Dec. 21, 2006
Junior Kellen Williams scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field to lead the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team to an 85-56 victory over Idaho Thursday (Dec. 21) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., in the final non-conference game for EWU before starting league action.
The Eagles enter Big Sky Conference play next week with a 6-6 record. Eastern, picked to finish third in the league this season, hosts Montana State on Dec. 28 and Montana on Dec. 30 in a pair of games that begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The Vandals are 1-10 with a nine-game losing streak under first-year head coach George Pfeifer. The lone victory for the Vandals was a 74-66 win at South Dakota State on Nov. 16.
Williams made a pair of three-pointers and all four of his free throws, and added six rebounds and three blocked shots. His previous career high was 19 last year as a sophomore and his previous season high was 13 two games ago versus Santa Clara.
Sophomore Rodney Stuckey added 16 points, five assists and a career-high seven steals for EWU after playing just four minutes in his last outing because of back spasms. Paul Butorac added 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Omar Krayem finished with nine points, a career-high eight assists, three steals and five rebounds.
"It was nice to see some of our other guys step up," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "Kellen was huge in the first half. He banged in a couple of threes, and played with a lot of confidence and energy."
Krayem also provided the Eagles much-needed defense on Idaho leading scorer Keoni Watson, who finished with 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Watson also had five turnovers as the 56 points Idaho scored were the fewest Eastern has surrendered in 12 games this season.
"The thing I'm most proud of with Omar is that he played with defensive energy tonight," said Burns. "It's just simply an effort thing. If we give the effort we can be very good at it (man to man defense)."
Eastern held Idaho to 42 percent shooting, and out-rebounded the Vandals 35-33. The Eagles also forced 23 turnovers and had just 14 themselves. Eastern had 25 points off turnovers compared to just five for Idaho.
Idaho took its only lead of the game at 3-0, but Eastern quickly erased that and went up by double digits. Eastern led 20-12 when Idaho went scoreless for nearly five minutes as the Eagles went on a 13-0 run to build a 33-12 advantage.
"If we get out and after people and create some turnovers, that just kind of gets us rolling on offense," said Burns. "It's all kind of tied to that defensive effort."
Eastern led by as many as 22 in the first half, taking a 41-19 advantage at halftime. The Eagles led by as many as 29 in the second half (the final score of 85-56) and by no fewer 20.
Eastern's six losses have come to teams that have compiled a collective record of 49-14 entering the week, with five of them 8-3 or better. Eastern's difficult preseason schedule included losses to two teams ranked when EWU played them (Oregon, Washington) and one other that wasn't ranked but now is (Gonzaga). Another loss came to a UNLV squad that knocked off nationally-ranked and previously unbeaten Nevada. Those four teams are a collective 35-6 thus far (UO 10-0, UW 8-1, GU 9-3, UNLV 8-2). Eastern's other losses were to 9-3 Santa Clara and 6-5 Cal State Northridge.
Eastern's game versus the Bobcats on Dec. 28 is Cheney Free Press Family "Feast at Reese" Night. Fans can purchase popcorn, Pepsi and hot dogs for $1 each. Also, a half-price family admission price is available with a family of two adults and up to three children admitted for $9.
The Montana game on Dec. 30 is Global Credit Union night. The first 2,000 fans through the door get an Eagle pom-pom courtesy of Global Credit Union.
After those two home games, Eastern plays eight of its next 10 away from home during a road-heavy schedule in January and early February. The road stretch begins Jan. 4 at Northern Colorado in a game expected to be televised live in the Spokane area on KSKN Channel 22 starting at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern's final four conference games are at home at Reese Court.
Eastern will be trying to advance to its 10th-straight Big Sky Conference Tournament, which begins March 3. The current streak for the Eagles started in 1998 after Eastern made just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.
Eastern is coming off a season that saw it win seven more games than the 2004-05 EWU squad. Eastern finished 15-15 overall and 9-5 in the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles advanced to the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals, but lost to eventual champion Montana in overtime. The Grizzlies went on to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.