Eagles Dig Hole in First Half and Fall 81-58 to UC Irvine

Hot-shooting doesn’t carry over as Eagles lose for only the second time in six games this season

Winning three games in three days is a tall order, especially when you lose your shooting eye.

The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team followed a 64 percent shooting night with a 24 percent half and went on to lose to UC Irvine 81-58 Sunday (Nov. 24) at the Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif., in the 2K Sports Classic benefitting the Wounded Warrior Project.

Eastern fell behind by 21 points at halftime and lost for just the second time in six games. Eastern had defeated Boston University 80-68 and LIU Brooklyn 102-70 in the first two games of the tournament, including a 64 percent shooting performance in their last game.

UC Irvine, which lost to BU 74-68 Saturday, improved to 4-3 by making 11-of-19 3-point shots (58 percent) and 40 percent overall in the game. Eastern finished at 26 percent, but the damage was done in the first half when EWU made just 7-of-29 shots overall, and 2-of-11 from 3-point range.

Sophomore Tyler Harvey, who scored 35 points in the first two games in Irvine, had 21 points to lead the Eagles against UC Irvine. He made 6-of-13 shots while the rest of the EWU lineup was just 12-of-47 for 26 percent.

Harvey was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammate Venky Jois.

 “We packed two games of energy in our suitcases for a three-game weekend,” said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. “I did like that our players showed great character in the second half even though our shots weren’t falling. We wanted to come down here and play three games and see what it’s going to take. We are going to have to have more depth and better legs on the third day if we are fortunate enough to have this type of experience later in our schedule at the Big Sky Conference Tournament.”

Earlier this season, the Anteaters knocked off Washington 86-72 three days before the Eagles lost 92-80 to the Huskies. Led by 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye – the tallest player in NCAA Division I -- UC Irvine blocked 12 of EWU shots. Ndiaye had eight of the blocks.

“This was a lesson learned,” said Hayford, whose team was only out-rebounded 49-44. “We fought hard on the boards, but it’s tough – they blocked 12 of our shots so we are going to get a better answer.”

No other Eagle scored in double figures a night after six did in EWU’s win over LIU Brooklyn. Eastern made only 4-of-21 3-point shots (19 percent), but through six games are still averaging 8.7 3-pointers per game on 40 percent shooting.

The Anteaters hit their first four 3-pointers to take an early 17-8 lead, then took a 29-17 advantage. Eastern trailed just 31-20 when Drew Brandon made a basket with 3:49 left, but EWU did not score the rest of the half as UCI finished with a 12-0 run.

The Anteaters took their biggest lead of the game in the second half of 31 points, 65-34. Eastern will play UC Irvine again on Dec. 15 in Cheney as a return game for EWU’s appearance two seasons ago in Irvine in the ESPN BracketBusters series of games.

“I give UC Irvine credit – they were the better team today,” said Hayford. “They played with great energy today and bounced back from their loss to Boston University. I’m really happy that we are going to get the chance to play them again and we’ll prepare for that.”

Next up for Eastern is a home game with Seattle on Friday, Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. at Reese Court. The Redhawks, who were 8-22 a year ago, are currently 2-2 with wins over Cal State Fullerton and The Evergreen State, and losses to Washington and Boise State. Seattle hosts UC Riverside on Nov. 25 prior to taking on the Eagles.

West Coach Conference powerhouse Saint Mary’s will usher in an equally difficult month of December. Eastern travels to Moraga, Calif., on Dec. 8.  to play the Gaels, who were 28-7 overall and 14-2 in the WCC in 2008.

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