January 10, 2008

Eastern Can't Make Plays With Game Up For Grabs

Jan. 10, 2008

Final Stats

Pocatello, Idaho -

When Milan Stanojevic gets hot, so does the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.

But two hot stretches, including an 18-4 start and a late 8-2 run, weren't enough to give the Eagles a rare Big Sky Conference road win as Idaho State held off the Eagles 58-56 Thursday (Jan. 10) at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.

Eastern missed three shots down the stretch with the game up for grabs and also misfired on four free throws in the final five minutes that could have made a difference. Meanwhile, Idaho State made three free throws in the last 37 seconds to clinch its second league victory in as many tries.

"This one is pretty tough to take especially when you get out to an 18-4 lead," said first-year EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine. "Credit Idaho State -- they made plays to win it and we didn't make the right plays."

Stanojevic had five three-pointers to finish with 19 points, but EWU fell to 7-11 overall and 2-2 in the Big Sky. Idaho State is now 5-10 overall after playing a difficult non-league schedule. While Eastern had entered the game having already played three league foes, Idaho State's only game was a 76-65 win on Jan. 3 at Northern Colorado where defending champion Weber State lost three days later 55-52.

Eastern now plays at Weber State on Saturday (Jan. 12) in a homecoming for Earlywine at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah. The Wildcats defeated Portland State 73-68 on Thursday to improve to 1-1 in the conference and 6-8 overall.

Stanojevic made 7-of-14 shots from the field to lead three Eagles in double figures. Senior Kellen Williams played all 40 minutes and finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. Adris DeLeon scored 13 points and had four assists before having to leave the game in the final minute with an ankle injury.

Idaho State junior Matt Stucki, who scored 18 points and had eight rebounds in a home win over EWU last year, had 11 points and 10 assists to lead ISU on Thursday. However, Logan Kinghorn, Lucas Steijn and Donnie Carson also combined for 38 points and 16 rebounds after entering the game with a combined average of just over 15 points and less than eight boards per outing.

Despite holding the Bengals to 40 percent shooting from the field, Eastern allowed Idaho State to grab seven offensive rebounds in the second half and 10 in the game. Eastern made only 38 percent of its shots and was just 5-of-10 from the free throw line.

"Those extra possessions are huge," said Earlywine of ISU's offensive rebounds. "Maybe fatigue became a part of it -- when you guard them for 30 seconds and give up an offensive rebound, you then have to guard them for another 30 seconds. That becomes tiring. Those offensive rebounds were a very big part of their second half."

Eastern jumped out to an 18-4 lead as Stanojevic scored eight early points. At that point, Eastern was 7-of-14 from the field and ISU was just 1-of-11. But in the last 10 minutes of the half, Idaho State out-scored Eastern 12-4 and took a 26-22 lead at halftime. The Bengals made 9-of-14 shots in that stretch while EWU made only 2-of-14.

"What allowed them to get back into the game was our stupidity more than anything else," said Earlywine. "I guess this is another hurdle for us. We have not been in a situation too many times this year where we have had to deal with prosperity. We got off to an early lead and then abandoned what we were doing to get the lead. Consequently, they went on a 22-4 run to end the first half."

The second half was close throughout until Weber State surged ahead to take its biggest lead of the night at 51-45 with 4:14 to play. But behind a pair of treys by Stanojevic, Eastern pulled back to a 53-all tie with 2:11 to play.

Idaho State then followed with a 5-1 run, including a basket by Steijn and three free throws by Carson. Eastern had a chance to tie, but Stanojevic missed an off-balance three-pointer with 24 seconds to play.

"He shot the ball well tonight but he forced that one," said Earlywine. "He felt like we needed a three but we didn't. The big part of it was we didn't execute our out-of-bounds play the way we were supposed to. That's what happens when you don't execute and do what you are coached to do. You end up losing games like this."

Not having DeLeon on the floor at that particular juncture of the game made a difference.

"He did a really good job tonight of utilizing ball screens," Earlywine said. "When he came out of the game, the mistake we made came on the ensuing out-of-bounds play. We didn't execute coming off the ball screen, and Adris had been doing that and causing them a lot of problems. That very well could have made a difference, but those things happen."

Earlywine is very familiar with Weber State as he spent seven seasons as an assistant under Joe Cravens at Weber State from 1999-2006. He helped the Wildcats to a 116-88 record overall and 58-44 Big Sky Conference mark. Included was a 26-6 record overall and perfect 14-0 Big Sky mark in 2002-03 when Weber State advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Last year, Eastern won against Weber State at home but lost to the Wildcats on the road. However, Eastern has had some recent success in Ogden, as EWU's only three victories in 25 all-time meetings in Ogden have all come since 2000. The Eagles have won 12 of the last 25 meetings versus Weber State after losing nine-straight from 1992-1996.

"It's going to be more mental work than physical," Earlwine said of his team's preparation on Friday for the Wildcats. "The only thing I know to do is go back to work. We won't just do that tomorrow (Friday) but we'll start tonight (Thursday)."

Entering Thursday's PSU game, Arturus Valeika was the lone Wildcat scoring in double figures at 10.5 points per game, but he failed to score in the loss to Northern Colorado. He is third in the Big Sky in rebounding at 8.4 per game, including nine boards versus the Bears. Eight other Wildcats average between 4.6 and 8.4 points per game.

Weber State was picked by the coaches to repeat as league champions while the media had the Wildcats finishing second behind struggling Montana, which has lost six of its last seven games.

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