Eagles play an improved Sacramento State squad on Thursday in EWU's Big Sky Conference home opener
Date - Opponent - Spokane Radio Station -
Dec. 31 - Sacramento State - 1510am - 3:05 p.m.
Jan. 8 - at Montana - 1050am - 6:05 p.m.
Jan. 9 - at Montana State - 1050am - 1:05 p.m. (televised by Altitude Sports & Entertainment)
Eagles on TV/Radio/Webcasts . . .
All EWU home games will be televised live and/or delayed on SWX in Spokane (SWX Digital 6.2, Cheney Cable 12, Comcast 115, Time Warner 306, Charter 287). Eagle Radio Broadcasts home and away in 2009-10 may be heard live, and stations in Spokane/Cheney that may be used are 1510-AM, 1050-AM or 790-AM. Broadcasts may also be heard via the internet -- road games may be heard free of charge via WWW.TEAMLINE.CC and the audio and video of home games may also be heard via WWW.BIGSKYTV.ORG.
Eager to put a five-game losing streak to rest, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team begins Big Sky Conference play in earnest on Thursday (Dec. 31) when they host a much-improved Sacramento State team. Tipoff at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., is 3:05 p.m. Pacific time.
The Eagles are coming off a 94-52 loss at nationally-ranked Gonzaga on Monday (Dec. 28) in EWU's first game against a nationally-ranked foe in two seasons. The setback against the Bulldogs, ranked 22nd by ESPN/USA Today and 26th by Associated Press, gave EWU a 4-10 record overall, and the Eagles are already 0-1 in league play. Eastern lost 98-75 at Portland State on Dec. 5 in the earliest Big Sky start in school history.
This Thursday's game is EWU's first home game since defeating Seattle University 100-97 in overtime on Dec. 12. That was also the last time the Eagles tasted victory.
"We have an extraordinarily important game on Thursday afternoon," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "There is no way to spin it other than looking at it as a big game for us. It's not a must-win mathematically and all of that, but we've played five road games and we're finally back at home. We're on a losing streak and we haven't shot the ball well lately, so it's a game where we need to put the ball in the basket, play our butts off and play well. We need to win."
Sacramento State is already 6-8 this season, including a 65-63 victory over Pacific 10 Conference member Oregon State on Nov. 21. Already 1-1 in the Big Sky, the Hornets defeated Idaho State 64-63 on Dec. 19 and fell to Weber State 80-65 in their league opener on Dec. 5.
Led by averages of 11.4 points, 3.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game by guard Sultan Toles-Bey, Sacramento State has already tripled last year's win total when the Hornets finished 2-27 overall and 1-15 in the Big Sky under first-year head coach Brian Katz. Sac State was just 4-24 and 2-14 the year before, and has not defeated the Eagles in the last seven meetings. Eastern has won the last 13 meetings at home against Sac State, dating back to a 68-67 Hornet victory in Cheney on Jan. 19, 1995.
Although it's a daunting task, Eastern knows what it has to do to win -- shoot better, rebound better and turn the ball over less. Eastern connected on just 28.8 percent of their shots from the field against Gonzaga, including just 4-of-24 behind the arc for 16.7 percent. Eastern was out-rebounded 56-35 in the game and had 16 turnovers in the first half, leading to 24 Gonzaga points off turnovers.
Whether or not Eastern will turn things around Thursday is the question of the week.
"I don't have a crystal ball -- I wish I did," quipped Earlywine.
"We can't turn the ball over 16 times in a half, get out-rebounded by 21 and shoot 29 percent -- it's a long list of things," he said. "We've made 27, 28, 38 and 29 percent of our shots in our last four games. If you compound that by giving the ball to the other team, and you multiply that by getting out-rebounded by 21, you have no chance to win."
