March 2, 2011

Eastern Stuns Weber State 75-59 to Earn Saturday Rematch

Forbes, Colimon and Ederaine combine for 50 points as the Eagles open a 19-point lead in the first half and then survive a second-half barrage by the Wildcats

Thanks to yet another stunning victory, The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team earned itself an extended stay in Ogden, Utah.

An 18-point halftime lead held up for the Eagles as they survived a second-half barrage by Weber State to record a 75-59 upset victory over the Wildcats in the final Big Sky Conference basketball game of the regular season.

As a result, Eastern will return remain in Ogden for a rematch versus the Wildcats Saturday (March 5) in the first round of the Big Sky Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. The tipoff in that game will be 6:30 p.m. Pacific time.

Eastern, which won for just the fourth time in 30 tries all-time in Ogden, snapped a five-game losing streak overall versus WSU. The Eagles hadn’t won versus the Wildcats since Feb. 14, 2008, including an 80-68 thumping at the hands of WSU on Feb. 12 in Cheney.

It was also just the second road win in 15 tries for EWU this season, and was a happy homecoming for head coach Kirk Earlywine. He spent seven seasons as a Weber State assistant coach from 1999-2006, and is now 2-6 all-time versus his former school. It was his first victory as a head coach in Ogden.

“Without any question this was our biggest win of the year,” said Earlywine. “We were able to sustain our intensity level and I was pleased with that.”

Sophomore guard Jeffrey Forbes, who was averaging just 6.6 points on 32 percent shooting on the road, finished with 17 to lead the Eagles. He made 7-of-9 shots from the field, including 3-of-5 three-pointers, and also had a pair of steals as EWU forced a season-high 23 turnovers.

Junior forward Cliff Ederaine added 16 points and six rebounds, and Cliff Colimon scored 13 of his 17  points in the second half, including a trio of pivotal three-pointers down the stretch. He finished 4-of-5 from the three-point stripe and also had a pair of assists and two steals.

After Weber State trimmed EWU’s huge halftime lead to three with 10:57 to play, the Eagles responded to pull back ahead by six before Colimon made a trio of three-pointers to give EWU a double-digit lead again. Eastern then pulled away, leading by as many as 20 down the stretch as the Eagles made 15-of-20 free throws in the second half.

Eastern leading scorer Glen Dean, who was averaging 14.2 points per game, had just seven points. Second-leading scorer Kevin Winford, averaging 10.3 points per game, had only five.

“We’re certainly not a team dominated by any one or two guys,” explained Earlywine. “I would say that would make us difficult to prepare for us.”

An equally stunning 60-56 overtime victory over league-leader Montana last Saturday (Feb. 26) helped clinch the postseason berth for the Eagles and kept the Grizzlies from clinching at least a share of the league title. Eastern finished fifth in the league standings with a 7-9 record, but lost the tiebreaker with Montana State.

Eastern will enter Saturday’s game 10-19 overall and the sixth seed. The third-seeded Wildcats lost their chance at a first-round bye and are now 11-5 in the league and 17-11 overall.

The radio broadcast of Saturday’s 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.

Eastern garnered its first berth in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in five seasons -- and first under its fourth-year head coach. Montana State (13-17, 7-9) will play at Northern Arizona (13-11, 9-7) in the other first round game, with the winners moving on to face Montana (20-9, 12-4) and regular season champion Northern Colorado (19-10, 13-3) in the semifinals. As regular season champion, the Bears host the semifinals and championship game on March 8 and 9, respectively, in Greeley, Colo.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that these last two games are the best games we’ve played,” said Earlywine. “We were able to play well for all 40 minutes in our last two games. I think it would be easy to make that case that we’re playing our best right now.”

Forbes scored 12 of his points in the first half when Eastern opened up a 19-point lead late in the half and led 40-22 at intermission. Ederaine added nine in the first 20 minutes as EWU overcome a stretch of six minutes without a field goal.

“Cliff Ederaine’s play in the first five minutes of the game was huge,” praised Earlywine. “We established the ability to score in the paint, and that opened up some kick-out three-pointers. At times this year we’ve settled for three-pointers and not played inside-out. We did a good job of taking the really good open threes.”

But Weber State used a 13-0 run in the second half to pull within four at 43-39 as EWU went 6:11 without scoring. Lindsey Hughey scored 11 points in that run as he finished with a game-high 21, including 19 in the second half.

“We had that four or five minute stretch in the second half where we let Hughey get away from us a little bit and cut into our lead,” said Earlywine, whose team had lost halftime leads in three-straight games prior to last week’s win over Montana. “We’ve been in that situation a couple of times before and we got real tentative then. But in this game we didn’t start playing tentative, and I was happy to see that. It shows our players are improving and maturing.”

This is the fifth-straight season Weber State has won at least 10 league games, all under head coach Randy Rahe. Weber State is now 40-6 in Big Sky home games under Rahe, and the Wildcats are 57-11 overall (83.8percent) at the Dee Events Center in those five seasons. The Wildcats have won nearly 80 percent of their home games all-time at that venue.

Eastern’s lone victories previously in Ogden came in 2006 (76-73), 2001 (81-70) and 2000 (90-78) when Eastern snapped the Wildcats' 30-game home winning streak, which at the time was the fourth longest in NCAA Division I.

The win over UM snapped a four-game losing streak for the Eagles, who had lost their last three games after leading at halftime and owning second-half leads of at least 10 points in two of them. The Eagles did it by holding Montana to just 55 total shots and 40 percent shooting from the floor, and out-rebounding the Grizzlies 36-27. Eastern trailed at halftime 22-17.

One game earlier, Montana State used a 17-2 run to rally from a 10-point deficit after halftime as the Bobcats knocked off Eastern for the second time this season. The Eagles led 45-35 with 12:44 left in the second half before the Bobcats took a five-point lead at the 5:34 mark. Montana State, which snapped a seven-game losing streak in league play and a nine-game skid overall, never trailed again.

 

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