Big Sky Opener Already! Eagles Host Bobcats Saturday
Dec. 4, 2008
Didn’t the season just begin?
Less than a month into the 2008-09 campaign, the Eastern Washington University and Montana State men’s basketball teams open their Big Sky Conference schedules against each other when the Eagles and Bobcats square off Saturday (Dec. 6). Tip-off at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., is 7:05 p.m. Pacific time.
The Eagles are now 5-2 following Wednesday’s 63-58 win at Portland (Dec. 3) in which Eastern held the Pilots to just nine points and only two field goals in the last 8:21. Senior Milan Stanojevic scored 17 points in the first half to help give Eastern a 13-point lead, and junior point guard Benny Valentine closed out the victory by scoring 10 of Eastern’s last 11 points in the final 3:13.
The Eagles are off to the school’s best start since the 2002-03 season when that squad used a four-game winning streak to improve to 7-2. The 5-foot-7 Valentine has been the catalyst, averaging a Big Sky-leading 19.6 points per game while leading EWU in scoring in five of seven games. He has also averaged 2.7 assists per outing.
Montana State is 3-2 following a 78-66 win over Great Falls on Monday (Dec. 1), and that came after a split of a difficult four-game schedule to start the season. The Bobcats lost to Nevada (72-63) and Boise State (74-61), but picked up overtime victories over Colorado (85-82) and Oregon State (82-79). The victory over the Beavers on Nov. 26 came after MSU rallied from 15 points down in the second half.
Last season, Eastern fell to MSU in back-to-back games in a six-day span -- 74-69 in Bozeman and 64-57 in Cheney. That 12-point margin helped keep the Eagles out of the post-season for a second-straight season.
"I think we owe them one," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "They got us twice last season -- I haven’t forgotten and either have our players."
The Bobcats were 15-15 a year ago, but have four new starters in their lineup. The Bobcats have been picked to finish seventh in the league by the media and eighth by the coaches, and Eastern was selected seventh by the coaches and eighth by the media. Eastern was 6-10 a year ago while MSU earned the sixth and final Big Sky Conference Tournament berth with a 7-9 record.
"Like us, they came into the year with a lot of question marks, but they’ve answered a lot," said Earlywine. "They are off to a good start. I wish we were not playing a conference game this early, but the schedule says we are playing Montana State on Saturday, so we’ll be ready."
In any event, one of those teams will be in sole possession of first place in the league until the next Big Sky game is played on Dec. 20. And with a 3-0 record thus far at home, Earlywine is hoping for a large crowd of fans to show up at Reese Court, particularly the student crowd that didn’t get much of a chance to see the Eagles at home in the 2008-09 season.
"A year ago we had a very limited number of Saturday games while our students were here," Earlywine said. "This year we have a few more and there is no question the student section is a factor. I think the students and fans who have been to our games so far like our team. The average Joe out there can kind of identify with Benny Valentine. We have not played what I consider to be great basketball yet, but we have been pretty competitive and unselfish. Those are things that fans like to see."
Besides the Portland win, the Eagles are coming off a 78-64 victory over UC Irvine on Nov. 30 in which a 31-8 run helped Eastern open an 18-point second-half lead. But it was the sixth-straight game the Eagles played without the services of projected starters Adris DeLeon and Chris Busch, who still have yet to be cleared to play.
"I see our players every day in practice, so I know where the flaws are," said Earlywine prior to the win at Portland. "I’m not doing cartwheels up and down the street at this point over our start, but I know it is a lot better being 4-2 than 2-4. To be able to win four games without Adris and Chris gives me optimism. But we’re not a really good basketball team yet. We have a chance to be, and whether we get to that point or not remains to be seen."
Earlywine is in his second season at the helm after leading the Eagles to an 11-19 record overall and 6-10 Big Sky Conference mark last season. Season tickets, including several packages with selected games, are now on sale. Information is available at http://WWW.GOEAGS.COM.
Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/ewas-m-baskbl-body.html
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://www.bigskyconf.com/sport.asp?path=mbball&tab=mens
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/m-baskbl/ncaa-m-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/scoreboard
Rodney Stuckey NBA Page -- http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html
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-- Eagles an Early Leader in the Big Sky in Scoring Defense -- The Eagles are the early Big Sky leader in scoring defense, allowing 67.7 per game with 5-1 Portland State next at 71.2. In its most recent victory, Eastern had its best defensive performance of the season by allowing Portland to score just 58 in a 63-58 win. The Pilots scored only nine points in the final 8:21, including a fairly meaningless basket with 16 seconds to play. But in the eight minutes prior to that, the Pilots were just 1-of-7 from the field with four turnovers.