After Win Over Seattle, Eagles Come Up Empty in Last Five Outings: Eastern faced a grueling early-season schedule with eight games in a 22-day span. The Eagles then had a week off for fall quarter final exams at EWU before facing the full-court pressure of a very athletic and talented Seattle University team on Dec. 12. Despite playing with four freshmen at times in their lineup, the Eagles had just 15 turnovers in the game and used a 7-0 run in overtime to prevail 100-97.
Eastern followed that with four games in seven nights, starting with a hard-fought 73-70 loss at Nevada on Dec. 17 in which Eastern lost on a Wolf Pack three-pointer with 4.3 seconds remaining. That game featured 15 ties and seven lead changes, with the Seattle game including 12 ties and seven lead changes.
Eastern followed those encouraging games with a trio of discouraging ones. Eastern had a pair of start-to-finish losses against Brigham Young (91-34 on Dec. 19) and Chicago State (62-53 on Dec. 22), then lost to previously winless Jackson State (72-67 on Dec. 23). The BYU game had just one lead change as the Cougars went on a 33-0 run after EWU scored the first basket of the game. The 57-point setback was not the worst in school history -- EWU lost at New Mexico by 59 points, 121-62, on Dec. 3, 1993.
The fifth game of the losing streak came at nationally-ranked Gonzaga on Dec. 28.
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
More Information and Links are Available at: HTTP://WWW.GOEAGS.COM
Recent EWU Men's Basketball Headlines . . .
December 28, 2009 - Gonzaga Grounds Eagles 94-52
December 23, 2009 - Eastern Drops Fourth-Straight With 72-67 Loss
December 22, 2009 - Eagles Roll 62-53 Loss to Chicago State in Las Vegas
December 19, 2009 - Eagles Thumped by Brigham Young 91-34
December 17, 2009 - Eagles Lose Nip-and-Tuck Game 73-70
December 12, 2009 - Eagles Prevail 100-97 in Overtime Versus Seattle
December 5, 2009 - Eastern Dealt 98-75 Loss by Portland State in BSC Opener
December 1, 2009 - Eastern Romps Past Walla Walla 89-61
November 28, 2009 - Eagles Drop 76-54 Decision to Idaho
November 24, 2009 - Eastern Falls at Home to Boise State 82-69
November 21, 2009 - Freshman Jeffrey Forbes Scores 24 in Eagle Win
November 17, 2009 - Eastern Survives for 100-88 Victory Over Whitman
November 16, 2009 - Eagles Start and Finish Fast, But Fall to Cougars 67-61
November 14, 2009 - Eastern Loses Opener to Portland 64-58
October 23, 2009 - SEASON OUTLOOK
The Dunn and Dean Show: Senior Mark Dunn and freshman Glen Dean have each had eight double figure scoring performances this season, including a combined 24 points in EWU's loss at Gonzaga on Dec. 28. Dunn leads the team in scoring with an average of 11.9 points per game, and is shooting a team-best 49.6 percent from the field. Dean is averaging 10.0 points and leads EWU with an average of 3.6 assists per game.
Dean had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 10 assists in Eastern's three-point loss at Nevada on Dec. 17, earning high praise from head coach Kirk Earlywine. Dean equaled the 14th-best recorded assists total in school history, and was the most since Rodney Stuckey (now with Detroit Pistons) had 10 versus Idaho State on Feb. 22, 2007.
"I couldn't ask for anything more from Glen Dean -- I thought he was spectacular," said Earlywine of the 2008 graduate of Seattle's Roosevelt High School. "Glen was terrific against Nevada."
Dunn, who has scored at least 20 points three times this season, had two of the highest-scoring games in his Eastern career in back-to-back nights versus Washington State (Nov. 16) and Whitman (Nov. 17). He had 17 points versus the Cougars, making 7-of-9 shots from the field, including 3-of-4 three-point attempts. The next night he made 7-of-12 field goals and 7-of-8 free throws to finish with 21 points.
