Jan. 26, 2008
The road breakthrough the Eagles so desperately wanted turned out to be nothing but a breakdown.
Eastern Washington University opened leads of 20 points in the first half and 18 in the second half, but Montana State rallied to register a 74-69 victory over the Eagles in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Saturday (Jan. 26) at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, Mont.
Playing a superb first half, Eastern opened a 39-19 lead in the opening 17 minutes and held a 49-30 advantage in the second half before the wheels fell off. A 13-0 run got the Bobcats back in the game and mini-runs of 8-0 and 6-0 got them leads as EWU and MSU tangled in the first of two-straight meetings.
Eastern hosts the Bobcats on Thursday (Jan. 31) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., in a rematch that begins at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time. But first, Eastern will have to forget the sting of the disappointing loss that left the Eagles winless in four conference road games thus far.
"In particular, how we lost the game was disappointing," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "I hoped we learned some things from the 18-4 start we had against Idaho State (a 58-56 road loss on Jan. 10), but apparently we haven't. We have to convince our guys to do it for 40 minutes instead of 20."
The Eagles fell to seventh in the Big Sky with a 3-5 record. Eastern is currently 8-14 overall, including a 6-3 record at home and 2-11 mark away from Reese Court. Montana State improved to 4-3 in the conference and 12-8 overall.
Eastern point guard Adris DeLeon led all scorers with 22 points and four assists on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. But he also had nine turnovers, including six in the second half, as he came just one away from the school record of 10.
"When your point guard gives the ball away nine times it's pretty hard to win," said Earlywine.
Eastern leading scorer and rebounder Kellen Williams was in foul trouble the entire game and played a season-low 22 minutes. He scored just eight points and had only five rebounds for the Eagles as his string of consecutive games scoring in double figures came to an end at 13.
Brandon Moore, Eastern's tallest player at 6-9, also finished with four fouls and played only 27 minutes. He had four points and a team-high eight rebounds.
"Our problems were two-fold -- both of our big guys were in foul trouble and our point guard kept giving the ball away," Earlywine explained. "There is only so much those other guys can do when the guy orchestrating the offense doesn't orchestrate the offense."
After having just 12 turnovers in its last two games combined, the Eagles finished with 20 versus the Bobcats. Montana State had just nine turnovers and nailed 20-of-26 free throws. Eastern was just 9-of-16 from the line.
"They outscored us by 11 at the free throw line and we had 11 more turnovers," said Earlywine. "That was the game."
Although Big Sky Conference leading scorer Carlos Taylor finished with 20 to pace the Bobcats, Eastern held him to 8-of-20 shooting from the field. As a team, MSU made just 40 percent from the field and only 21 percent from the three-point stripe (6-of-28). Both teams had 36 rebounds.
Eastern center Matt Brunell came off the bench to score all 13 of his career-high points in the first half. Freshman Jack Loofburrow also came off the bench to bury a trio of three-pointers to finish with a career-high nine points. Brunell and Loofburrow were a combined 5-of-5 from three-point range and 7-of-10 overall as Eastern finished with 12 treys in the game -- seven of those coming in the first half.
"I would have liked to see them get some more shots," added Earlywine of the Washington high school products (Brunell is from Cheney, Wash., HS and Loofburrow is out of Eisenhower HS in Yakima, Wash.). "It wasn't for the lack of them being open a few more times. The ball just didn't seem to get there."
DeLeon had five early points as EWU scored the first seven points in the game. Soon after that, Eastern followed with an 11-0 run as DeLeon, Brunell and Loofburrow all made three-pointers. Eastern eventually took a 39-19 lead on a DeLeon basket and led 44-27 at halftime.
Eastern boosted the lead to 49-30 with 18:29 remaining in the game on a basket by Williams. But Eastern went the next 3:17 without a field goal as MSU went on a 13-0 run to pull within five.
A pair of three-pointers by DeLeon helped Eastern regain a nine-point cushion, but MSU went on an 8-0 run to take its first lead of the game at 59-58 with 8:41 left.
Eastern took its last lead of the game at the 5:05 mark on a three-pointer by Loofburrow, but the Bobcats scored six-straight points to open a four-point advantage with 2:28 to play. Montana State made 6-of-8 free throws in the last 53 seconds to ice the victory.
Besides the EWU-MSU game on Thursday, the Eagles will host Montana game on Sunday, Feb. 3 in a game televised live regionally by Altitude Sports and Entertainment and KSKN Channel 22 in Spokane.