Jan. 4, 2009
Even though it was a foul-filled road game against an opponent with just one win this season, it was a team victory the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team needed badly.
Junior Benny Valentine and seniors Adris DeLeon and Milan Stanojevic combined for 62 points as the Eagles improved to 2-1 in the Big Sky Conference with an 87-74 victory over Sacramento State Sunday (Jan . 4) afternoon at the Hornets Nest in Sacramento, Calif.
"It was a complete team effort, and it had to be because of our foul trouble," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine, whose team was whistled for 32 fouls. Six of Eastern’s 10 players finished with four fouls, but none fouled out.
"We needed everybody to contribute and everybody did," he continued. "Our physical effort was very good even though we fouled too much."
With both teams shooting at a nearly a 50 percent clip and Sac State attempting more free throws (42) than field goals (41), the game came down to turnovers. Eastern had just 11 while forcing 18, giving Eastern a 30-14 advantage in points off turnovers. Eastern also had a 35-33 rebounding advantage and had 17 second chance points to Sac State’s four.
The victory was Eastern’s first over a NCAA Division I foe in nearly a month as EWU improved its overall record to 8-7 with just its second victory in the last seven outings. The Hornets fell to 1-14 overall and 0-2 in the conference.
"When the other team shoots 42 free throws you probably fouled too much," Earlywine said with a slight chuckle. "But it was a good win and I liked our cohesiveness by the players on the bench as well as the floor. I saw signs of us getting back to where we were a month ago in terms of our chemistry and role recognition. That’s a hard thing to put your finger and define. But I liked the feel of our team against Sac State."
The Eagles are now 3-6 on the road this season and 5-1 at home as they concluded a three-game, seven-day road trip. Eastern’s next game is Thursday (Jan. 8) versus Idaho State at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Eastern opened the league season with a 61-55 victory over Montana State on Dec. 6, which represented EWU’s last win over a NCAA Division I opponent until the victory over the Hornets.
Following this Thursday’s game, Eastern hosts Weber State on Sunday (Jan. 11) at 1:05 p.m., with former Eagle and current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey on hand to have his jersey retired. Tickets are available via ticketswest.com or 1-800-325-7328, with a $2 discount available for that game on adult tickets in the upper reserved section of Reese Court.
Valentine, who entered the Sac State game as the Big Sky’s leading scorer with a 15.5 average, scored 33 points off the bench in only his third game as a non-starter this year. Adris DeLeon added 17 points and three assists in his first start of the season and sixth game overall since becoming cleared to play in mid-December. Stanojevic added 12 points and had a career-high seven rebounds.
The 5-foot-7 Valentine finished with his best scoring game of the season, and his first of more than 16 since getting 29 and 21 in back-to-back games in late November against Minnesota and UC Irvine, respectively. A transfer from Texas Tech who redshirted last season at EWU, Valentine made 11-of-19 shots from the field, 4-of-6 three-point attempts and 7-of-9 free throws to go along with four assists and three steals.
"He was very selective in the first half -- he took nine shots but I thought all nine of them were really good, open shots," said Earlywine. "There will be some games where we need him to shoot more, but there are more games where we need him to run our team and get more shots for the other players who are shooting a high percentage. He needs to pick his spots, and tonight he did that."
Eastern trailed only once at 5-3, and there were just three ties until EWU took the lead for good on a three-pointer by Valentine with 9:18 remaining in the first half. That ignited a 17-3 Eagle run in a five-minute span as EWU took a 35-21 advantage.
Valentine and DeLeon combined for all but two of Eastern’s points in that run, with Valentine scoring seven and DeLeon getting eight. They combined for 29 of EWU’s first-half points as the Eagles led 46-34 at intermission.
In the second half, the Eagles built a 17-point lead before the Hornets cut it to nine at the 15:20 mark. Valentine scored five points and Brandon Moore scored four in the 9-0 Eastern run that followed, giving EWU its biggest lead of the night at 65-47 with 13:08 left. The Eagles trailed by no less than 12 the rest of the way and by as many as 19 at 76-57.
The Eagles finished the game making 31-of-66 shots from the field for 47 percent, compared to 19-of-41 for the Hornets for 46 percent. Eastern made 16-of-22 free throws for 73 percent, and Sac State made 30-of-42 for 71 percent.
The Eagles had entered the Sac State game having made just 38 percent of their shots from the field in their last three games, but could take solace in the fact they made only 38 percent against MSU and still prevailed.
Aside from a 90-point effort against Evergreen State, the last four Eastern games had been punctuated by long scoring dry spells for EWU. Against Northern Arizona in a 72-49 road loss on Jan. 2, the Eagles went the final 7:57 without a field goal as they were out-scored 14-4 in that stretch. The Eagles went 9:11 without a point against Boise State, and on Dec. 20 versus Washington, Eastern had a stretch of 8:22 without a field goal and an additional 5:03 stretch without a point.
Before the Sac State victory, Eastern’s last win was a 90-87 victory on Dec. 22 over Evergreen State, which entered the game 7-2 and was the 16th-ranked team in NAIA Division II. The Geoducks were coming off an 82-68 win over that division’s No. 1 ranked team and defending national champion, Oregon Tech.
Eastern’s 6-2 record after the first eight games was its best start since the 2002-03 season when EWU used a four-game winning streak to improve to 7-2. Eastern was unable to duplicate that 7-2 start by losing at Hawaii, but Eastern triumphed in its Big Sky opener after a 66-51 victory against Montana State on Dec. 6 that represents the earliest Big Sky start in EWU history.
Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine is in his second season at the helm after leading the Eagles to an 11-19 record overall and 6-10 Big Sky Conference mark last season. Season tickets, including several packages with selected games, are now on sale. Information is available at http://WWW.GOEAGS.COM.