Before this season, his previous career high was 14 points in games against Montana and Weber State last season on his way to an average of 5.6 points per game as a 24-game starter. However, he made only 2-of-11 three-pointers in his first 31 games as an Eagle. He helped lead Danville Area Junior College to a fourth-place finish at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament as a sophomore in the 2007-08 season. He averaged 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds that season, with a season-high of 19. As a freshman, he averaged four points and four boards.
Early Trends: Eastern has improved its offensive output from last year, but so has its opponents. Eastern is averaging 68.1 points per game this year (63.5 last year), compared to 78.1 for opponents (68.5 last year).
Eastern's shooting percentages have not improved, however, as the Eagles have made only 39.9 percent this season (41.8 last year), and 29.6 percent from three-point range (32.4 last year). Eastern is 4-2 when it makes at least 46 percent of its shots, with losses to Portland State and Nevada representing the two losses. The Eagles are 0-8 when they make 45 percent or less. Eastern opponents have made 47.5 percent of their shots thus far (.467 last year), including shooting performances of 69 percent by PSU and 64 percent by BYU.
Eastern has averaged better than 30 points and 20 rebounds more in its wins than in its losses, plus have made a full 10 percent more of its shots from the field. In EWU's wins, the Eagles have averaged 90.2 points and have made 47 percent of their shots from the field with an average of 50.2 rebounds per game. Opponents in those games have averaged 78.5 points and 39.0 rebounds on 38 percent shooting. But in Eastern's losses, the Eagles have made 36.2 percent from the field with averages of 59.3 points and 29.7 rebounds -- opponents are at 52 percent, 77.9 points and 38.5 rebounds.
Eastern is 3-2 at home where the Eagles are averaging 83.2 points per game on 42 percent shooting from the field, while opponents have averaged 78.4 points with the same percentage. But on the road where EWU is 1-8, Eastern has been outscored 59.8 to 77.9, and out-shot 38.3 percent to 50.7 percent. Eastern has had a 3.6 advantage in rebounding at home but a 6.7 disadvantage on the road.
Hitting the Century Mark: The Whitman game on Nov. 17 was the 61st time in school history that Eastern has scored 100 points in a game. Eastern then scored 100 in a 100-97 overtime victory over Seattle University on Dec. 12.
Before this season, the last time EWU hit the century mark came in a 100-85 victory over Sacramento State on Jan. 25, 2007, in which current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey scored 31 points. Eastern had four 100-point performances that season and averaged 84.2 points per game as Stuckey finished his sophomore season with an average of 24.6 points per game.
Brandon Moore Over the Century Mark Too: Eastern Washington University senior 6-foot-9 center Brandon Moore played in his 100th game as an Eagle (including 56 starts) at Gonzaga on Dec. 28. He is only the 12th player in EWU's 102-year basketball history to play that many games, with Marc Axton (2002-05) owning the school record of 119. If Moore plays in all of EWU's remaining regular season games, he would rank third in school history with 116. Paul Butorac (2004-07) and John Garrison (1987-91) each played in 113 games, and Alvin Snow (2001-04) played in 118.
Moore has 843 career points, as well as 574 rebounds to rank fifth in school history (Chris White is fourth with 620 from 1998-01). His 71 career blocked shots ranks him third in school history (White is second with 79).
A 2005 graduate of Bethel High School in Graham, Wash., Moore is currently third in the Big Sky in rebounding, although his average slipped from a league-high 9.9 to a current average of 7.8 when he had just one at Nevada on Nov. 17 and three at BYU on Nov. 19. He is also averaging 9.9 points per game as he has started his senior season with three double-doubles thus far.
He was selected as the co-Big Sky Conference Player of the Week on Dec. 14, sharing the honor with Portland State's Phil Nelson. It's the first such honor of Moore's EWU career. Moore had a career-best 26-point effort against Seattle University on Dec. 12 in which he made 10-of-19 shots from the field and 6-of-7 free throws in the 100-97 overtime win. Four of his points came in a 7-0 run in overtime, and he also finished the game with 11 rebounds and a career-high four assists. His previous career high for points came as a freshman against The Evergreen State with 23 points.
