Hopefully With Injuries Behind Them, Eagles Start League Play at PSU

Eastern takes on two-time defending champions and NCAA Tournament participant in EWU's earliest Big Sky Conference start in school history

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Upcoming Schedule

Date - Opponent - Spokane Radio Station - Time/Pacific
Dec. 5 - at Portland State - 1510am - 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 12 - vs. Seattle Univ. at Reese Court - 1050am - 1:05 p.m.

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


Ready or not, the start of Big Sky Conference play is this Saturday (Dec. 5) for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team -- the earliest it's ever been for the Eagles.

With hopes of becoming healthy again after a rash of early-season injuries, Eastern travels to Portland, Ore., to face Portland State in the Big Sky opener for both schools. Tipoff from the Stott Center is 7:05 p.m., and the game may be heard via radio in the Spokane area on KGA 1510-AM.

So far this season, the Eagles are 3-4 and PSU is 1-4 heading into its game against Portland on Wednesday (Dec. 2). Following this week's game, Eastern takes a week off for fall quarter final exams at EWU before hosting Seattle University on Dec. 12 at 1:05 p.m. at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

 "Everything we have done up to his point is preparation for Portland State and league play," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine, whose team has played its first seven games in an 18-day span. In facing Portland State, the Eagles play a Vikings team that won the Big Sky regular season and tournament title in 2008, and the tournament title last season to advance to the NCAA Tournament for a second-straight season. Three key players are back from last year's squad, and those players are all averaging double figures in scoring thus far.

"They are the reigning champs -- two times -- until somebody knocks them off their throne," said Earlywine. "In my mind they are still king of the hill. They still have Dominic Waters, Jamie Jones and Phil Nelson, and those players were instrumental parts in their championship a year ago. At least until somebody knocks them off, you have to at least count them as one of the favorites."

And with his team falling narrowly to Portland 64-58 on Nov. 14, Earlywine is interested in seeing the outcome of the Dec. 2 PSU-Portland game. He knows Portland State's 1-4 record entering that short road trip across town is deceiving because the Vikings are 1-0 at home and 0-4 on the road.

"I've learned over my 10 years in the Big Sky that November and December can be very, very deceiving because teams are playing a bunch of road games," he said.

Earlywine has spent the last month 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. "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 has missed EWU's last 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 also skipped the Walla Walla game to help his ankle heal.

"We are playing without two starters," Earlywine explained. "We've started only two games this season when we've had all of our starters -- Portland and Washington State. And in those two games we played well against teams that are proving they are pretty good right now.

"Since them we've been without two starters in every game, so it's hard for us to get in any kind of rhythm," he continued. "Our shot distribution changes with Brandon being out of the lineup, so it's not what I would like at this point.

Before cruising past NAIA Division II opponent Walla Walla University 89-61 on Tuesday (Dec. 1), the Eagles were coming off a pair of losses to Western Athletic Conference foes Boise State (82-69 on Nov. 24) and Idaho (76-54 on Nov. 28). The Eagles fell behind the Broncos 10-0 and made just 34 percent of their shots in the game, then followed a similar pattern against the Vandals with an early 12-3 deficit and 36 percent shooting.

The Vikings are coached by first-year head coach Tyler Geving, who replaced Ken Bone when he took over at Washington State. Last year PSU finished 23-10 overall and 11-5 to place second in the league standings, while the Eagles finished 12-18 overall and 6-10 in the league to finish in a sixth-place tie.

Portland State lost 83-64 at Stanford on Nov. 29, but picked up its first win of the season on Nov. 21 with a 92-83 win over Cal Poly. The Vikings opened the season with losses to Belmont (74-67), Wright State (75-70) and Washington (111-55).


Links:
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 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
November 8, 2009 - Eastern Pulls Away for 67-58 Exhibition Win
November 4, 2009 - Eagles Face Larger Challenge in Second Exhibition This Sunday
November 1, 2009 - Eagles Roll Past Saint Martin's 98-61
October 23, 2009 - SEASON OUTLOOK

 

Eagles 2-0 in December League Openers -- The Dec. 5 start to league play represents 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, takes on PSU in its first league game. The Vikings were selected to finish second by the media and fourth by the coaches. Despite EWU's success in its opener the last two years, Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine would much rather open league play in the more traditional month of January, not just a few weeks into the season.

"I've made my feelings pretty well known about playing the first conference game in early December," he explained. "But we've actually been ready to play that game the last two seasons. I shouldn't be too critical because we've won our opener each of the past two years."

Following the PSU game, Eastern will resume 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."

 

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.

 

SERIES HISTORY

EWU-PSU Series History -- Eastern has lost the last three meetings, including losses last year in Portland (83-61 on Jan. 24) and in Cheney (66-62 in overtime on Feb. 24). Before that, Eastern had won five of the last six meetings.

Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 16-11 versus the Vikings. All of the meetings have come since 1997 when PSU joined the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles have won 14 of the last 20 meetings, and Eastern is 10-4 in Cheney and 6-6 against PSU in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) since 1983-84. Eastern leads the overall series 17-14, with EWU owning an 11-5 record in Cheney and 6-8 mark in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) against the Vikings.