"I know were not going to shut anybody out -- I tell our players that all the time," said Earlywine. "But we need to make teams earn their points. For the most part against Portland, we did not give them points -- they had to earn them."
-- More on Eastern’s Hot Start -- Eastern’s start to the 2008-09 season is a complete turnaround from last year when the Eagles were 2-5 after seven games and had been out-scored by an average of 13 points per game. Eastern didn’t win its fifth game of the season until knocking off Portland on Dec. 17.
This season, EWU is 5-2 and won its fifth game on Dec. 3 in Portland. The Eagles have scored and allowed an identical number of points (474 for a 67.7 average) despite losing to a pair of Big Ten Conference foes, but are 3-0 in games decided by five points or fewer. Eastern’s victories have come by margins of three, five twice, 10 and 12.
The last time Eastern was 5-2 to start a season came in came in 2002-03 when that squad began the year 3-2 and stretched it to 7-2 with a four-game winning streak. That year the Eagles lost to Weber State 60-57 in the Big Sky Tournament championship game with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Current Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine was an assistant coach that season for the Wildcats, who were 14-0 in the league and 26-6 overall.
-- Valentine Continues Clutch Play -- Eastern 5-foot-7 point guard Benny Valentine was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after leading the Eagles to three-straight NCAA Division I victories in a six-day stretch in November. But he didn’t stop there.
Valentine, a transfer from Texas Tech who redshirted at Eastern last season, scored a season-high 29 points against Minnesota on Nov. 26 then had 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.
"I believe that’s what good guards do and that’s what we expected him to do when we recruited him," said head coach Kirk Earlywine after the Portland win. "Late it the game, it’s hard to run intricate, set plays. You need to have some guys who can create a shot for his teammates or create a shot for himself. Benny made some big-time plays, and that’s why he played in the Big 12 at one point. I know we’re happy to have him."
En route to winning Big Sky Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25, Valentine averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals in EWU’s previous three games -- all victories over NCAA Division I opponents. He made 46.2 percent of his field goal attempts (18-of-39) and 68 percent of his free throws (19-of-28) as Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59).
He had 28 points and four assists versus UTA, a NCAA Tournament participant last year and the defending Southland Conference champion. Valentine is originally from Omaha, Neb., and is a 2005 graduate of Omaha Central High School.
"Against Texas Arlington and Minnesota we needed him to score for us," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "In other games, we’ve just needed him to run our team. But against UC Irvine (on Nov. 30) we needed him to do both within the same game. In the first half when we struggling, we needed him to score and he did. In the second half, we needed him to run our team, get the ball inside and do the things that got us the 18-point lead, and he did that as well. It’s very encouraging that he is gaining a feel and understanding for what our team needs at particular moments and be willing to do that."
The Eagles found out against Idaho how important it was to have Valentine on the floor. He scored 13 points and had four assists in 29 minutes versus the Vandals, nailing all four of his free throws in the last two minutes while playing with four fouls. Eastern led by as many as 21 in the second half versus the Vandals, who were able to rally without Valentine in the game and pulled to within six with 2:19 left.
"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."
Valentine has also been a dribbling and driving mainstay for the Eagles, and at one point against UC Irvine he drove to the baseline, dribbled under the basket and did a complete circle before just missing on a layup attempt in traffic.
"We actually coach that a little bit -- just watch (Phoenix Suns guard) Steve Nash," explained Earlywine. "We tell our guys it's kind of like playing hockey. You get the puck back behind the net and defenders tend to relax a little bit. We've worked with our guys, Benny in particular, about taking the ball down underneath the basket and not panicking in there, which a lot of guys do. You just take it out the other side and see what you can find."
-- DeLeon and Busch Still Not Cleared to Play -- Eastern is still anxiously awaiting the season debuts of a pair of projected starters. Guard Adris DeLeon and junior college transfer Chris Busch are projected starters who missed both exhibition games and all four regular season games thus far, and have yet to be cleared to play.
Busch is a transfer from Merritt Junior College in California. DeLeon averaged 12.5 points and 3.1 assists in 27 games last year for EWU.
The soonest they can become cleared will be for the Hawaii game on Dec. 13 after fall grades are posted -- eight games into the schedule and after the team’s league opener.
"The thing that is most disconcerting to me at this point is not having Adris DeLeon and Chris Busch on the floor yet," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "But I tell our players to not worry about things you can’t control and I try to do that myself. I can’t control that situation right now and I have to coach the players that are on the floor. Injuries and eligibility issues are not in my control, but it is tough playing with different lineup combinations than what I expect we’ll have in early January."