But Moore has struggled since the Seattle game, averaging only 4.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game during EWU's five-game losing streak. He has made only 6-of-21 shots from the field (28.6 percent) and 10-of-20 free throws.
"When he struggles to put the ball in the basket it makes it hard for our team," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "If you can't score the ball in the paint, the game gets more difficult. It's not for a lack of effort -- he's trying hard -- but he's just missing a lot of shots right now. We need him to make them -- desperately."
Now with nine double-doubles in his career, Moore had the seventh and eighth double-doubles of his career en route to having a combined 29 points and 32 rebounds in a roughly 26-hour span in November. He had 10 points and 13 rebounds in a 67-61 loss to Washington State on Nov. 16, then had 19 points and 19 rebounds the next night in a 100-88 win over Whitman.
Moore's 19 rebounds ranks as the third-best performance in recorded school history. His previous career high for rebounds was 14 versus Portland State on Feb. 28, 2009. He also tied his career-high with five blocked shots against the Missionaries, equaling the second-best recorded performance in school history.
EWU-Sacramento State Series History: The Eagles have won the last seven meetings dating back to an 88-69 Hornet victory on Jan. 7, 2006, in Sacramento. Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 23-7 versus Sacramento State, and the two schools did not play against each other prior to that.
The Eagles have won 16 of their last 19 games against the Hornets, and have a 14-1 record versus Sacramento State in Cheney and a 9-6 record in Sacramento. Eastern has won the last 13 meetings at home against Sac State, dating back to a 68-67 Hornet victory on Jan. 19, 1995.
EWU-UM Series History (Since 1983-84): Eastern has lost the last five meetings and 11 of the last 12, with the lone victory in that stretch coming on Dec. 30, 2006, in Cheney when the Eagles beat the Grizzlies 74-71. Eastern is 15-39 against the Grizzlies since 1983-84, including a 7-20 record in Missoula, 8-17 in Cheney and 0-2 on neutral courts versus the Grizzlies. Montana leads the series overall 56-36.
Eastern lost in 2008-09 by scores of 63-50 at home and 60-52 on the road, and lost in the 2007-08 season 80-61 in Missoula and 59-57 in Cheney. The two teams split in the 2006-07 season.
In the 2005-06 season, Montana swept the Eagles in three games -- 78-72 in Missoula, 68-46 in Cheney and 73-71 in overtime in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Flagstaff, Ariz. In both regular season meetings that season, Eastern had leads before succumbing to Montana second-half comebacks. In the overtime loss, Eastern trailed by 14 before a late 10-0 run put Eastern back into the game. But Eagle freshman Rodney Stuckey missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer to end regulation. Montana then went on a 6-0 run in overtime to end Eastern's season.
Prior the six-game losing streak that Eastern ended on Dec. 30, 2006, Eastern had won 10 of the previous 14 meetings including regular season sweeps three-straight conference seasons from 2001-03. However, the Grizzlies snapped a four-game losing streak to the Eagles when the fifth-seeded Grizzlies upset second-seeded EWU 70-66 in the 2002 Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game in Bozeman, Mont.
Included in the series history was an 81-75 victory in Missoula to end the 1998-99 season that clinched the sixth and final berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the Eagles. That victory snapped Eastern's eight-game losing streak in Missoula, and a home win in 1998 snapped a 10-game losing streak overall in the series.
A 77-75 Eagle home loss at the end of the 2000-2001 regular season gave Montana a share of the Big Sky Conference men's basketball title in front of 5,426 fans at Reese Court in Cheney. The Eagles had taken a 12-point lead with 8:06 to play in the second half, but went the next 6:21 without scoring. During Montana's 17-0 run, the Eagles missed 10-straight field goal attempts while the Grizzlies made 6-of-7 shots. The loss was Eastern's first in eight conference home games. Montana made 4-of-6 free throws in the last 23 seconds to clinch the win and hold off Eastern's comeback attempt that included a trio of three-pointers in the last 1:45.
