February 22, 2007

Hinton Scores Game Winner as Eagles Stay Alive

Feb. 22, 2007

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Marcus Hinton nailed his sixth three-pointer of the game -- and just his 13th of the season -- with 2.6 seconds to play as Eastern Washington University beat Idaho State 82-79 Thursday (Feb. 22) in a critical Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Hinton finished with a game-high 24 points after entering the game averaging just 5.1 points per game on the season. He was just 7-of-17 from three-point range, but made all six of his treys against Idaho State's zone defense to finish 9-of-11 overall from the field. His previous season high for points was 15 in November against The Evergreen State.

"You've got to take your hat off to Marcus Hinton -- that was an unbelievable performance," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns of the junior from Tacoma, Wash. Marcus didn't get a lot of opportunities early, and that shows the quality of the kid he is because when he came in he maximized his opportunities. We don't win without him tonight."

Sensational sophomore Rodney Stuckey added 23 points and a career-high 10 assists, making 10-of-11 free throws. Now with 1,420 points in his career, Stuckey became just the fourth player in school history to go over the 1,400-point mark.

The win kept the Eagles in contention for its 10th-straight Big Sky Tournament berth as Eastern raised its record to 7-8 in the Big Sky and 14-14 overall. Idaho State fell to 7-6 in the league and 12-14 on the season after a 5-0 start to league play.

Coupled with Portland State's 100-73 romp past Sacramento State Thursday, an Eagle loss to ISU would have meant the Eagles were eliminated. Now, Eastern concludes its regular season Saturday (Feb. 24) at home versus Sacramento State needing a win and some help from other Big Sky teams to earn a berth in the tourney.

Four Eagle seniors -- Paul Butorac, Rhett Humphrey, Neal Zumwalt and Derek Risper -- will play their final home games in EWU uniforms on Saturday. Including last week's 71-70 victory over UC Santa Barbara, Eastern will be trying for its first three-game winning streak of the season when they play against the Hornets.

"We knew the only thing we could control was tonight's game," said Burns. "We took care of tonight, so now the only thing we can control is Saturday's game. Hopefully the stars will align and allow our team to make it into the Big Sky Tournament, because this would be a scary, scary team in the tournament with the way we are playing right now. With what we did tonight and what we did last week in Santa Barbara, I think we are on the cusp of doing some really fun stuff."

The game featured 13 ties and 16 lead changes, but Eastern appeared to have the upper hand when Stuckey sank a pair of free throws with 34 seconds left to give EWU a 79-75 lead. However, a pair of ISU baskets knotted the score at 79 with 12 seconds to play.

On EWU's next possession, Stuckey brought the ball up court, and like he did all night long, fired a pass to Hinton on the opposite side of the court. Hinton swished it, and Idaho State did not get a shot off in the final 2.6 seconds.

Eastern made 10-of-20 three-point attempts and made 55 percent of its shots from the field overall. Eastern also sank 16-of-20 free throws and out-rebounded ISU 31-24. Paul Butorac added 15 points and eight rebounds for Eastern, and had one blocked shot that gave him 99 in his career. He also had two dunks to give him 100.

"With the zone defense that Idaho State plays, it's not so much about plays as it is about making plays," said Burns. "Our guys did that tonight and you have to take your hat off to them for that. We tried to keep focus -- we knew we could win and we did."

Idaho State stayed in the game by forcing 18 Eastern turnovers which the Bengals turned into 26 points. Idaho State finished with 15 fast break points.

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