February 12, 2011

Eastern Can’t Keep Up With Wildcats in 80-68 Loss

Dean scores season-high 26 points with six assists for Eagles, but third-place Weber State hits 9-of-14 treys

Despite playing without its star player, Weber State showed why it was the preseason favorite in the Big Sky Conference with an 80-68 victory Saturday (Feb. 12) in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Five Wildcats scored in double figures as Weber State made 9-of-14 three-point shots and pulled away in the second half to win for the fifth-straight time. The Wildcats also out-scored EWU 24-8 in the paint and out-rebounded EWU 38-27 to spoil a game in which the Eagles had only five turnovers.

Sophomore point guard Glen Dean led the Eagles with a season-high 26 points and six assists, with 14 of his points and four assists coming in the first half. Junior Tremayne Johnson, receiving just his eighth start of the season, added 14 points as he and Dean combined for 40 of EWU’s 68 points.

Eastern made 13-of-27 three-pointers, but the game came down to the dead-eye shooting of Weber State, which made 49 percent from the field overall. The Wildcats entered the game ranked fifth in NCAA Division I by making 42.2 percent of its treys this season, while the Eagles entered as the Big Sky leader in three-point defense, allowing opponents to make just 32.3 during the league season thus far.

“I thought it would be a battle to see if we could guard them at the three-point line or not,” said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. “And they shot 64 percent from the arc. So they won that battle. It’s a credit to them.”

Dean kept the Eagles within striking distance most of the way with 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including 6-of-9 from the three-point arc. He missed Eastern’s first seven games with a stress fracture in his foot after averaging 12.2 points and 4.4 assists a year ago to earn Big Sky Freshman of the Year accolades. His 26 points were three from his career high of 29 last season versus Sacramento State, and three more than his previous season high of 23 in his debut at San Jose State on Dec. 12.

“There is a little extra pop in his feet when he comes to a stop. He’s just crisper,” explained Earlywine. “We saw it in the last three minutes last week against Idaho State, we saw it all week in practice and we saw it for a full 40 minutes tonight. It looked like the Glen Dean of last year, and that’s encouraging.”

The Eagles are now 8-16 overall and 5-7 in the league, good for fifth in the league standings. Trying to clinch its first berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in five seasons -- and first under its fourth-year head coach -- Eastern finds itself just one game ahead of Idaho State for one of six berths in the league tournament that starts on March 5 at campus sites. The Bengals are 4-8, tied with Portland State, which is not eligible for the tournament. Montana State, which defeated EWU earlier this season in Bozeman, is tied with EWU at 5-7.

The Eagles play three of their final five games at home, including a pair of league contests and a game versus Cal State Northridge on Feb. 19 at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time in the ESPN BracketBusters.

The Wildcats, the preseason choice to defend the regular season title they have won the last two years, are third at 8-4 in the league and 14-9 overall. Weber State has learned to cope with the loss of returning league MVP Damian Lillard. A broken bone in his foot sidelined him for the season after the first nine games, and Weber State followed that by losing three of its next four outings including a 0-2 start to conference play. But the Wildcats are 8-2 since, including a five-game winning streak.

There were six ties and a lead change in the first half, but it was a half of scoring runs. After Weber State jumped out to a 17-8 lead, the Eagles went on a 10-0 run as they held the Wildcats scoreless for 4:40. Dean scored four points in the run that gave EWU its first lead at 18-17 with 7:07 left in the half.

Eastern led by three at 31-28 with 3:08 remaining, but Weber State followed with an 8-0 run to end the half and take a 36-31 lead at intermission. The Eagles went the last 3:48 without a field goal.

Weber State made its first shot of the second half to take a seven-point advantage, and Eastern came no closer than one the rest of the way. The biggest blow came when Weber State went on runs of 6-0 and 5-0 to open a 71-59 lead with 5:57 to play.

“When we made a run, they reacted like an experienced team should react,” Earlywine said. “They tightened things up -- they didn’t turn it over, they didn’t make mistakes and they got good shots. Then they guarded us really well.”

Eastern now goes on the road next Wednesday (Feb. 16) to face a Northern Arizona team EWU defeated Jan. 20 in Cheney by a 13-point margin, 72-59. But the Lumberjacks won their next four games by an average of 15.0 points per game, including victories over two teams leading the conference at the time they played -- Northern Colorado (65-54) and Montana (70-53). Northern Arizona also thumped Portland State (71-59) and Montana State (61-41). The winning streak ended for the Lumberjacks at Weber State by an 82-55 score on Feb. 10, then NAU fell at Idaho State 90-88 in overtime on Feb. 12. The Lumberjacks are now 14-10 overall and 6-6 in the league.

Eastern was coming off a 69-67 victory over Idaho State on Feb. 5 as the Eagles snapped an 18-game road losing streak dating back to last season. Johnson scored the game-winner with 20 seconds to play after a steal by Jeffrey Forbes. Dean also hit a key three-pointer with 36 seconds left that helped erase a four-point ISU lead in the final minute. And after ISU had taken a nine-point advantage late in the game, it was a trey by Forbes with 4:34 remaining that ended a 10-2 Eastern run.

Most importantly, it was the first time in 12 games this season the Eagles have won when they did not have a better field goal percentage than their opponent. It was also only the second time they have won in 11 games when they have been out-rebounded, and EWU was victorious for the second time in 14 games when it hasn’t scored at least 70 points. Eastern had a season-low seven turnovers in the win.

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