November 25, 2008

Valentine Wins Big Sky Player of the Week Honor

Nov. 25, 2008

Eastern Washington University 5-foot-7 point guard Benny Valentine has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after leading the Eagles to three-straight NCAA Division I victories in a six-day stretch. At 3-1, the Eagles are off to their best start since the 2002-03 season.

A transfer from Texas Tech who redshirted at Eastern last season, Valentine averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals in those three victories. He made 46.2 percent of his field goal attempts (18-of-39) and 68 percent of his free throws (19-of-28) as Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59).

He had 28 points and four assists versus UTA, a NCAA Tournament participant last year and the defending Southland Conference champion. Valentine is originally from Omaha, Neb., and is a 2005 graduate of Omaha Central High School.

The Eagles found out against Idaho how important it was to have Valentine on the floor. He scored 13 points and had four assists in 29 minutes versus the Vandals, nailing all four of his free throws in the last two minutes while playing with four fouls. Eastern led by as many as 21 in the second half versus the Vandals, who were able to rally without Valentine in the game and pulled to within six with 2:19 left.

"Idaho is quick and athletic all over the floor," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "So whenever we took Benny out of the game, it certainly made things more difficult for us in terms of getting a good shot."

Eastern concludes a stretch of four games in eight nights when it plays at 4-0 Minnesota on Wednesday (Nov. 26) at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time. The game will be televised live nationally on the Big Ten Network. Eastern returns home to host UC Irvine on Sunday (Nov. 30) in a rematch of the Nov. 19 game won by the Eagles in California.

Eastern has not started 3-1 since the 2002-03 season when the Eagles finished 18-13 and advanced to the NIT Tournament. That year the Eagles lost to Weber State 60-57 in the Big Sky Tournament championship game with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Current Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine was an assistant coach that season for the Wildcats, who were 14-0 in the league and 26-6 overall.

The last time Eastern was 4-1 to start a season came in 1997-98 when the Eagles finished the year 16-11. Regardless of Wednesday’s outcome against Minnesota, on Sunday Eastern will be gunning for its best five-game start since the 2002-03 squad began the year 7-2.

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