Eagles can't overcome 21 percent shooting in the first half and now plays back-to-back nights against Washington State and Whitman
Seniors Benny Valentine and Brandon Moore combined for 34 points, but the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team couldn't overcome 21 percent shooting in the first half and fell to Portland Saturday (Nov. 14) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The game officially opened the season for both teams, with the Eagles starting the year with a trio of games in the span of four days.
"I told our players that we played okay -- but okay is not good enough," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We can't get out-rebounded by double digits and allow a team to shoot over 50 percent from the three-point line and win. For four days we have been hammering home to our guys that those were the two keys to the game. We needed to be even or win the rebound battle and not give up threes. We came up short in those regards."
Valentine finished with 20 points, but made only 4-of-12 shots from the field and 9-of-11 from the line. Moore scored 14 and had a team-high six rebounds, and made 6-of-10 free throws. Eastern had just four field goals in the first half and only 15 in the game.
Portland led from start-to-finish and made 60 percent of its field goals in the second half. In the game, the Pilots made 50 percent (21-of-42) compared to 32 percent for the Eagles (15-of-47). The Pilots made 7-of-13 three-point shots.
The Eagles were also out-rebounded 37-24, but forced 16 turnovers. Alden Gibbs had four steals and five rebounds for EWU, with freshman point guard Glen Dean adding nine points and five assists.
Aside from Valentine, Moore and Dean, the rest of Eastern's team scored just 15 points.
"Our freshmen played well," Earlywine said of a group of three freshmen that each played at least 19 minutes. "They missed some shots, but part of that is that Portland is very sound defensively. Part of it was first-game jitters."
The Pilots jumped out to an early 17-5 lead, but the Eagles battled back behind the scoring of Valentine. He scored 10 of Eastern's points in the first half as EWU pulled to within 20-19 with 4:52 left.
Portland scored the final five points of the half to lead at intermission 25-19. Eastern made just 21 percent of its shots in the first half, but stayed close thanks to its defense and 10 Pilot turnovers.
In the second half, Eastern closed the gap to one on two occasions, but Portland eventually pulled away to take a 51-39 lead with 5:09 to play. The closest Eastern came the rest of the way was six.
Portland finished 19-13 overall and 9-5 in the West Coast Conference last season. An early-season home loss for the Pilots came in a 63-58 Eagle win. The Pilots, in fact, have been picked to finish second in the WCC this season, finishing just four points behind perennial favorite Gonzaga. Portland even received two first-place votes, and T.J. Campbell and Nik Raivio were selected as preseason All-WCC selections.
"Credit Portland -- they are good," Earlywine added. "They are old and they are experienced, and I thought that really showed, especially early in the game."
On Monday (Nov. 16), Eastern makes the short trek to Pullman, Wash., to play Washington State University on Monday in a game that begins at 7:05 p.m. Eastern has played WSU just once since the 1998-99 season, with the Eagles falling 68-41 on Nov. 9, 2007, in Pullman in the official EWU coaching debut for Earlywine.
The Cougars are coached by former Portland State head coach Ken Bone, who takes over a WSU team that finished 17-16 overall and 8-10 in the Pacific 10 Conference last season.
One night later on Nov. 17, Eastern plays NCAA Division III member Whitman College. The Missionaries were 9-16 overall last season and 5-11 in the Northwest Conference. Tipoff at Reese Court in that game is 7:05 p.m.
Just a few days after that on Nov. 21, Eastern plays at Texas-Arlington. That will be the fourth game in eight days for the Eagles.