Feb. 3, 2007
Missoula, Mont. -
It's all about second chances.
Montana took advantage of theirs but Eastern Washington University didn't as the Eagles fell to Montana 85-78 Saturday (Feb. 3) in a pivotal Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.
Eastern missed its last five field goal attempts, including three on possessions with the chance to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes. Montana made five free throws in the last 23 seconds to clinch the win and salvage a split of its season series against EWU. Eastern went the final 3:49 without a field goal.
"They did a great job with their effort," Burns said of his team's rally from an 11-point deficit with 6:50 left. "I can't ask any more from them from that perspective. It was a game where we battled and battled and battled. We got down by 11 in the second half, but we gutted it out and got it all the way back to two. We had a couple of opportunities with some good looks to tie the game, but it just didn't happen for us."
For the first time this season, Eastern suffered a third-straight loss in a game that featured 13 ties and 16 lead changes. The Eagles concluded a stretch in which eight of 10 conference games were on the road.
The light at the end of the tunnel -- a second chance if you will -- comes in the form of four-straight home games to end the league season. Seventh-place Eastern is now 5-7 in the conference and 11-13 overall as it suffered its first season sweep in six Big Sky weekends thus far after also falling at Montana State 84-67 two days earlier.
Montana, which was coming off a 70-68 home loss to Portland State, is now 6-4 in the league and 12-11 overall. Earlier this season in Cheney, Eastern prevailed 74-71.
But the Grizzlies won this game on the boards 39-24, getting 16 second chance points on 17 offensive rebounds. In the earlier meeting versus EWU, the Grizzlies were out-rebounded by three.
"We were doubling the post in some instances, and its tough when you have a guard rolling down the backside trying to box a big guy out," explained Burns. "There were a couple of instances where it was real physical. You have to give them credit for coming down with the ball."
Rodney Stuckey led the Eagles in scoring for the 12th-straight game -- and 48th time in 54 career games -- with 19 points. He also had seven assists as he finished 6-of-16 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.
Paul Butorac added 14 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, and Omar Krayem chipped in 10 points. Brandon Moore, who was sick and missed the previous game, came off the bench to finish with nine points and seven rebounds. Eastern played the Montana game without Derek Risper, who was suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules.
The Grizzlies were led by its starting front line of Jordan Hasquet, Matt Dlouhy and Andrew Strait with 54 points and 23 rebounds between the three of them. Hasquet had a double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Dlouhy added 14 points and seven rebounds and Strait had 14 points with five boards.
Montana hit eight of its first 10 shots in the game and used a 10-0 run to take an early 19-11 lead. Stuckey scored seven points in the early going, but played just nine minutes and sat out the rest of the half after picking up his second foul.
The Stuckey-less Eagles not only stayed in the game, but they used a 16-5 run to regain the lead. There were a total of 10 ties and 11 lead changes in the first half before EWU took a 42-41 advantage at halftime.
"They did a great job to rally and give us the lead," said Burns of his bench, which score 27 points this time after scoring 35 in the first meeting. "It just shows we have some depth on this team. We have a solid bench and those players came in and did a great job for us."
There were five more lead changes and three more ties in the second half, including a run of four-straight Stuckey points that gave EWU its last lead of the game at 48-47. Montana regained the lead for good, then used a 9-0 run to pull out to an 11-point advantage.
Eastern rallied to cut the lead to two, but Michael Taylor missed a three-pointer with two minutes left and Stuckey missed the next two shots -- all on possessions when EWU had a chance to tie or take the lead. Eastern missed two more shots after that, including a layup that could have pulled EWU to within three.
"Any time we can get a layup, that's the shot we want," said Burns. "Those three looks (usually) go in for us. That was six points that were huge."
Eastern's final four conference games are at home at Reese Court in February, sandwiched around a non-conference road game on Feb. 17 at UC Santa Barbara as part of the ESPN Bracket Buster weekend. Eastern hosts league-leader Weber State in its next game on Wednesday (Feb. 7) at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time.
The Eagles are now 3-5 on the road and 2-2 at home in league games thus far. During the brutal road stretch, Eastern logged 6,557 miles during the five-week stretch of games. Between Jan. 4 and Feb. 4, Eastern was on the road 19 of 33 days.
The top six teams in the nine-team league advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The quarterfinals take place on March 3 and are hosted by the No. 3 and 4 seeds. The winners of those two games and the top two teams in the regular season standings receive byes to the semifinals on March 6. The semifinals, as well as the nationally-televised championship game the next night, are hosted by the regular season champion.
"I would be willing to bet that 9-7 will get you in the conference tournament," said Burns. "There are a lot of people who have a lot of road games left. I told our team that if we give that kind of defensive effort in those four games at home, we'll be fine. As long as we keep doing that we'll be okay."
Eastern is now 4-11 away from home this season, with road victories at Sacramento State, Portland State, Northern Colorado and an 87-66 romp at Portland on Dec. 9. Among Eastern's road losses are setbacks to Gonzaga, UNLV, Washington, Santa Clara and Oregon -- all with at least nine wins each in non-league play. Three of those teams are or have been nationally ranked. In conference play, Eastern is 3-4 on the road and 2-2 at home.
Last year the Eagles were 6-1 at home in the Big Sky and were 3-4 on the road to finish third in the league at 9-5. Eastern beat Portland State in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament, but fell to eventual champion Montana in overtime in the semifinals.