-- Four-Game Grind Ends With 3-1 Mark -- Eastern closed a stretch of four games in eight nights with an 88-67 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 26. In the first three games of its four-game grind, Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59). The win over Texas Arlington was particularly impressive because the Mavericks were a NCAA Tournament participant last year and are the defending Southland Conference champions.
"It seemed like those were the types of games that slipped away from us a year ago," said Earlywine, particularly of his team’s narrow victories over the Anteaters and Mavericks. "I don’t know if that means we are improved or the basketball gods are smiling on us at the moment. I know we are better at this point than we were a year ago at this time. How much I don’t know yet.
"Having a guard out there in Benny Valentine that can make plays and handle the ball against pressure certainly helps you in those late-game situations," added Earlywine. "Those are very good wins for us and are a sign that we’re advancing and becoming better as a program."
Eastern opened its season with a 66-50 loss on Nov. 14 at Illinois of the Big Ten Conference in a game that was tied at 35 at halftime. However, Eastern went 8:05 without a field goal during a 15-1 Illinois run in the second half to spoil a combined 27-point outing for new Valentine and returning 6-9 center Brandon Moore.
-- Eagles Win Two on Road, Three at Home -- The schedule, with just one occurrence of back-to-back road games until the start of league play, has started well for the Eagles. Eastern picked up road wins at UC Irvine and Portland, and has taken care of business at home with a three victories at Reese Court.
Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season. As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.
"I like looking at this schedule more than the one we had last year," said Earlywine. "I like the balance of home games versus road games, and I like the fact we aren’t playing more than two consecutive road games."
-- Eagles Picked to Finish as High as Seventh -- The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball program has been picked to finish as high as seventh in the Big Sky Conference in preseason polls released Oct. 22 by the Big Sky Conference.
The league’s head coaches selected EWU seventh, while the media picked EWU to finish eighth in the nine-team league. Last year, the Eagles finished 11-19 overall and seventh in the league with a 6-10 mark under first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine.
The Eagles had only three players with NCAA Division I experience on their roster last year and a total of just eight players who participated in at least 15 games. This season, Eastern has a full roster of 14 players that include six returning letter winners. Returning starters are center Brandon Moore and guards Trey Gross and Gary Gibson.
-- Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins -- In the last nine seasons (including the 2007-08 season), Eastern has entered Big Sky Conference play with a collective 45-67 (.401) record. Those difficult schedules have yielded an 81-53 (.604) Big Sky Conference record in that span. Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last nine years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.
In 2007-08, Eastern entered conference play 5-8, which compares favorably to the previous eight seasons (most recent are listed first) -- 6-6, 5-8, 3-10, 4-9, 8-6, 6-8, 5-5, 3-7. One of Eastern’s worst pre-conference records was in 2003-04 (4-9), yet resulted in an 11-3 league mark, Big Sky regular season and tourney titles and the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. In the 1999-2000 season -- EWU's final season under former head coach Steve Aggers -- the Eagles were just 3-7 before sharing the Big Sky Conference regular season title with Montana as they both finished 12-4 in conference play.
-- EWU-MSU Series History (Since 1983-84) -- Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 18-32 against Montana State. Eastern has won 10 of the last 18 after winning just once in the previous 13 games. However, Eastern is just 1-5 against the Bobcats in the last six meetings, including sweeps the last two seasons.
Since 1983-84, Eastern is 5-20 in Bozeman and 13-12 in Cheney against the Bobcats. EWU trails in the all-time series 24-38 (18-14 in Cheney, 6-24 in Bozeman, 0-0 neutral).
-- Last Meeting -- Montana State 64, Eastern Washington 57: It was a game of second chances, but Eastern Washington University did little with theirs while Montana State made the most of theirs.
The Bobcats had 14 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points as MSU recorded its second-straight Big Sky Conference men’s basketball victory over the Eagles with a 64-57 win Jan. 31, 2008, at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
"I thought we got whipped physically," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "The game was on the backboards and our two centers didn’t get a defensive rebound in the game and they got 50 percent of their misses. They had 14 offensive rebounds on 28 misses. It’s hard to win when you give people that many chances."
Just five days earlier, the Eagles fell to the Bobcats 74-69 on Jan. 26 in Bozeman, Mont. In that game, Eastern lost a 19-point lead in the second half versus MSU in a game in which the Eagles had a 44-27 lead at halftime but were out-scored 47-24 after intermission. In the rematch, EWU had a promising 21-9 start and six-point lead in the first half erased in the second half by MSU.
