Nov. 9, 2007
Trailing by just 12 at halftime, Eastern Washington University allowed 10th-ranked Washington State to pull away in the second half as the Cougars went on to a 68-41 victory over the Eagles Friday (Nov. 9) at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash. The season-opening game was played in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,215.
Eastern trailed just 31-19 at intermission in the first Eagles-Cougars meeting in nearly 10 years. But EWU, which received a boost earlier in the day when Adris DeLeon was cleared to play by the NCAA, allowed WSU to go on a 10-0 run to start the second half in the first game of the EWU head coaching career of Kirk Earlywine.
"I was really pleased with our intensity level and effort in the first half," said Earlywine. "I wasn't at all discouraged or disappointed at halftime, although I got the sense that our players were because the points were hard to come by."
Junior Milan Stanojevic led the Eagles with 11 points, including a trio of three-pointers. Senior Kellen Williams, one of just three returning Eagle players, added nine points and six rebounds. DeLeon chipped in six points.
The Eagles play at New Mexico on Monday (Nov. 12) in the "Pit" in Albuquerque, N.M. Earlywine said he was encouraged with Friday's game at WSU, in which the only glaring difference was shooting -- WSU made 50 percent compared to EWU's 30 percent.
"We can take some good things out of the first half for sure," he said. "But you have to eliminate mistakes. Victory favors the team that makes the fewest mistakes -- it's not the team that makes the most spectacular plays or the highest number of great plays. That's a big part of what makes Washington State very good. They don't make mistakes and beat themselves. We have to go back and look at the mistakes we made and eliminate those."
Eastern led early 3-2 on a three-pointer by Stanojevic, but the Cougars took a 25-11 advantage and never led by fewer than 11 the rest of the way. Derrick Low scored 11 of his team's points in the first half en route to a 14-point output in the game.
"We were still hanging in there," said Earlywine of his team's first-half performance. "We had three really bad, technical mistakes and Washington State scored on every one of them. That is what good teams do that are experienced, smart and talented. If we took away those three mistakes in the first half, we were okay.
Washington State used a 10-0 run to start the second half to open a 22-point cushion before Eastern scored on two free throws with 15:55 left by Stanojevic. Eastern's first field goal in the second half was a three-pointer with 13:25 to play by DeLeon, whose eligibility appeal regarding his junior college transcripts was approved by the NCAA in time for him to play Friday night.
"I thought if we could get three or four stops in a row and a bucket or two that we could squeeze them a little bit and make the crowd uneasy," said Earlywine. "But that didn't happen."
Washington State led by as many as 30 points in the second half as Aron Baynes scored 10 of his team-high 15 points in the half, and Robbie Cowgill added nine of his 13.
"I don't think it was Washington State's defense in the second half as much as it was our defense," explained Earlywine of the 37-22 scoring advantage WSU had in the second half. "We caved in. We tried to catch ourselves after that, but they did what a good and experienced team does. They kept their foot right on our throat and didn't give us a chance to get back in it or show a sign of life. We didn't squeeze them at all."
Eastern played all eight of its available players against WSU, and all of them played at least 18 minutes. Center Brandon Moore, who finished with five points and a pair of rebounds, logged the most minutes with 32.
"We got the ball into the post a little bit better in the second half," Earlywine said. "Brandon Moore scored a couple of baskets inside that we have to have."
"We have some guys who can shoot the ball," he added. "Adris DeLeon was sky-high tonight and sped up. We played eight guys tonight and five of them were playing in their first Division I game ever. The game became fast for them mentally, and there is no cure for that except to play games. I feel good about our perimeter players, but we can't become too reliant on perimeter jump shots. We also have to get the ball inside to our bigs and our guards."
"We have to keep pointing toward Big Sky Conference play and keep improving," added Earlywine. "You can learn and improve by both winning and losing. I know which one is a lot more fun and which one I prefer. But tonight we got beat and we have to get better from this game."
The Eagles are now 11-51 all-time against Washington State, having lost 91-72 in Cheney the last time the two teams met on Dec. 5, 1998. The year prior, on Dec. 22, 1997, at the Tri-Cities Coliseum in Kennewick, Wash., Eastern upset the Cougars 83-82. That snapped a 17-game losing streak against WSU dating back to the last Eastern win in the series on Dec. 1, 1952, by a 72-71 score in overtime.
The Eagles face another difficult task on Monday (Nov. 12) when they take on New Mexico at the "Pit" in Albuquerque, N.M., in the home debut for new Lobos head coach Steve Alford. The Mountain West Conference foe was 15-17 a year ago and just 4-12 in league play, but will no doubt be much improved under Alford, who was 308-183 in 16 previous seasons as a head coach.
New Mexico opened its season by beating at Colorado 54-47 on Friday (Nov. 9). The Lobos defeated Eastern New Mexico 94-50 in an exhibition game on Nov. 2.
The Nov. 12 game starts at 6 p.m. Pacific time and may be heard live on KGA 1510-AM in Spokane.
"This was a great environment," Earlywine said of the crowd at WSU. "I told our guys this is why you sign up to play Division I basketball. We'll see more of the same Monday night -- it's the first home game for New Mexico under their new head coach. It will be sold out, and there will be 6,000 more people there than Washington State."
"There will be 18,000 people there and we will be playing at altitude, so it will be a rough environment," Earlywine continued. "But none of those 18,000 people can come down out of the bleachers and get a rebound, make a basket or make a free throw. The game isn't going to be any different in the Pit Monday night. It's the same as if we're at Reese Court or the Pit. It shouldn't affect us, but it does sometimes with young teams and guys who are new to Division I. We have to develop a toughness about us mentally that we are not going to let that affect our game.
Eastern has lost all four games previously played versus New Mexico, with losses on Dec. 18, 1978 (117-94), Feb. 17, 1987 (90-81), Dec. 3, 1993 (121-62) and Nov. 23, 1996 (69-53) -- all at the "Pit" in Albuquerque. The 1993 and 1996 games took place in the Lobo Classic, including the '96 championship game.
Eastern is coming off a 15-14 finish to the 2006-07 season as the last three EWU seasons have yielded a collective record of 38-49. The Eagles had their string of consecutive Big Sky Conference Tournament berths snapped at nine last season as EWU finished with an 8-8 league record.
The Cougars, under first year head coach Tony Bennett, finished 26-8 a year ago and had a 13-5 record in the Pacific 10 Conference to finish second. Washington State enters the 2007-08 season ranked 10th in the Associated Press preseason poll.
The Cougars took the nation by storm last season with Bennett earning several national coach of the year accolades. They finished the year ranked 13th in the Associated Press poll after advancing to the NCAA Tournament where they defeated Oral Roberts 70-54 in the first round before losing to Vanderbilt 78-74 in overtime.
Both the Eagles and Cougars started the season by winning exhibition games by large margins. On Nov. 3, Eastern jumped out to a 34-12 lead and romped past NCAA Division III Pacific 91-49. Eastern's 42-point winning margin was slightly more than WSU's 38-point victory (80-42) the next day over NAIA member Lewis-Clark State.