Eastern Beats Big Sky’s Top Offensive Team 72-59

After a huge defensive effort in beating Northern Arizona, Eagles will try to put together winning streak Saturday at Sac State

They played a full 40 minutes this time and have a win to show for it.

Eastern Washington University held the league’s top offensive team to 59 points and went on to defeat Northern Arizona 72-59 in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game Thursday (Jan. 20) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles held Northern Arizona to 16 points less than their league-leading season average of 75.1 entering the game.

Although the Big Sky’s leading scorer -- 6-foot-4 guard Cameron Jones -- scored 24 points after entering the game at 19.6, the Eagles had a superb defensive performance against the Lumberjacks. Eastern held the Northern Arizona to 41.7 percent shooting (20-of-48), well behind NAU’s league-leading 49.3 percent. Northern Arizona was also held to 5-of-14 shooting from three-point range (35.7 percent) after making a league-best 45.0 percent in its first 17 games of the season.

 “I will certainly take that win -- I’m very, very happy right now,” said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. “It was a great effort to hold that team to below 60 points. They are a great offensive team and Cameron Jones is a monster. He got 24 and I thought we guarded the heck out of him. We were extraordinarily competitive.”

Eastern snapped a five-game losing streak as it improved to 5-13 overall and 2-4 in the Big Sky Conference, while Northern Arizona fell to 10-8 overall and 2-4 in the league. Eastern’s last outing was a 71-59 loss at Montana State when EWU was out-scored 48-33 in the second half after leading by three at intermission.

“Since the Montana State game we’ve talked about playing the full 40 minutes and putting together two good halves,” Earlywine explained. “The fact we held Northern Arizona to a lower field goal percentage in the second half (40.0 percent) than the first half (43.5 percent) makes me really, really happy. I don’t think there was much give in our guys at all in that second half -- we didn’t take a step backward at all in terms of our intensity level in the second half.”

“When we play the full 40 minutes with toughness and intensity, we’ll be hard to play against,” he added.

Four Eagles scored in double figures, led by the 14 of sophomore guard Kevin Winford as he made 7-of-8 free throws. Junior forward Tremayne Johnson came off the bench to finish with 13 points, five rebounds and four blocked shots, and sophomore guard Jeffrey Forbes and junior guard Cliff Colimon added 12 and 11 points, respectively.

Sophomore point guard Glen Dean added nine points, four rebounds and five assists, and junior forward Cliff Ederaine had a game-high 12 rebounds and scored five points. Ederaine had six offensive boards as the Eagles finished with 17 en route to a 41-30 rebounding advantage. The Eagles scored 16 second-chance points and enjoyed their best rebounding margin against a NCAA Division I opponent this season.

“At times we are a very good rebounding team, but not when we don’t have a passion,” said Earlywine. “There isn’t much more to rebounding than heart, effort and desire. When Cliff Ederaine plays with that type of energy and effort, he’s hard to keep off the glass. It’s hard to keep a body on him when blocking him out, he has long arms and he has terrific hands. We need to have him do that all the time.”

The Eagles led much of the first half, but had just a two-point cushion at the eight-minute mark. The Eagles followed with a 12-4 run to take a 33-23 lead, and led by eight at intermission.

The Eagles held Northern Arizona to 9-of-21 shooting while making 12-of-24 themselves. Jones had just six points at halftime on 3-of-6 shooting, while Forbes made both of his shots from the field and both from the free throw line to lead EWU with seven at halftime. Coliman also had seven on 3-of-4 shooting.

Eastern used an 8-3 run to open the second half and take a 15-point lead at 43-28. The closest NAU came after that was seven with 6:28 left, but a dunk by Johnson on an assist by Dean gave the Eagles a 13-point advantage at the 1:54 mark. Eastern clinched the win by making its last 10 free throws in the final 1:06.

Coming off a winless four-game stretch of road games, Eastern closes its stretch of 5-of-6 games on the road by playing at Sacramento State on Saturday (Jan. 22) at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern will be trying to win register its first back-to-back wins of the season.

The radio broadcast of the all Eastern games game may be heard on 700-AM ESPN “The Ticket” and via the web at www.espnnorthwest.com, with veteran play-by-play broadcaster Dennis Patchin calling the action. All home games and other Big Sky Conference games may also be viewed free of charge at www.bigskytv.org.

“When you get to this point you’re fighting to get into the conference tournament and maybe fighting to get a home game,” Earlywine added. “Every game is just vital, and Sacramento State is saying they should have won at Eastern in a game that went into overtime. For them to get into the conference tournament, this is a must-win for them. We have to approach it the same way. I think there was a definite sense of urgency in our guys against NAU, and we have to have that carryover to Saturday night.”

Prior to the NAU win, Eastern had finished winless on a four-game road stretch. Eastern also lost 66-47 to Montana last week, and in both games against the Grizzlies and Bobcats, a 15-1 run contributed greatly to putting EWU in a hole it could not dig out of.

The Hornets are 3-15 and 0-7 in the league, including an 88-79 overtime loss to the Eagles in Cheney on Dec. 29. The Hornets fell to league-leader Northern Colorado 77-72 on Thursday, and have lost nine-straight games dating back to its last victory on Dec. 10 versus William Jessup.

Since that victory over Sac State, the Eagles had lost five-straight games before the win over NAU. The Eagles held Montana State to 30 percent shooting en route to leading 29-23 at halftime, but then allowed the Bobcats to make 73 percent in the second half.

The loss to MSU extended EWU’s losing streak on the road to 16 games -- 10 games this year and six to end the 2009-10 season. The last time Eastern tasted victory on the road was a year ago on Jan. 10, 2010, when Dean made a game-winning, six-foot running bank shot with 3.8 seconds to play in a 75-73 victory at Montana State.

While the Eagles are 0-10 on the road this season with a 16-game road losing streak dating back to last year, the Eagles have won five of eight games at home.

Following Saturday’s game at Sac State, the Eagles will play five of their final nine league games at home. Plus, Eastern will host a yet to be announced opponent on either Feb. 18 or 19 in the ESPN BracketBusters.

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