The losses to the Bobcats were the first times the Eagles had lost when leading at halftime, with 10 minutes to play and with five minutes to play.
"That’s the million dollar question -- I don’t know the answer," Earlywine said of losing a double-digit lead against MSU for the second-straight game. "Part of it is that we have a limited bench and Montana State did a good job of using their bench. It’s excuses. Maybe we missed some shots because we were tired, maybe we didn’t get rebounds because we were tired, maybe we didn’t get to loose balls because we were tired. But those are excuses -- we haven’t made excuses all year and we aren’t going to start now."
The win lifted the Bobcats to 5-3 in the Big Sky Conference and 13-8 overall. The Eagles, who were playing without leading scorer Adris DeLeon who was out with the flu, fell to 8-15 on the season and 3-6 in the league. Just eight players were available for the Eagles and all saw action.
Senior Kellen Williams led the Eagles with his ninth double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but he made only 3-of-12 shots from the field while playing 37 minutes. Brandon Moore added 12 points and five offensive rebounds, and freshman Trey Gross chipped in 12 points and five boards.
Guard Gary Gibson, was played all 40 minutes as EWU’s point guard in place of DeLeon, finished with eight points, three assists, a career-high four steals and five turnovers. He had entered the game averaging 6.0 points per game while DeLeon was averaging a team-leading 13.4.
"He’s the only guy we have that can break defenses down," said Earlywine of DeLeon. "He can create shots for other guys. There is no question he has a significant impact on the game."
The Eagles made only 36 percent of their shots while MSU made 45 percent. Eastern forced 19 turnovers and had only 11 itself, but the Eagles were out-rebounded 43-28. In the last two games combined, Eastern has been out-rebounded 79-43 -- an average of 18 per game.
"I thought we got some pretty good shots," said Earlywine. "Maybe fatigue was a little bit of a factor in that."
Eastern led early 21-9 on a steal and dunk by Gibson with 9:36 left. Montana State had 13 turnovers in the first half, but they rallied to pull within 33-27 at halftime.
There were three ties and five lead changes in the second half before Eastern went the last 6:14 without a field goal as the Eagles missed their last eight shots from the field. The Bobcats took their biggest lead of the night at 58-54 with 2:13 to play and held on for the win.
Eastern cut it to three by making three of four free throws, but a rebound basket by Branden Johnson gave MSU a five-point edge with 22 second left. Casey Durham clinched the win with two free throws with eight seconds remaining.
Kirk Earlywine COMMENTS
-- Earlywine on 31-6 Run Against UC Irvine After Falling Behind 18-8 on Nov. 30 -- "Those 10 or 12 minutes where we were playing really well were preceded by eight or nine when we were playing really bad, so I guess it evens out. I don’t know why we made the mistakes we made early in the game to allow them to make so many three-point shots. They were just inexcusable in my eyes and we have to eliminate things like that in order for us to be good."
-- Earlywine On Eagle Newcomers Against UC Irvine on Nov. 30 -- "I was really pleased with Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen. We received 28 points, 11 rebounds and only two turnovers out of those two players. They have continued to play very well and are staying within their roles in what we’ve asked them to do. That is encouraging. Mark Dunn continues to be very solid for us. He’s not going to win any beauty contests, but he continues to do what we need him to do to help us win games."
-- On Contributions from 2007-08 Redshirts Benny Valentine, Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen -- "It’s been critical and vital. Last year, we opened the season with only three players with NCAA Division I experience. And none of them had played a game for me. This year we have players that have been through it and those redshirts who also have a year in our system. They know what we want and how we want it. It’s a big factor, and those players are older as well. Jeff and Andy are both fifth-year seniors and Benny is a fourth-year junior. They aren’t as prone to the peaks and valleys of a college season as much as younger players might be. They understand how to stay the course so you don’t have those inconsistent swings in play."
-- On Continuing to Improve -- "We played very, very well at UC Irvine -- we rebounded well and we guarded well. But our block out and our conversion defense slipped noticeably in the next game. I told our players that a sign of a good team and a mature team is that when areas that are identified as needing to be improved or corrected, those things are improved and corrected immediately."
-- On Whether Playing Games With Just One Day of Preparation Time Helps During Conference Play -- "You can make that case, but I would rather not have that right now. There are things we see in games that we need practice time to work on live and at full speed, but we just simply can’t with one day between games. At this time of the year, playing games with just one day of preparation is not a good thing. But there is some benefit because you will in conference play when you have to play Thursday and Saturday. Hopefully by that time we won’t have major things that need to be worked on or fixed -- just minor tinkering."
