on the outside of his face and three on the inside of his mouth after his teeth severed his skin.

He made all three of his field goal attempts and 8-of-10 free throws. He also blocked three shots to give him 80 in his career and break the previous record of 79 held by Chris White (1998-00).

"He had a great game," said Burns. "(Without the injury) he probably would played close to 30 or 32 minutes tonight. It hurt us, but that's where the depth of our team helps. We had Kellen Williams and Brandon Moore step in and step up. They did a nice job. This team can take a blow to the mouth like Paul took and we can still rebound from it."

Eastern used a pair of 6-0 runs in he first half to take a 23-17 lead, only to have Washington erase it with a 12-0 run of its own. But Eastern took command again with a 21-4 run led by Stuckey's 13 points. His three-point play with 3:19 left put the Eagles up 47-35 and gave him 21 points for the half.

But Washington scored the last 11 points of the half to pull within one at intermission. The first 15 minutes of the second half featured 11 lead changes and five ties before Washington sophomore Justin Dentmon took over for the Huskies. His three-pointer with 2:10 to play following an Eagle turnover gave the Huskies an insurmountable 84-78 lead. Dentmon scored 19 of his points in the second half as he finished with 23 to lead five Huskies in double figures.

"Justin Dentmon is only a sophomore but he plays almost like a senior for them," said Burns. "He's a veteran guy and stepped up down the stretch. I thought he made some huge baskets in the last six minutes of the game and that was the difference."

"We missed a couple of layins and had some opportunities," Burns added of the endings to both halves for his Eagles. "It's the little things that we need to shore up. If we close out both halves, we win this game tonight. It also speaks to the quality of our opponent. They are the 16th-ranked team in the country and they are used to winning games in this building. We have to keep putting our best foot forward."

 

MORE EARLYWINE QUOTES

Earlywine on Starting With a Win over Pacific: " It does feel good. It's something that I've worked toward for a long time. This is my 23rd year, not to mention the time I spent with my dad who was a high school coach. I've been preparing for this opportunity with no guarantee it would ever come. I have the opportunity and I'm humbled and grateful to Eastern Washington for giving me that opportunity and I'm going to do my best not to disappoint anybody here."

Earlywine on Effort Against Pacific: "Our ability to sustain effort over a long period of time was good. We continued to guard well for the most part, our block out was acceptable, and we did a decent job of taking care of the ball. We had some offensive fouls and turnovers from illegal screens and so forth that are good turnovers if there is such a thing."

Earlywine on his EWU Debut: "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."

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."

Earlywine on Players He Has Been Impressed With: "The returning guys have really stood out to me. Brandon Moore and Kellen Williams have been very, very solid in practice. I think experience is a big factor. Experience in the Big Sky is a huge factor in success in this league. I'm not saying that you have to have it, but in my seven years at Weber State it seemed like the older, more experienced teams were better. The returning players here have caught my eye just in terms of the consistency of their effort. That's to be expected because they are our only two guys that have played any significant minutes of Division I basketball."

 

MORE EWU NOTES

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.

The returning redshirt is Jack Loofburrow. Of Eastern's nine new players, three are transfers (Benny Valentine, Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen) who have to redshirt this season.

 

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

 

2006-07 RECAP

• 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.

 

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