Feb. 11, 2008
The two seniors will play the final home games of their EWU careers when the hard-luck Eagles host Weber State and Idaho State as the Big Sky Conference men's basketball season nears an end for Eastern. Weber State visits Thursday (Feb. 14) and Idaho State comes to town on Saturday (Feb. 16). Both games begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time in Cheney, Wash.
Last week's road split -- including a 59-57 win over Sacramento State followed by a 68-64 loss to Northern Arizona -- gave Eastern a 4-8 mark in the Big Sky and 9-17 record overall. Although the Eagles had snapped a four-game losing streak with a 59-57 triumph over Sacramento State on Thursday (Feb. 7), Eastern's Big Sky Tournament hopes were dealt another blow with the disappointing loss to NAU. The Eagles rallied from a pair of 13-point deficits in the second half only to come up empty in the final 17 seconds on a pair of possessions with at least a chance to tie the game.
That loss was the fifth league setback by four points or less for the Eagles. Eastern's eight league losses are by an average of 7.8 points per game, and just 6.3 if an 80-61 loss at Montana is eliminated. At home, Eastern has lost three games by margins of four, seven and two (average margin of 4.3).
"We anticipated close games all along," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We knew that where we finished in the league depended a lot on how we did in those games that came down to the last few possessions. We didn't win as many of those as we would have liked, but I don't know how many of them we would have done anything different in terms of a game plan. A lot of times it just comes down to one team making a shot and one team missing a shot."
With just four games left to play, the Eagles are currently tied with Northern Colorado for seventh in the league standings and are two games out of sixth place. Only the top six teams in the league advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament, which is hosted by the regular season champion.
"We're backed into a corner and have to win," said Earlywine. "I don't think making the conference tournament is out of the question, but we have to win the game on Thursday. We have to treat that one as an elimination game, and in each game subsequent to that we will be facing the same situation."
Ahead of the Eagles are the 5-5 Montana and Montana State, teams that swept EWU home and away during Eastern's four-game losing streak. Idaho State is fourth at 6-4 and 9-14 overall heading into Thursday's game at league-leading Portland State (8-2). Defending regular season and tournament champion Weber State is second in the league as it enters Thursday's game 7-3 in the conference and 12-10 overall.
The Eagles close the regular season at Northern Colorado on Feb. 23 and at Portland State on March 4, and need at least three wins and some help to get into the Big Sky tournament. The seniors will no doubt have a say in what transpires in the next two weeks, primarily the 6-foot-4 Williams.
The 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., has nearly averaged a double-double at home this season, with averages of 16.1 points and 9.3 rebounds on 55 percent shooting from the field. For the season, Williams is averaging 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds on 51 percent shooting to make him a bonafide candidate for All-Big Sky Conference honors. He has averaged 9.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and has made 52 percent of his shots in his 83-game career (66 as a starter).
Hinton, a 2004 graduate of Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., is averaging 5.3 points this season and 5.6 in his 51-game EWU career (27 as a starter). Last year's Reese Court meeting against ISU was one to remember as he scored 24 points and hit a game-winning three-pointer with 2.6 seconds remaining in EWU's 82-79 victory over the Bengals. He made a school-record 6-of-6 three-pointers in the win versus ISU and 10-of-10 free throws in the first meeting when he finished with 13 points.
"We would like to see both of those players go out with wins," Earlywine said. "For what those two players have given our program and the university in terms of how they've conducted themselves and how they've played, I would hope the fans and students will come out and show some appreciation for these two players."
Eastern picked up its first Big Sky road win of the season last week in Sacramento, but Northern Colorado did the same with a victory at ISU. Sac State, UNC and EWU are now a collective 2-15 on the road in the league thus far, while all six of the other teams have recorded at least two road wins. Portland State and NAU lead the way with three road wins each.
Eastern, with six players who had never played NCAA Division I basketball before -- let alone a Big Sky Conference game -- hit its high point with a 3-2 league record in mid-January. At that time, Eastern was 8-12 overall and had won seven of its last 14 games after a 1-5 start to the season. Since the 3-2 start, Eastern has dropped five of its last six.
Before the Sac State victory, Eastern's last win was a 91-85 overtime victory over Northern Colorado on Jan. 17. Eastern's other league victories were home wins versus Sacramento State (76-52 on Jan. 5) and Portland State (58-57 on Dec. 22). The Eagles versus Vikings league match-up represented the earliest BSC start in school history for EWU. Portland State was picked to finish third in both preseason polls.
Eastern had a 15-14 finish to the 2006-07 season as the last three EWU seasons 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. Eastern became the first school since the league expanded in 1970-71 (it has had at least eight teams ever since), to have a .500 record and not place in the top six.