-- On Winning Against Experienced Texas Arlington -- "They made a terrific run late in the season in the NCAA Tournament, and they have guys who have been through big games and close games. It showed in their pose and they seemed to keep their focus. They made big shots and they had no panic in their eyes. That is a good basketball team and a good win for us."
-- Eagles Versus the Big Ten Conference -- Eastern is now 0-6 all-time versus the Big Ten Conference. Before this season, the last meeting against the league took place last November against Michigan in a 61-53 loss.
11/26/08 - L - Minnesota - 67-88 - A
11/14/08 - L - Illinois - 50-66 - A
11/23/07 - L - Michigan - 53-61 - ~
12/5/03 - L - Iowa - 54-70 - #
11/15/02 - L - Wisconsin - 55-81 - $
12/28/01 - L - Indiana - 60-87 - %
11/24/01 - L - Minnesota - 68-86 - A
11/25/00 - L - Michigan State - 61-83 - &
~Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska
#Gazette Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa
$NABC Classic in Madison, Wisc.
%Ameritech Hoosier Classic in Indianapolis, Ind.
&Spartan Classic in Lansing, Mich.
A -- Away
-- Eagles Versus Ranked Teams -- This may be the first time since the 2002-03 season that Eastern has not played a nationally-ranked team. The Eagles have played 12 such games in the five seasons since then.
Eastern is 1-14 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year before. Seven of the 13 games came under former head coach Mike Burns and five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.
12/5/07 vs. #3 Kansas - L, 47-85
11/9/07 vs. #10 Washington State - L, 41-68
12/15/06 vs. #22 Oregon - L, 74-100
11/24/06 vs. #16 Washington - L, 83-90
12/19/05 vs. #8 Gonzaga - L, 65-75
12/16/05 vs. #11 Washington - L, 74-91
12/28/04 vs. #14 Arizona - L, 45-79
12/21/04 vs. #13 Gonzaga - L, 70-83
12/5/04 vs. #14 Washington - L, 56-89
3/19/04 vs. #3 Oklahoma State - L, 56-75
12/31/03 vs. #16 Gonzaga - L, 49-70
11/21/03 vs. #14 Oklahoma - L, 59-69
11/15/01 vs. #10 St. Joseph's - W, 68-67
11/25/00 vs. #4 Michigan State - L, 61-83
1/21/85 vs. #10 DePaul - L, 50-72
-- Big Crowds -- The Eagles played in front of 14,422 fans at Illinois on Nov. 14, which is the sixth-largest crowd EWU has ever played against. A crowd of 11,977 were on hand on Nov. 26 when EWU played at Minnesota. Those were the 19th and 20th times since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win in all 20 of those games.
Eastern’s first two games of the 2007-08 season drew crowds of 10,216 (at Washington State) and 12,016 (at New Mexico), Later in the year on Dec. 12, Eastern lost to Kansas at legendary Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
In the 2006 season, the Eagles played in front of 10,000 at Washington after the previous two games there drew 9,876 (2005) and 9,418 (2004). In the 2004-05 season, Eastern played in front of a crowd of 14,535 fans at Arizona, 10,216 at Wichita State and 12,000 against Gonzaga. Three of the 10,000+ crowds also came in the 2003-04 season. Several other games have been played in the first game of pre-season tournaments that have drawn at least that many fans, but the Eagles haven't faced the host team.
Here is a list of those crowds:
16,840 - 3/19/04 vs. Oklahoma State - L, 56-75
16,374 - 11/15/02 vs. Wisconsin - L, 55-81
16,300 - 12/5/07 vs. Kansas - L, 47-85
14,759 - 11/25/00 vs. Michigan State - L, 61-83
14,535 - 12/28/04 vs. Arizona - L, 45-79
14,422 - 11/14/08 vs. Illinois - L, 50-66
12,533 - 11/24/01 vs. Minnesota - L, 68-86
12,299 - 12/31/03 vs. Gonzaga - L, 49-70
12,016 - 11/12/06 vs. New Mexico - L, 57-92
12,000 - 12/21/04 vs. Gonzaga - L, 70-83
11,977 - 11/26/08 vs. Minnesota - L, 67-88
11,879 - 12/19/05 vs. Gonzaga - L, 65-75
11,268 - 11/21/03 vs. Oklahoma - L, 59-69
11,031 - 12/5/03 vs. Iowa - L, 54-70
11,000 - 12/22/02 vs. Gonzaga - L, 64-67
10,432 - 12/28/01 vs. Indiana - L, 60-87
10,216 - 11/20/04 vs. Wichita State - L, 62-80
10,215 - 11/9/06 vs. Washington State - L, 41-68
10,210 - 3/12/03 vs. Weber State - L, 57-60
10,000 - 11/24/06 vs. Washington - L, 83-90
-- Schedule Tough, but More Manageable in 2008-09 -- Eastern’s 2008-09 schedule is once again difficult, with road games scheduled against the likes of Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii, Washington and Boise State. However, back-to-back road games are rare.
