Senior Laron Griffin has career night as Eagles win for first time this season
Junior point guard Cliff Colimon gave Eastern a spark early, and senior Laron Griffin took it from there as Eastern Washington University won its first men's basketball game of the season with a 96-87 non-conference victory over Northwest University Thursday (Nov. 18) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern, which next plays at Boise State on Nov. 24, is now 1-2 this season after losing its two exhibition games as well. The Eagles versus Eagles game was an exhibition for Northwest, a NAIA Division II school located in Kirkland, Wash., as they are 3-1 for the season.
Griffin, a second-year transfer from L.A. Southwest Junior College, had career highs for points (19), rebounds (16), assists (5) and steals (3), and also chipped in a pair of blocked shots. His former junior college teammate, Tremayne Johnson, added 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.
But it was the play of Colimon, who finished with a team-high 21 points in just 17 minutes, that gave Eastern the lead for good in the early minutes. He scored 11 of Eastern's points in an opening 21-3 run as Eastern never trailed in the game. Out for just over a week with a sprained ankle, Colimon played his first official game Tuesday (Nov. 16) at Washington in a 98-72 loss.
Northwest cut the lead to 11 after EWU's fast start, then Eastern went on a 9-2 run to open a 20-point lead late in the half. The final play in that run was a steal by Ederaine followed by an assist by Griffin to Johnson for a fast-break dunk. Eastern led 49-31 at halftime.
Johnson had another dunk on an assist from Ederaine that opened a 23-point lead with 12:47 left in the game. But Northwest capitalized with Colimon on the bench in foul trouble as they got the game into single digits with just under two minutes left. Northwest eventually cut the lead to four, but Eastern closed out the game by making 5-of-6 free throws in the last 30 seconds, including 4-of-4 by Forbes.
Northwest also made 8-of-21 three-pointers, and fueled their comeback by making seven in the second half.
"We gave up 7-of-15 from behind the arc against a team that can really shoot," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "There is a mindset to play with the lead. Obviously it becomes more difficult when you don't have a point guard on the floor."
Eastern made 27-of-40 free throws in the game, including 6-of-6 by Johnson and 7-of-8 by Forbes. Even Griffin, who was a career 48 percent shooter entering the game, made 7-of-12. Ederaine was 4-of-6 and Rashano McRae was 2-of-4.
"They still didn't shoot their free throws as well as they can, but they shot them a heckuva lot better than they have up to this point," said Earlywine of his trio of big men -- Griffin, Ederaine and McRae. "It's something that we've worked with them on, and it's a fine line. Mechanically they shot the ball a lot better at the free throw line, and that's something they have to continue to work on. They had to make them down the stretch -- free throws are a lot easier to make when you are ahead by 25. All of the sudden the game was squeezed a little bit and they stepped up and hit them."
Eastern had 23 offensive rebounds, leading to 28 second-chance points. However, the Eagles had 22 turnovers -- 11 in each half -- and gave up 32 points off turnovers.
"There were two things we talked about at halftime and those were our fouls and turnovers," said Earlywine. "We had 11 turnovers in the first half, which is entirely too many. Then we turn around and have 11 more in the second half."
Eastern was also whistled for 27 fouls, leading to a 33-of-37 free throw performance by Northwest.
"I talked to our players at length before this game and then we addressed it very forcefully at halftime -- we have to stop fouling," added Earlywine. "And then we went out and fouled them 17 more times in the second half.
"At some point our players, the freshmen in particular, have to understand the difference of playing at this level. They have to listen and hear -- and I don't know how much they've heard to this point. When we talk about something at halftime it has to be corrected. That's the challenge for this team now."