Matadors Use 15-2 Run to Pull Away for 68-59 Victory over Eagles

Eagles are out-scored 42-29 in the second half against former Big Sky rival Cal State Northridge in ESPN BracketBusters Game

The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team couldn't maintain its first-half effort as Cal State Northridge defeated the Eagles 68-59 Saturday (Feb. 19) in a Sears ESPN BracketBusters game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles are a member of the Big Sky Conference while the Matadors now belong to the Big West Conference after playing in the BSC for five seasons from 1996-01.

Eastern led by four at halftime, but a 15-2 run midway through the second half helped give the Matadors a lead it would not relinquish. Eastern scored five-straight points down the stretch, but a basket and two free throws closed out the scoring and the game for Cal State Northridge.

"For some reason we're not able to maintain our defensive intensity level from the first half to the second half," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "Quite frankly, I don't have an answer why that is. The offensive end is a little easier to explain. They went to a zone and we didn't do a very good job of attacking it. We haven't been zoned lately so we haven't spent very much time on it."

Eastern's sophomore trio of Glen Dean, Jeffrey Forbes and Kevin Winford combined for 35 points and eight assists to lead the Eagles. Dean finished with 17 points, Forbes scored 10 and had five assists and Winford chipped in eight points. Junior guard Cliff Colimon added 14 points on the Eagles.

In the midst of an intense race for a post-season playoff berth, Eastern now tackles its final three conference games of the season in search of a postseason playoff berth. Eastern is 8-18 overall and 5-8 in the league, and has remaining league games at home versus Montana State (Feb. 24 at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time) and Montana (Feb. 26 at 5:05 p.m.), then ends the regular season on the road at Weber State (March 2).

Despite being in such a tense conference race -- and tied with MSU -- Earlywine didn't offer excuses for Saturday's loss.

"The circumstances were the same in the second half as they were in the first half," he explained. "We came out and played with unbelievable intensity in the first half, so why couldn't we carry it over to the second half? So I'm not in any way, shape or form blaming this on being a non-conference game.

"We have to flush it and turn our attention immediately to Montana State on Thursday," he continued. "They are tied with us -- they know it and we know it. I expect Thursday's game to have tremendous energy and intensity."

The Matadors, now 11-16, were led by the 19 points and 11 rebounds by 6-foot-8 Lenny Daniel, who came into the game averaging 15.9 points and 9.5 boards per game. He had a double-double in the first half alone with 16 tallies and 10 rebounds. Rashaun McLemore added 15 points, including 13 in the second half when Daniel played only nine minutes because of foul trouble.

Cal State Northridge is 4-9 on the road this season, but picked up its first victory on the home court of a non-conference opponent in seven tries this season. Eastern is now 7-5 at home.

Eastern made only two of its first 11 shots, and fell behind early 10-4. But the Eagles used a late 9-0 run to take a 25-20 advantage with 4:10 to play in the first half. Dean and Forbes each hit a three-pointer in the run, and Winford closed the run with a drive and layin. Eastern led at halftime 30-26.

Eastern led by two at 37-35 when it went on its 15-2 run to take a 50-39 advantage with 11:00 to play. Eastern cut the lead to two at one point, but Cal State Northridge pushed the lead back to 11 at 63-52 on a pair of free throws by McLemore.

After Winford hit a three-pointer with 2:19 left, a blocked shot by Tremayne Johnson led to his rebound dunk on the other end to pull Eastern within 64-59 with 1:40 to play. But McLemore hit a tough shot from the baseline at the 1:04 mark, then Dathan Lyles made two free throws with 32 ticks left after a missed trey by Dean.

Eastern finished the game making just 40 percent of its shots from the field, including only 8-of-25 three-point attempts (32 percent). Eastern had entered the game making 45 percent of its shots at home, including 42 percent from the arc.

The Matadors hit 44 percent of its shots, and out-rebounded the Eagles 40-32.

Trying to clinch its first berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in five seasons -- and first under fourth-year head coach Kirk Earlywine -- Eastern is tied for fifth with 5-8 Montana State, which defeated EWU earlier this season in Bozeman. Eastern is still one game ahead of seventh-place Idaho State and Sacramento State in the battle for six berths in the league tournament that starts on March 5 at campus sites. The Bengals and Hornets are 4-9, tied with Portland State, which is not eligible for the tournament. Because of a season sweep, Eastern has a tiebreaker advantage over Idaho State.

The Matadors, who were a member of the Big Sky Conference from the 1996-97 to 2000-01 school years, are fourth in the Big West Conference with a 7-6 mark. They are coached by Bobby Braswell, who is currently in his 15th season at Cal State Northridge, having started there in CSN's initial year as a Big Sky member.

Eastern is now 10-8 all-time against Cal State Northridge, including a 5-3 record at Reese Court. The two teams met twice in the Big Sky Conference Tournament, with Eastern losing 104-98 in overtime in the quarterfinals in 1998 in Flagstaff, Ariz., and then losing to the Matadors 73-58 in the title game in 2001 in Northridge, Calif. The two teams have met twice previously since Cal State Northridge left the league. Eastern won at home 70-48 on Dec. 4, 2005, then lost in Northridge 102-98 a year later.

Both the Eagles and the Matadors have played Seattle, with Eastern splitting a pair of games (won 95-91 in Cheney and lost 60-51 in Seattle). Cal State Northridge lost twice to the Redhawks -- 65-58 in Seattle and 75-68 in Northridge.

With a rematch with Montana State looming, Earlywine is hopeful that Eastern can improve upon its 6-7 record when leading or tied at halftime. In a 71-59 loss versus MSU on Jan. 16, Eastern led 26-23 but was out-scored 48-33 in the second half. Despite a career-high 31-point night by Glen Dean, the Eagles were out-scored 56-35 in the second half after building an 18-point lead in the first half and a 15-point advantage early in the second half as it fell at Northern Arizona 83-74 last Wednesday (Feb. 16).

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