"It’s a challenging schedule, but it’s a little more playable than a year ago in terms of the balance of home games versus away games," explained Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We don’t get stuck on the road too long."
In all, Eastern has six non-conference home games and seven on the road. Eastern opens the season at Illinois and UC Irvine, but after that, only during the league season does Eastern play back-to-back road games again. Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season.
As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.
"I like looking at this schedule more than the one we had last year," said Earlywine. "I like the balance of home games versus road games, and I like the fact we aren’t playing more than two consecutive road games."
Last season, Eastern played a trio of NCAA Tournament teams (Kansas, Washington State and Portland State), and this year the same is true. Texas-Arlington, which lost to Memphis 87-63 in the first round, plays at EWU on Nov. 22. Boise State, a 79-61 loser to Louisville, hosts the Eagles on Dec. 29 and is scheduled to play at Eastern the following season.
The Eagles will play Big Sky Conference rival Portland State on Jan. 24 before hosting the Vikings in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 28. Last season, Eastern lost at Kansas 85-47 and PSU fell to the eventual national champions 85-61 in the NCAA Tournament.
"We have some games against the power conferences that our guys are really excited about," said Earlywine of the schedule. Besides games against the Big 10, Pacific 10 and Western Athletic Conference, Eastern plays a home-and-home series against UC Irvine, a team from the Big West Conference which won seven of its last nine games of the 2007-08 season.
League play – believe it or not – starts just seven games into the season with a home game versus Montana State on Dec. 6. A nine-team league and the participation of some teams in the ESPN Bracketbusters in February, necessitates the early start.
"I’m definitely not in favor of playing conference games the third week of the season," said Earlywine. "But one good thing is that it’s a conference game on a Saturday at home with our students here. We did not have too many of those last year. We hope we will have a heckuva crowd with our students right before final exams with the Bobcats coming to town."
Earlywine expects Portland State to be the early favorite to repeat as league champions. The past two seasons there have been six first-year coaches in the league, and Earlywine thinks those two years of building programs by those schools will payoff this season.
"The word out there is that everybody thinks the Big Sky is going to be very, very good. I would agree," he said. "Portland State and Montana are loaded, and you can never count out Northern Arizona – Mike Adras keeps doing it year-after-year. And I think Idaho State has a chance to make a huge jump. The league is going to be good."
-- EWU in Exhibitions -- Until falling 58-56 to Carroll College on Nov. 1, Eastern had won its last 12 exhibition games, which are contests that do not count in EWU’s season record or statistics. It’s last exhibition loss came on Nov. 13, 1999, to the Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder. In that 73-71 loss, former Pepperdine player Shann Ferch made a three-point play with 19 seconds to lift NBC to the win. Here is a list of recent exhibition games:
11/8/08 - Puget Sound - W, 90-66
11/1/08 - Carroll - L, 56-58
11/3/07 - Pacific - W, 91-49
11/4/06 - Northwest Nazarene - W, 98-55
11/13/05 - UC-San Diego - W, 75-44
11/13/04 - Central Washington - W, 79-63
11/12/03 - Ukraine Touring Team - W, 83-55
11/7/03 - Northwest Sports - W, 100-79
11/7/02 - Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder - W, 99-72
11/1/02 - Northwest Sports - W, 117-73
11/2/01 - NBC Thunder - W, 108-106
10/10/01 - Alumni - W, 94-85
11/14/00 - SON Blue Angels - W, 90-78
11/4/00 - NBC Thunder - W, 72-63
11/13/99 - NBC Thunder - L, 71-73
11/5/99 - The Hoop USA - W, 106-64
-- Three Eagles Miss Carroll Game -- Of the three Eagles who missed Eastern’s exhibition opener against Carroll College, returning center Brandon Moore had a knee injury and returned to play 14 minutes against Puget Sound. Forward Chris Busch and guard Adris DeLeon were not cleared to play.
