Eastern Holds off Vandals 69-59

Nov. 24, 2008

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The Eagles needed every bit of the advantage they built.

Eastern Washington opened an 18-point lead at halftime and went on to defeat Idaho 69-59 in a non-conference men’s basketball game Monday (Nov. 24) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Three Eagles scored in double figures, led by a double-double by center Brandon Moore with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Benny Valentine added 13 points and four assists and Milan Stanojevic chipped in 12 points as the Eagles won their third-straight game after a season-opening loss at Illinois.

Eastern plays at 4-0 Minnesota on Wednesday (Nov. 26) to conclude a stretch of four games in eight days for the Eagles. That game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.

"There is definitely a mindset and a skill to play with a lead like that," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine, whose team led by as many as 21 early in the second half. "I thought we played as well as we could in the first half. I was pretty sure that Idaho was going to make a run and I was curious to see our guys react to that run. Some of our reaction was good and some of our reaction was not quite so good. But it gives us something to work on."

The Eagles made 57 percent of their shots in the first half (13-of-23) while Idaho made just 35 percent (8-of-23) as EWU built a 41-23 lead at halftime. The second half was a different story as Idaho made 46 percent (11-of-24) and Eastern made only 38 percent (9-of-24).

Eastern went nearly six minutes without a field goal late in the second half as Idaho pulled to within six at 63-57 with 2:19 to play. But Eastern made its last six free throws, including four by Valentine, to close-out the win.

"It was good that we were tough enough down the stretch to hold on and make our free throws and not make too many turnovers," said Earlywine. "We got enough stops, but it felt like they were scoring and going to the free throw line every possession. I know that wasn't the case, but it sure feels like it when you have a lead and you want that clock to keep running."

The Eagles finished the game at 47 percent shooting from the field and 84 percent from the line (21-of-25). Eastern also out-rebounded the Vandals 33-25, with EWU finishing with 13 offensive rebounds to Idaho’s 11. The Eagles also had a 22-8 edge in bench points as Jeff Christensen and Trey Gross each contributed seven and Gary Gibson scored six.

"Our offensive rebounding was a huge key in the game," said Earlywine. "We missed 25 shots and got 13 offensive rebounds. We aim to get one-third of our misses back. Anytime you get half of them back, you are doing pretty good. It allowed us to milk more time off of the clock each time we got one."

Valentine, Eastern’s leading scorer with an 18.0 average per game through four contests, played just 29 minutes because of foul trouble. Earlywine said Idaho’s comeback was aided without EWU’s 5-foot-7 point guard on the floor.

"Idaho is quick and athletic all over the floor," he said. "So whenever we took Benny out of the game, it certainly made things more difficult for us in terms of getting a good shot."

The Eagles trailed early 4-0, but used a 13-2 run to take an early advantage. Andy Genao scored six points in the run and Milan Stanojevic had five as the Eagles took a 17-9 lead it would never relinquish.

Eastern led by seven at 25-18 when it made its next run, a 7-1 run that was scored entirely on free throws as EWU opened a 14-point advantage at 32-19 with 3:11 to play. The Eagles scored nine of the final 11 points of the half to take a 41-23 advantage at intermission.

Stanojevic led the way with 10 points in the first half and Brandon Moore added eight.

"A big part of that was the fact that we had our defense right in front of our bench," added Earlywine of his team’s first-half effort. "We could coach our guys through some of their sets. We had some key verbal phrases that we were using to alert our guys to what was coming. But in the second half we didn’t have that. I thought Idaho's execution of their offense was much better in the second half. We weren't quick as sharp defensively."

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