 

EWU-Seattle Series History -- Eastern leads the all-time series 8-4 after a 63-59 overtime loss to the Redhawks on Feb. 24, 2009. Before that, the last meeting came on Nov. 22, 1985, when Eastern won 83-64 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. That was the lone game played between the two schools since EWU moved to NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season. The first four meetings came in the 1945-46 season, and Eastern won all four as well as a pair the following season. A split followed in 1948-49, and Seattle swept a pair in the 1951-52 season.

Seattle was in NCAA Division I from 1944-1980, with such star players as Elgin Baylor, John O'Brien, Clint Richardson and Frank Oleynick on its rosters. Baylor, in fact, led Seattle to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament where it lost 84-72 to Kentucky. Formerly known as the Chieftains, from 1980-2002 they were affiliated with NAIA and from 2002-2007 were a member of NCAA Division II.

 

KIRK EARLYWINE COMMENTS

On Boise State Game -- "We got down double digits and we were really never able to recover. We cut the lead to one, but you use up so much energy doing that. It's disappointing, but on the other hand, you are going to have some hiccups and bumps in the road when you put freshmen on the floor. When coaches identify something that needs to be corrected, good teams correct it."

On Laron Griffin and Other Newcomers -- "He has a knack to rebound the ball and he did a good job of that against Boise State. He gets a little better each day and that's what you need when you have new players. Our freshmen get a little better and Laron gets a little better. That's why you play non-conference games."

On Difference in Defenses Faced Thus Far -- "Boise State guarded us a little bit different than other teams have. Other teams have got out and denied and pressured us and Boise played more of a sagging defense. I thought that negatively affected our guys in the first half. We weren't cutting hard and a lot of what we do offensively is predicated on cutting full speed. So that's something we can learn from."

On Highlights of First Three Games -- "The Portland and Washington State games reaffirmed in my mind that our freshmen are very competitive. They don't give in -- they don't take a step backwards and they keep coming. The conditioning level for Brandon Moore and Mark Dunn is way, way ahead of where it was a year ago. They really bought in over the summer and fall in taking care of their bodies and reducing their body fat. They are a little quicker and can play a little harder for longer stretches.

On Brandon Moore's Senior Debut Against MSU-Billings -- "I thought he played pretty well -- I didn't see signs of rust. He worked his butt off this past summer and spent a lot of time in the gym. He spent a lot of time working on his body, and it showed. When he got hurt and decided to do the surgery, he spent an extraordinary amount of time doing every aerobic activity under the sun that didn't involve his legs or his feet. It's a credit to him to stay in shape and minimize the amount of rust."

On Exhibition Wins -- "The win or the loss isn't important to me in the exhibition games. I want to get tested -- I want our new players to come under fire and see how they react to stressful situations. So far, this group of newcomers have been outstanding in terms of their effort level, competitiveness and doing the same things in games as they do in practice. I couldn't be any happier with the new players."

 

SEASON NOTES

Brandon Moore Has Back-to-Back Double-Doubles in Split -- Senior 6-foot-9 center Brandon 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. 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. He followed that with nine rebounds at Texas Arlington.

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. His 68 career blocked shots are third in school history and his 534 rebounds are now fifth.

 

Mark Dunn Hot Too -- Senior Mark Dunn had the two 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. He followed that with an 11-point performance at Texas Arlington.

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 previous 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.

 

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. The last time it happened came in a 100-85 victory over Sacramento State on Jan. 25, 2007, in which current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey scored 31 points. Eastern would have four 100-point performances that season and average 84.2 points per game as Stuckey finished his sophomore season with an average of 24.6 points per game.

 

Schedule includes games with Washington State and Gonzaga -- Eastern's 2009-10 schedule is highlighted by non-conference games against Washington State and Gonzaga, as well as the earliest Big Sky Conference start in school history.

Eastern opens its league schedule on the early date of Dec. 5, giving the Eagles two exhibition games and seven non-conference games to prepare for league play. Among those seven games, Eastern hosts Portland on Nov. 14 and Boise State on Nov. 24, and plays road games at Washington State on Nov. 16 and Idaho on Nov. 28.

"I like our non-conference schedule and the fact we're not stuck on the road very long," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine said. "But November is very tough and we have to be ready right from the start."

Eastern plays at Portland State on Dec. 5 before resuming league play on Dec. 31 at home against Sacramento State. The other non-conference games for the Eagles include road games at Nevada (Dec.17), Brigham Young (Dec. 19) and Gonzaga (Dec. 28), as well as an appearance in the four-team Las Vegas Classic at the Orleans Arena on Dec. 22-23.

In addition, Eastern plays both at home (Dec. 12) and on the road (Feb. 1) against Seattle University, a newcomer in NCAA Division I in the 2008-09 season. Seattle defeated the Eagles in overtime last season, but the Eagles were able to edge both Portland (63-58) and Idaho (69-59) before both of those teams finished strong in the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference, respectively.

"We have our hands full with our non-conference schedule, but that's always the case," Earlywine said. "Now that Portland and Idaho have elevated their programs in the last year, it makes our non-conference schedule that much tougher.

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