The absence of those three players made it difficult for Earlywine to get a good feel for his team and how the team’s five newcomers blend with six returning letter winners and three returning redshirts in game situations.
"It was hard because there are some questions I have about this year’s team that we needed the exhibition games and early-season games to answer in terms of combinations in our lineup, minutes and so forth," explained Earlywine. "I couldn’t get any of those questions answered against Carroll.
"I didn’t see as much personnel as I would have liked, and obviously I was disappointed but not discouraged at all," he added. "I knew that when we scheduled Carroll that they would come in and be competitive and would compete. I didn’t want to schedule somebody that we were going to beat by 20, 25, or 30 points and not get anything out of the game.
-- Earlywine Sees Carroll Loss as Learning Opportunity -- Earlywine wasn’t as concerned about the loss to Carroll as he was with the learning opportunities.
"Like I told our guys, that loss will be long forgotten and meaningless in March if we can use the things that we learned from that loss to get better and improve," he said. "We need to keep taking steps in the direction we need to go.
"I also told our players that Ohio State (by Findlay) and Michigan State (by Grand Valley State) were defeated by non-Division I teams last year," Earlywine added. "It’s not the end of the world. What we do from here to improve is much more important than the final score in an exhibition game."
-- Positives from Carroll Game -- Returning starter Trey Gross scored 17 to lead the Eagles against Carroll, and returning guard Milan Stanojevic chipped in 11. Six-foot-8 Mark Dunn added seven points and 10 rebounds, and Gary Gibson had six points, three steals and three assists -- all in the second half as he fueled EWU’s comeback from a 19-point deficit.
"Certainly, Mark Dunn’s play was a positive," Earlywine said. "Double-digit rebounds for him was a pleasant surprise. His conditioning continues to get a little better and a little better and his play was very encouraging. He certainly played more minutes against Carroll than he would have if Brandon had been healthy.
"I also thought Gary Gibson’s play in the second half was a positive," he added. "But those two things were really about the extent of the good news from the Carroll game."
-- Practice Time a Premium for Eagles -- One of Kirk Earlywine’s early-season concerns in preparing for a mid-November opener is the lack of practice time prior to that opener after practices began on the late date of Oct. 17.
"I think more than anything else, the five fewer days of practice this year makes it difficult," he explained. "This year it was the nature of the calendar -- we start practice on the Friday nearest to October 15th. A year ago that was October 12th and this year it was on October 17th. So we lost five days of practice this year.
"I think as you establish a program and have more returning guys in your program, that’s probably a little easier to overcome," he said. "But it’s not enough time when you have new players and are trying to establish a program. We were nowhere near to being ready to play a full game against Carroll -- we hadn’t even scrimmaged or had referees in our gym yet. We certainly looked like it."
-- Moore Impressive in Last Eight Games of 2007-08 Season-- Sophomore Brandon Moore averaged 11.3 points and 7.6 rebounds on 53.1 percent shooting in the last eight games of the 2007-08 season. He closed the season with seven points and 12 rebounds in a loss at Portland State, but in his previous game at Northern Colorado he played just 22 minutes because of early foul trouble and finished with only two points and one rebound.
The 6-foot-9 Moore helped lead the Eagles to a crucial home sweep over Weber State (69-57) and Idaho State (63-53) in mid-February as he scored 35 points and had 14 rebounds. He made 14-of-20 shots in the two games and added two blocked shots and two steals. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive end, including four offensive boards versus Weber State.
-- More on the Big Sky Conference Polls -- Ken Bone’s Portland State Vikings have been selected by the coaches and the media to capture the 2008-09 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball title in preseason polls released Oct. 22. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
Portland State, which finished 23-10 in 2007-08, earned seven first-place votes from the coaches and 63 total points. The Vikings earned 23 of 26 first-place votes from the media and 230 total points.
Portland State won the regular-season title in 2007-08, finishing 14-2 in conference. The Vikings won their first ever postseason championship, downing Northern Arizona 67-51 in the championship game. Portland State’s season came to an end with a loss to eventual national champion Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Vikings return Big Sky MVP Jeremiah Dominguez, a senior guard from Salem, Ore. Dominguez averaged 14.2 points and four assists per game. The Vikings are expected to be bolstered by Phil Nelson (Washington), Dominic Waters (Hawai’i) and Jamie Jones (Portland), who all sat out last season after transferring from Division I institutions.