EWU-MSU Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 19-33 against Montana State. Eastern has won 11 of the last 20 after winning just once in the previous 13 games. However, Eastern is just 2-7 against the Bobcats in the last nine meetings, including losses in Bozeman in each of the last five meetings. The Eagles haven't won in Bozeman since Feb. 5, 2005, in a 64-61 triumph.
Since 1983-84, Eastern is 5-21 in Bozeman and 14-12 in Cheney against the Bobcats. EWU trails in the all-time series 25-39 (19-14 in Cheney, 6-25 in Bozeman, 0-0 neutral).
KIRK EARLYWINE COMMENTS
On Jeffrey Forbes and Glen Dean: "They've been our most consistent players. Jeff Forbes did not shoot the ball well (against Gonzaga), but he took good shots and played his butt off -- as did Glen Dean. They've done that every day since the beginning of the season."
On 16 Turnovers in the First Half at Gonzaga: "We can't design a defense if you just allow them to take the ball from you and go lay it in or dunk it. They scored 24 points off turnovers in the first half -- you can't guard that. They just took the ball away from us, and I found that really frustrating and inexcusable. We had only two turnovers in the second half, and it wasn't anything other than us being tougher than the ball."
On Three-Point Shooting Versus Gonzaga: "Kevin Winford and Jeff Forbes are both pretty good shooters, and they went a combined 0-for-10 from the arc. I thought eight of them were good shots. Some of that is that it was a big game and the environment, and I can sleep with the fact they missed good shots. But giving the ball away 16 times in a half makes it hard for me to sleep."
EWU Season Recap Thus Far -- Eastern opened the season with a 64-58 loss to Portland on Nov. 14 after a pair of exhibition wins (98-61 over Saint Martin's and 67-58 over Montana State-Billings). The Eagles lost by just six points despite making only 32 percent from the field (15-of-47), allowing Portland to make 7-of-13 three-pointers and getting out-rebounded 37-24.
"I liked our shots -- we just didn't make them," said head coach Kirk Earlywine. "It's hard to win when you compound getting out-rebounded with giving up 54 percent from the arc and pile on top of that shooting 32 percent. Really, it's surprising that we were in the game with a chance."
The Eagles followed that with a 67-61 loss at Pacific 10 Conference member Washington State. The Eagles, who had a 17-9 lead early in the game, rallied with a 15-5 run late in the game to pull within one at 62-61 with 1:04 left. But the Cougars sandwiched a three-pointer and two free throws in the final 44 seconds around an Eagle turnover to score the final five points of the game.
The following night in a 100-88 helter-skelter victory over NCAA Division III Whitman College, Eastern made 50 percent of its shots from the field, had a 54-35 rebounding advantage and scored 56 points inside the paint. However, EWU finished with 30 turnovers to come one away from the school record of 31 against Washington in 1995. The game included 49 total turnovers, 56 total fouls (30 by Whitman) and 79 total free throws.
Despite playing its fourth game in eight days, the Eagles registered a 72-68 road victory at Texas Arlington on Nov. 21. Freshman Jeffrey Forbes had 24 points as the Eagles led from start to finish, opening a 16-point lead in the first half.
The Eagles followed that with an 82-69 home loss to Boise State as the Broncos took a 10-0 lead with eight early fast-break points. After BSU led by 14 at halftime, Eastern cut the lead to one in the second half. But eight-straight Bronco points helped put the lead out of reach as they equaled their biggest lead of 14 twice.
The Idaho game on Nov. 28 followed a similar pattern as the Eagles fell behind by scores of 12-3 and 36-15, and trailed at halftime 45-23. Both teams scored 31 points in the second half, and the game earlier EWU actually out-scored Boise State 39-38 after intermission.
