Feb. 5, 2009
The six-game losing streak went up in smoke in a hurry.
Eastern Washington University opened a 17-0 lead in the opening 7 1/2 minutes and went on to a 67-46 victory over Sacramento State Thursday (Feb. 5) in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
An aggressive Eastern defense forced the Hornets to miss their first five shots and commit seven turnovers before Sac State scored for the first time with 12:27 left in the first half. Eastern poured it on to lead by 32 at halftime and by as many as 34 in the second half.
"I told them that I didn’t have a halftime speech," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine of his reaction after EWU’s near-perfect first half. "When you hold someone to single digits and you’re up by 32 at halftime, the only thing to say is let’s do it again. But we didn’t."
Eastern led 41-9 in the first half as it made 55 percent of its shots from the field with only four turnovers. Sac State, meanwhile, made only 18 percent from the field and had 14 turnovers.
"It was hard to find any fault with what we did defensively in the first half," said Earlywine.
Although out-scored 37-26 in the second half, Eastern was never threatened as EWU snapped a six-game losing streak. Eastern hosts Northern Arizona Saturday (Feb. 7) at Reese Court in another pivotal game that begins at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time.
Having fallen to eighth place in the BSC standings during their skid, the Eagles are back into seventh in the league at 4-7 with a 10-13 record overall. Ninth-place Sacramento State lost its 34th consecutive road game and is now 1-9 in the Big Sky and 2-21 overall. Northern Arizona, which fell at Portland State 78-66 on Thursday, is now in seventh in the league with a 3-7 record, and is 6-15 overall.
Five Eagles scored at least eight points, led by the 14 points and eight rebounds by 6-foot-9 junior center Brandon Moore. Senior forward Andy Genao added 13 points and nine rebounds as EWU had a commanding 39-21 advantage on the boards.
"We need him," said Earlywine of Moore. "We need him to score in the post to help us offensively. I would have liked to have seen the ball get thrown there into him more in the second half.
"When Andy plays hard enough to rebound the ball, to pursue balls on the glass, it helps us tremendously," Earlywine added.
Junior Benny Valentine added 11 points and Mark Dunn and Milan Stanojevic each had eight. Senior point guard Gary Gibson had just two points, but he had a game-high five assists. Adris DeLeon had six points and three steals.
Eastern finished the game forcing 19 Sacramento State turnovers and holding the Hornets to 38 percent shooting. Eastern finished at 47 percent and had 15 turnovers.
"It was very disconcerting, but I guess we can take it as a learning opportunity," said Earlywine of getting outscored by 11 in the second half. "Obviously, this team has not had many 30-point leads. We did not handle that very well. We can look at it and try to learn from it.
"We made four turnovers in the first half and turned around and made 11 in the second half. You add on top of that the number of really awful shots we took. We gave away over half of our possessions in the second half with turnovers and bad shots. You can’t do that and be a good team."
After closing the month of January with a 2-7 record, the Eagles were excited to open February with a pair of home games. Eastern won its seventh-straight against Sac State overall and 13th-straight against the Hornets in Cheney. Eastern leads the series overall 23-7 and has won 16 of the last 19 meetings.
But Earlywine knows the Eagles will have to play better than they did in the second half against Sac State if they expect to knock off Northern Arizona, a team EWU lost to by 23 points earlier this season.
"I told our guys at halftime that Sacramento State was going to come out in the second half and drive the heck out of the ball, and they did," explained Earlywine. "We fouled them five times in the first half and then fouled them five times in the first four minutes of the second half simply because we weren’t intense enough. They put their heads down and drove it and we weren’t ready to guard the ball. We weren’t in the proper help positions. We had a letdown, if I can put it into a nut shell."
For the Eagles, who hadn’t won since beating Idaho State 71-68 on Jan. 8, victories this week are critical to their hopes of a top six finish in the league standings. The top six teams in the regular season standings advance to the six-team Big Sky Conference Tournament which starts on March 7.
Idaho State, at 4-5 in the league is currently sixth, just behind 5-6 Northern Colorado. Eastern plays the Bengals on the road on Feb. 14 and are at home versus the Bears on Feb. 21.
Eastern was coming off a pair of losses in the state of Montana last week, falling at Montana State 69-65 on Jan. 29 and 60-52 at Montana on Jan. 31. In both games, Eastern led or was tied in the second half only to see its hopes dashed in the closing minutes of each. The Eagles lost for the fifth-straight time in Bozeman and the sixth-straight time in Missoula.
Earlier this season, Eastern lost 72-49 at Northern Arizona before rebounding for an 87-74 win at Sacramento State. The 23-point loss to the Lumberjacks was its second-worst this season (EWU lost at Washington 83-50) and the 13-point win over the Hornets was its second-best (Eastern beat UC Irvine 78-64 on Nov. 30).
"We played maybe the poorest game we’ve played all year at NAU," added Earlywine. "We didn’t play hard enough, we didn’t play well enough and we weren’t ready. But we’re different now. I’m not sure we’re back to where we were in late November and early December, but we’re a lot closer."
-- EWU-NAU Series History (Since 1983-84) -- The Eagles have lost the last five meetings and seven of the last eight, and haven’t defeated the Lumberjacks since a 73-61 victory on Feb. 4, 2006. Eastern also has a five-game losing streak in Flagstaff, Ariz., dating back to Jan. 15, 2004 when Eastern was victorious 63-57.
Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 20-30 versus Northern Arizona, including a 6-18 record in Flagstaff, Ariz., 13-11 in Cheney and 1-1 on neutral courts. Eastern trails in the all-time series 20-31 (6-18 in Flagstaff, 13-12 in Cheney, 1-1 neutral).
Eastern had won six-straight games against the Lumberjacks and nine of the last 11 until falling 77-64 in Flagstaff on Feb. 5, 2005. The Lumberjacks beat EWU 105-95 on Jan. 5, 2006, in a game in which Eastern’s Rodney Stuckey scored a school-record 45 points. Eastern defeated the Lumberjacks 73-61 in Cheney on Feb. 4, 2006, but lost twice in both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 season.
Until a 72-65 victory in Flagstaff in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern had lost nine-straight meetings there since Feb. 16, 1991. Coupled with a win later in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern swept the regular season meetings with the Lumberjacks for the first time in 10 years. Eastern duplicated that feat in 2003 and 2004.