The University of Montana was selected second in both polls. The Grizzlies earned two first-place votes from the coaches and 56 total points. Montana also earned two first-place votes from the media and 180 total points. Wayne Tinkle’s Grizzlies finished the 2007-08 season 14-16, losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Championship. The Grizzlies will be led by senior forward Jordan Hasquet, and junior guard Ryan Staudacher. Montana will also benefit from the addition of Division I transfers Jack McGillis (Oregon State) and Michael Taylor (Eastern Washington).
Joe O’Brien’s Idaho State Bengals were selected third in both polls. The Bengals received one first-place vote from the media, and 169 total points. In the coaches’ poll, the Bengals earned 49 total points. Idaho State returns four starters from a team that finished 8-8 in conference play last season, including senior guard Matt Stucki and junior guard Amorrow Morgan. The Bengals returned seven of the top eight scorers from last year’s squad.
Northern Arizona, which has advanced to the Big Sky Championship game three consecutive years, was picked fourth by the coaches and fifth by the media. Weber State, which claimed the 2006-07 championship, was tabbed fourth by the media and fifth by the coaches. Northern Arizona will be led by senior guard Josh Wilson, who ranks fifth on the Big Sky’s career assists list with 551. Weber State will be led by senior forward Daviin Davis and senior guard Kellen McCoy.
Northern Colorado, entering its third year of league play, was picked sixth in both polls. Tad Boyle’s Bears return four starters and nine lettermen from the 2007-08 team, which won 13 overall games. Leading the way is senior forward Jabril Banks, who averaged 13.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior.
Rounding out the polls were Eastern Washington, Montana State and Sacramento State. EWU was picked seventh by the coaches and eighth by the media. Montana State was picked seventh by the media and eighth by the coaches. Sacramento State, which enters the season with new coach Brian Katz, was selected ninth in both polls.
Weber State will be the first team to play this season, opening against Miami, Ohio, on Wednesday, Nov. 12 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Westwood, Calif. Six other Big Sky teams open play on Friday, Nov. 14.
The Big Sky Championship begins with quarterfinal games on Saturday, March 7. The semifinals and championship will be played on Tuesday, March 10, and Wednesday, March 11 at the home of the regular-season champion.
The semifinal games will be televised on Altitude Sports & Entertainment. The championship game will be shown live on ESPN2.
Team (First-place votes) - Total Points
1. Portland State (7) - 63
2. Montana (2) 56
3. Idaho State - 49
4. Northern Arizona - 41
5. Weber State - 34
6. Northern Colorado - 29
7. Eastern Washington - 22
8. Montana State - 14
9. Sacramento State 10
Team (First-place votes) - Total Points
1. Portland State (23) - 230
2. Montana (2) 180
3. Idaho State (1) - 169
4. Weber State 165
5. Northern Arizona - 153
6. Northern Colorado - 104
7. Montana State - 76
8. Eastern Washington - 64
9. Sacramento State - 38
-- Eagles 0-15 Versus Big 12 -- Eastern Washington has lost all 15 games it has played against current members of the Big 12 Conference, including an 0-4 record versus Nebraska. In the last three meetings against Big 12 foes, Eastern has played a nationally-ranked team. Here is the complete list:
12/30/80 - L - Nebraska - 68-82 - A
1/12/84 - L - Kansas State - 57-64 - A
1/14/84 - L - Nebraska - 71-105 - A
1/9/85 - L - Kansas State - 43-81 - A
12/16/88 - L - Missouri - 68-81 - A
12/16/88 - L - Missouri - 68-81 - A
12/21/91 - L - Nebraska - 67-102 - ~
12/2/94 - L - Colorado - 67-87 - #
11/29/97 - L - Baylor - 51-67 - A
11/20/99 - L - Baylor - 61-68 - A
12/18/99 - L - Colorado - 61-79 - A
12/16/00 - L - Kansas State - 56-70 - A
12/31/02 - L - Nebraska - 60-63 - A
11/21/03 - L - #14 Oklahoma - 59-69 - $
3/19/04 - L - #3 Oklahoma State - 56-75 - %
12/5/07 - L - #3 Kansas - 47-85 - A
~ -- Nebraska Ameritas Classic in Lincoln, Neb. (2nd) # -- Mile High Classic in Boulder, Colo. $ -- Sooner Invitational in Norman, Okla. % -- NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. (first round) A -- Away
~ -- Nebraska Ameritas Classic in Lincoln, Neb. (2nd)
# -- Mile High Classic in Boulder, Colo.
$ -- Sooner Invitational in Norman, Okla.
% -- NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. (first round)
A -- Away
-- Eastern 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 in the 2007-08 season.
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).
-- 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