The Eagles led from start to finish in their 89-61 victory on Dec. 1 against Walla Walla University, with Mark Dunn scoring 17 of his career-high 23 points in the first half. In the following game against Portland State on Dec. 5, the Eagles had no answer for the 69 percent shooting night by Portland State and fell 98-75. The Vikings made 33-of-48 shots in the game, including a blistering 16-of-21 in the first half as EWU allowed its most points in nearly three years. Portland State used a 12-0 run in the first half to take the lead for good, and then scored 10 unanswered points in the second half to pull away.
The Eagles followed the PSU game with a week off, and then recorded a 100-97 overtime home victory over Seattle University on Dec. 12. The game featured 12 lead changes and seven ties, and the final time the game was knotted was at 87-all with 3:01 to play in overtime. But EWU's Glen Dean hit a driving layin, followed by a pair of baskets by Brandon Moore. Dean closed the 7-0 run with a free throw to give EWU a 94-87 advantage with 1:09 to play. Eastern, which had forced the overtime with a basket with 10 seconds to play in regulation by Dunn, closed the scoring in overtime with a pair of free throws by Kevin Winford with seven seconds left.
Eastern didn't have the same late-game magic against Nevada on Dec. 17, as Nevada's Brandon Fields nailed a three-pointer with 4.3 seconds to play to defeat Eastern 73-70. Freshman guard Glen Dean, who finished with 13 points and 10 assists for the Eagles, missed a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer in a game that featured 15 ties and seven lead changes. Eastern missed four of its last five shots, including a pair with the game knotted at 70.
The Eagles then followed with a 91-34 loss at BYU. The Eagles scored the first basket against the Cougars, and then were out-scored 33-0 over the next 10 minutes. Eastern was out-shot 64 percent to 27 percent, and were out-rebounded 45-17.
In a pair of neutral site games at the Las Vegas Classic, Eastern fell to Chicago State 62-53 and then lost to Jackson State 72-67. Eastern made only 28 percent of its shots against the Cougars, which used runs of 12-0 and 9-0 in the first half to take a 34-20 lead at intermission. Jackson State used a late 10-0 run to register its first victory in 11 games in the 2009-10 season.
Eagles Spend First Month Dealing with Injuries: The heavy schedule and five injuries in November did not allow the Eagles to have as productive of practices as head coach Kirk Earlywine would like. But that has changed recently as EWU has become healthy again.
The Eagles spent the first month of the season dealing with injuries to five Eagles -- Gary Gibson (knees), Brandon Moore (foot and ankle), Abebe Demissie (hamstring), Kevin Winford (concussion) and Matthew Brunell (ankle). The missed time has impacted Eastern not only in games, but in practice.
"We've already had a season's worth of bad luck," said Earlywine before Eastern's league opener on Dec. 5. "Hopefully we're close to being through it and we don't have any more. It's been hard, and it's been hard because you can't practice effectively."
Brunell and Winford suffered their injuries in the second game of the season, and Moore missed the Walla Walla game and parts of another with a sprained ankle. Moore also missed much of the preseason because of a foot injury that required minor surgery. Brunell missed five full games and parts of two others; Gibson missed six games; and Winford missed two.
Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern lost 94-52 to Gonzaga on Dec. 28, 2009, in EWU's most recent game against a nationally-ranked foe. The Bulldogs were ranked 22nd by ESPN/USA Today, but were just out of the top 25 at No. 26 by Associated Press. The 2008-09 season was the first time since 2002-03 that Eastern did not play a nationally-ranked team. The Eagles played 12 such games in the five seasons before that.
Eastern is 1-15 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including
three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year
before. Seven of the games came under former head coach Mike Burns
and five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.
12/28/09 vs. #22 (ESPN/USA Today) Gonzaga - L, 52-94
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
Eagles Face Three Players Ranked in Top Five Nationally in Scoring: Eastern's first nine games of the season included a trio of opposing players ranked among the top five scorers in NCAA Division I. And one of them the Eagles will have to face again on Feb. 1.
