Eastern overcomes 12-point halftime deficit, but Vandals score five-straight points in final 30 seconds to escape with 68-66 victory
In this particular series, it’s safe to bet on the home team.
For the last eight consecutive years, the victor in the matchup between Eastern Washington University and Idaho has been the home team.
Tuesday (Nov. 27) night was no different, as the EWU women’s basketball team was dealt a tough 68-66 loss at Memorial Gym in Moscow, Idaho.
The Eagles fall to 2-4 on the season, while the Vandals celebrate their first win of the year, now at 1-4. Eastern has not won a road game against UI since 2002. In Schuller’s 12-year tenure, the series between the two teams is dead even at 6-6.
The Eagles overcame a 12-point halftime deficit on Tuesday night and had earned a three-point advantage with less than one minute remaining in the game. But on their home court, the Vandals came up with two big plays back-to-back, including a game winning buzzer beater.
With 35 ticks left on the clock, the Eagles suffered a defensive breakdown and Idaho’s Christina Salvatore was left wide open on the 3-point arc. Salvatore knocked down the long-range shot to tie the game at 66-66. On the next play, as Eastern was driving, it had the ball poked away from behind by Idaho’s Connie Ballestero, who then passed it the length of the court to teammate Alyssa Charlston. The 6-1 junior converted a layup just as time expired to give the Vandals their fourth-straight win over the Eagles in Msocow.
“Idaho deserves a ton of credit because they made big shots when they had to,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “But we are disappointed because we felt this was a game we could have won. Down the stretch, we did not execute defensively. There’s no way we should give up a wide open three like we did at the end of the game.”
Eastern shot 47 percent in the second half and out-scored Idaho, 41-31. But it all came down to the final few plays, and as it has done in recent past, Idaho delivered on its home floor.
Junior center Laura Hughes had a career-night for the Eagles, as she led the team with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting. She also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Hughes was the only Eagle to get to the free throw line on Tuesday, but she hit all four of her attempts.
“Laura played really well tonight,” complimented Schuller. “She was solid at the free throw line and made some big plays that really helped us chip into Idaho’s lead there in the second half.”
Sophomore guard Lexie Nelson was also impressive, as she finished with 19 points on an 8-of-11 effort from the floor. Nelson tied her career-high with three 3-pointers, while also tallying four assists, three rebounds and one steal. Sixteen of her 19 points came in the second half.
“Lexie did a fantastic job in the second half,” said Schuller. “She essentially threw us on her back and got us back in the game. She came out really aggressive and made some really big shots. She was huge for us.”
Coming off the bench, sophomore Kylie Huerta contributed seven points, seven rebounds and six assists - all of which were career highs for the 5-1 point guard.
“Kylie, Lexie and Laura worked their tails off tonight,” said Schuller. “But I wasn’t extremely impressed with the rest of our team’s effort. We need to see more out of our upperclassmen.”
Eastern trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half, but the Eagles opened the second half on an 11-4 run to quickly cut the deficit to single digits at 41-36. Eastern continued to chip away, and finally took its first lead of the night at 4:31 on a jumper by Nelson.
Huerta nailed a 3-pointer two minutes later to give Eastern a 64-62edge, and then Hughes converted a layup to make the score 66-63 in favor of EWU. But the Vandals found five unanswered points in the final 30 seconds to escape with their first win of the year.
Idaho was led by Charlston, who finished with 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Savlatore also eclipsed double digits with 11 points and three made 3-pointers.
The Eagles will have a week off from competition before it faces cross-town rival Gonzaga on Tuesday (Dec. 4) at 6 p.m. at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash.