Eagles Dig Out From 17-Point Deficit Before Losing 76-69

Four Eagles score in double figures, but NCAA leading scorer Damian Lillard nets 30

The Eagles dug themselves out of an early hole, only to be buried late.

NCAA Division I leading scorer Damian Lillard scored 30 points to lead Weber State past Eastern Washington 76-69 Thursday (Jan. 5) in an early-season Big Sky Conference men’s basketball showdown at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles fell behind 27-10 early, but went on a 16-3 run to end the half down by only three. Eastern led by one on three occasions in the second half, but the Wildcats opened a nine-point lead with 2:32 left to put the game away.

“I’m very unhappy with the result, but I’m very respectful of the opponent,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford of the Big Sky favorites. “I thought they played very well down the stretch. We’ve seen our team develop through the year, and to see our team come from 15 points down shows a lot of growth on our part. But I wish we wouldn’t give them that 15-point lead, though. We were outrebounded by 13 and they built their 15-point lead from offensive rebounds.”

Eastern had only nine turnovers compared to 22 for the Wildcats, but the Eagles made only 36 percent of their shots from the field compared to 44 percent for the Wildcats. The Big Sky’s preseason favorite by both media and coaches, Weber State improved to 11-3 overall and 3-0 in the league, while EWU fell to 7-8 on the season and 1-2 in the BSC.

“We wanted to make every touch hard for them,” explained Hayford. “We wanted to force ball pressure to get it back. We had 13 more possessions than Weber since we were taking care of the ball. But when we take care of the ball, we have to make some shots.”

Four Eagles scored in double figures, led by the 20 points of senior forward Cliff Ederaine, who also had nine rebounds, five assists, a career-high five steals and a pair of blocked shots. He had no turnovers in 34 minutes after having five in 23 minutes in EWU’s previous game, a 79-71 loss at Montana.

“Big Cliff played a great game -- he was the best big man on the court,” said Hayford. “We were able to run the offense through him. He felt bad about the turnovers in Missoula so I asked him what he was going to do about that the next game. He really worked hard tonight.”

Senior point guard Cliff Colimon added 18 points, five assists and three steals, and Laron Griffin and Jeffrey Forbes contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Eastern continues league action at home Saturday (Jan. 7) when the Eagles host Northern Arizona, at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court. The radio broadcast of the game, featuring play-by-play announcer Dennis Patchin, may be heard on 700-AM ESPN, via the web at www.espnnorthwest.com and via iPhone application (search for “Spokane Radio” and download the free app).

Lillard entered Thursday’s game with a 25.2 scoring average per game, with efforts of 41 points (versus San Jose State on Dec. 3) and 36 points (versus Saint Mary’s on Nov. 28) to his credit. The 6-foot-3 guard scored 14 of Weber State’s first 27 points versus EWU, but didn’t score the rest of the half. He had 16 in the second half as he finished the game 7-of-17 from the field, 4-of-7 from the 3-point stripe and 12-of-13 from the line. He also had seven rebounds and five assists.

Fellow guard Scott Bamforth added 19 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the 3-point arc, as Weber State finished the game 11-of-20 from long range. The Wildcats also made 23-of-28 free throws and out-rebounded EWU 44-31.

“We knew that this was a two-stroke engine Weber had,” said Hayford of Lillard and Bamforth. “Both guys exceeded their averages and we didn’t do what we needed to do to stop them. We did a great job on Lillard, but he ended up with 30 points. Give him credit -- he and Bamforth are tough to guard and it’s a veteran team. Those two guys are one of the best backcourts on the west coast and they showed us tonight.”

During its 16-3 run in the first half, Eastern made 6-of-13 shots from the field after opening the half making just six of their first 22 shots. The Eagles made 38 percent in the second half, but could hit only 3-of-11 3-point attempts.

Eastern’s last lead of the game came at 56-55 with 9:57 left on a layin by Ederaine, who scored 13 points in the second half. But the Eagles missed their next five shots and never led again as Weber State used 3-point shots to open leads of six (64-58 with 5:54 left) and nine (71-62, 2:11 left). The second half featured four ties and six lead changes.

Lillard was the league’s MVP as a sophomore in the 2009-10 season before receiving a medical redshirt last year after playing in just nine games due to a foot injury.  A two-time All-Big Sky first team selection and the league’s 2008-09 Freshman of the Year, he earned honorable mention All-America honors by the Associated Press as a sophomore.

Northern Arizona, which lost at Portland State 82-62 on Thursday, is currently 1-2 in the league and 5-10 overall. The Lumberjacks are under the direction of interim coach Dave Brown after long-time head coach Mike Adras resigned after a 2-7 start. In its first week of action, Northern Arizona defeated Sacramento State 73-64 before falling to Northern Colorado 80-64.

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