Through games of Dec. 13, Marquez Haynes from Texas Arlington was averaging 25.7 points per game to rank second nationally, Washington State's Klay Thompson was third with a 25.1 average and Charles Garcia was fifth at 24.6. Thompson scored 24 against the Eagles and Haynes had 32, but the Eagles held Garcia to just 12 on 4-of-12 shooting from the field and 4-of-9 from the free throw line.
But Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine was even more impressed by Nevada's Luke Babbitt, who made 10-of-18 shots to finish with 29 points and nine rebounds on Dec. 17 against EWU. He had entered the game averaging 18.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
"We've played three of the top five scorers in the country, but I think Babbitt is by far the best player we've played against," praised Earlywine. "He had a couple of easy baskets against us, but not very many. He made 10 baskets against us, and I would say eight of them were pro-level shots -- they were 16-foot fadeaways. He has incredibly long arms and we can't do anything to stop those buckets. He made tough shots and he's good -- very, very good. My hat is off to him."
A transfer from Riverside Community College and originally from Los Angeles, Calif., Garcia has helped the Redhawks become a force to reckon with in just their second year as a member of NCAA Division I. A year ago, in the first meeting between the two schools in more than 23 years, Seattle pulled out a 63-59 overtime victory. The two schools will play again later this season on Feb. 1 at Key Arena in Seattle.
"We knew we had our hands full against Garcia," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said after the game. "To be honest, I didn't know if we could hold him to below 20 because he's so big and so skilled. The one thing we wanted to do was to keep him off the free throw line -- we wanted to hold him to single digit free throw attempts. We wanted to make him earn his baskets with jump shots, and for the most part we did that."
Garcia had scored 41 points in an 84-83 loss to Wofford College, and had four double-doubles in his first nine games of the season -- Weber State (27 points/11 rebounds), Fresno State (21/12), Cal Poly (26/16) and UC Davis (22/12).
"He's legit -- he's a first-round draft pick," complimented Earlywine before the game. "He's 6-10 and he handles it like (Houston Rockets 6-8 guard/forward) Tracy McGrady. He can shoot the ball and drive it -- he's putting up 20 and 10 numbers against every team he faces, including on the road. He had 41 the other night. He's the real deal."
Eagles Now 2-1 in December League Openers: The Dec. 5 start to league play in a 98-75 loss at Portland State represented the earliest Big Sky Conference opener in school history. Last year, the Eagles opened league play on Dec. 6 with a 61-55 home win over Montana State, and the previous season opened on Dec. 22 with a 58-57 home victory over Portland State. However, both seasons the Eagles failed to qualify for the six-team Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Eastern, picked to finish eighth in the league race by both the media and coaches, took on PSU in its first league game. The Vikings were selected to finish second by the media and fourth by the coaches.
Following the PSU game, Eastern resumed league play on Dec. 31. Eastern is hoping its five senior letter winners and talented newcomers will help the Eagles earn their first Big Sky Conference Tournament berth in four seasons when that event takes place on March 6, 9 and 10. However, Earlywine expects several other league teams to feature even more returning starters and experience.
"The league is going to be very, very good," he said. "Top to bottom, it may be as good as it's been in the last 10 years. I told our team after our last game last season that our challenge was to go catch the other teams in the league. Nobody is backing up, so we have to go catch them. Our focus has been on doing what we have to do to improve and not count on other teams to stub their toe."
Earlywine has been in the Big Sky Conference for nearly 10 years now, dating back to 1999 when he became an assistant at Weber State. He knows the January to March grind in the league is difficult, but it's made even more difficult this season with the cost-saving measure of playing most weekend doubleheaders on Friday/Saturday instead of Thursday/Saturday.
"The travel difficulties haven't changed - we still have nine institutions spread over eight states," he said. "You go from sea level to altitude, and one time zone to another. It's tough."