Nov. 24, 2006
Senior center Paul Butorac nearly had a triple-double for the Eastern Washington University basketball team Friday (Nov. 24) at Bank of America Arena in Seattle, Wash. -- 14 points, nine rebounds and 10 stitches after taking an elbow to the mouth.
That was the kind of battle it was for the Eagles, who eventually succumbed to 16th-ranked Washington 90-83 in a game that featured 16 lead changes and 13 ties. A sellout crowd of 10,000 attended the dogfight.
"That was a courageous effort by our players at an extraordinarily difficult place to play," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "We came in and battled, but, unfortunately, we couldn't get over the hump down the stretch."
Rodney Stuckey led the Eagles for the 32nd-straight game in scoring with 31 points -- the eighth 30-point performance in 35 career games for the sophomore from Kent, Wash. He also had four assists and six rebounds, and junior Omar Krayem added 18 points with four three-pointers for EWU.
Eastern led 77-75 with five minutes to play on a trey by Krayem, but the Eagles managed only one more field goal the rest of the way against the Huskies, now 5-0. Eastern fell to 2-3 on the season heading into home games Monday (Nov. 27) against 4-0 Cal State Fullerton and Wednesday versus Eastern Oregon (Nov. 29). Tipoff in both games is 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
"There is no question about that," said Burns, acknowledging that his team has improved with every game this season. "We have a very talented and deep team. Our players have a lot of heart and, when they play as hard as they did against Washington, they are going to be difficult for anybody to beat."
Eastern was out-rebounded 48-37, and allowed the Huskies to score 19 second-chance points off 17 UW offensive rebounds. But even more disappointing to Burns was his team's shooting in the second half as the Eagles made just 32 percent after sinking 52 percent in the first. Stuckey made 10 of his first 17 shots, but missed his next five as he eventually finished 11-of-25.
"Part of the way they got some of their rebounds in the second half was that we missed a lot of shots," said Burns. "We had some open looks that were an eyelash from going in. But again, I'm proud of the effort our team put forth."
Although Washington scored 24 points off turnovers, Eastern had just 16 turnovers total against the Huskies. In the last three meetings against Washington, the Huskies had forced an average of 20.3 turnovers and had scored an average of 28.3 points per game off those miscues. In EWU's first three games this season, the Eagles had 62 turnovers and opponents had turned them into 69 points.
But after already suffering a narrow 82-79 loss at UNLV this season, Burns isn't looking for moral victories.
"The 12 faces in our lockerroom aren't necessarily overly interested in moral victories either," he said. "We took a step forward tonight. And it was a necessary step. They get out and pressure things defensively and we knew we needed to move the ball efficiently without turning the ball over. We did that and are getting better."
Butorac played only 24 minutes after missing the last 4 1/2 minutes of the first half and the opening 4 1/2 minutes of the second half. He took an elbow from Washington 7-footer Spencer Hawes and Butorac's mouth needing seven stitches on the outside of his face and three on the inside of his mouth after his teeth severed his skin.
He made all three of his field goal attempts and 8-of-10 free throws. He also blocked three shots to give him 80 in his career and break the previous record of 79 held by Chris White (1998-00).
"He had a great game," said Burns. "(Without the injury) he probably would played close to 30 or 32 minutes tonight. It hurt us, but that's where the depth of our team helps. We had Kellen Williams and Brandon Moore step in and step up. They did a nice job. This team can take a blow to the mouth like Paul took and we can still rebound from it."
Eastern used a pair of 6-0 runs in he first half to take a 23-17 lead, only to have Washington erase it with a 12-0 run of its own. But Eastern took command again with a 21-4 run led by Stuckey's 13 points. His three-point play with 3:19 left put the Eagles up 47-35 and gave him 21 points for the half.
But Washington scored the last 11 points of the half to pull within one at intermission. The first 15 minutes of the second half featured 11 lead changes and five ties before Washington sophomore Justin Dentmon took over for the Huskies. His three-pointer with 2:10 to play following an Eagle turnover gave the Huskies an insurmountable 84-78 lead. Dentmon scored 19 of his points in the second half as he finished with 23 to lead five Huskies in double figures.
"Justin Dentmon is only a sophomore but he plays almost like a senior for them," said Burns. "He's a veteran guy and stepped up down the stretch. I thought he made some huge baskets in the last six minutes of the game and that was the difference."
"We missed a couple of layins and had some opportunities," Burns added of the endings to both halves for his Eagles. "It's the little things that we need to shore up. If we close out both halves, we win this game tonight. It also speaks to the quality of our opponent. They are the 16th-ranked team in the country and they are used to winning games in this building. We have to keep putting our best foot forward."
Cal State Fullerton will be another daunting opponent on Monday for the Eagles. The Titans are 4-0 after a 91-89 overtime win at Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday. They feature a talented backcourt that includes senior Bobby Brown, who has averaged 24.7 points per game in victories over EWU in each of the last three seasons.
"They are an extremely talented team," said Burns. "That backcourt might be as talented as the backcourt we saw against Washington. It's just as tough. The good news is that the game is on our floor and hopefully we will be able to rally our students, get them in the building and make a little noise. If we play with the effort we played with against Washington defensively, we'll be alright."