EWU, WSU, ISU in the Big Sky: Eastern features two of the Big Sky Conference's top 10 leading scorers in senior Kellen Williams (sixth, 13.6) and Adris DeLeon (10th, 12.1). Williams is also second in rebounding (8.4), eighth in field goal shooting (.509), 13th in steals (1.08) and first in minutes played (35.4). DeLeon is also sixth in assists (3.0) and eighth in free throw percentage (.773).
In addition, Milan Stanojevic leads the Big Sky with a total of 62 three-pointers made (2.4 per game to rank third) and ranks 25th in scoring (8.7). Brandon Moore, who has averaged 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in his last four games, is 10th in rebounding (5.6) and 10th in blocked shots (0.69).
Eastern's top team rankings are second in three-pointers made per game (7.5), second in turnover margin (+0.77 per game), third in free throw shooting (.728) and third in scoring defense (67.2). Eastern, with seven or less turnovers in three of its last seven games, is second in the league in turnovers committed with an average of 13.7 per game. However, Eastern is last in the league in field goal percentage (.402).
Weber State's Arturas Valeika leads the Big Sky in rebounding (9.2) and is also 18th in scoring (10.5) and seventh in field goal percentage (.510). The leading scorer for the Wildcats is Dezmon Harris, who is 17th in the league (11.0) with Kellen McCoy ranking 24th (8.8). McCoy and Harris are ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in free throw percentage (.803, .797) and both rank second in three-point field goal percentage (.456).
The Wildcats are second in the league in scoring defense (64.9), free throw percentage (.736), three-point field goal percentage (.377) and blocked shots (3.09).
Individually, Idaho State is led by Matt Stucki with an 11.6 scoring average that ranks 12th in the league, with Amorrow Morgan ranking 20th (9.8). Stucki also ranks fourth in the league in assists (3.78) and Logan Kinghorn is first in free throw percentage (.839) and 14th in rebounding (4.9).
Idaho State is ranked second in the league in field goal percentage defense (.434), but doesn't rank in the top four in any other categories. The Bengals are last in the league in three-pointers made per game (4.39) and three-point percentage (.303).
In league games only, Weber State has allowed 62.9 points per game -- tops in the league ahead of Idaho State at 64.4. The Bengals have allowed conference opponents to make just 40.5 percent of their shots against them -- tops in the league.
Previous Meetings: It started well, but the Eagles were swept in their first conference road trip of the season to fall to 2-3 in the league.
Eastern opened an early 18-4 lead against Idaho State, but the Bengals won 58-56. Two nights later, Weber State jumped out to an early 16-point lead and held off Eastern's second-half comeback for a 74-64 win that spoiled the Weber State homecoming for first-year Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. He is hoping for the same sort of reversal in fortunes that happened two weeks ago when Eastern followed a 19-point loss to Montana on Jan. 24 with a more respectable two-point loss to the Grizzlies on Feb. 3.
"Weber State kind of handed it to us pretty good a month ago in Ogden," he said of the WSU rematch. "The only two league games for us that haven't gone down to the wire were Weber State and Montana. We did a good job of bouncing back against Montana and playing better than we did the first time. We have to do the same thing now against Weber State."
Eastern fell behind at halftime 42-26 to the Wildcats as WSU's first-half performance included a 17-10 rebounding advantage and 12 points scored off eight Eagle turnovers. Eastern rallied to cut the lead to four in the second half, but Weber State hit eight of their next nine shots to finish with a 56.3 percent shooting night -- the highest percentage the Eagles had allowed in their first 19 games this season. Junior guard Adris DeLeon led the Eagles with 18 points, but he made only 5-of-14 shots from the field and had four turnovers. Four Weber State players scored in double figures (Dezmon Harris 17, Daviin Davis 16, Tyler Billings 11, Steve Panos 10) and Arturas Valeika had four points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Eastern missed three shots down the stretch with the ISU game up for grabs and also misfired on four free throws in the final five minutes that could have made a difference. Meanwhile, Idaho State made three free throws in the last 37 seconds to clinch its second league victory in as many tries. Milan Stanojevic had five three-pointers to finish with 19 points for EWU, and Idaho State junior Matt Stucki had 11 points and 10 assists to lead ISU. Logan Kinghorn, Lucas Steijn and Donnie Carson also combined for 38 points and 16 rebounds for the Bengals after entering the game with a combined average of just over 15 points and less than eight boards per outing.
Williams at 11 Career Double-Doubles and Counting: Senior Kellen Williams, playing in the final home games of his Eastern career this week, has 10 double-doubles in 26 games this season. Last week, he had 16 points and 13 rebounds to help Eastern defeat Sacramento State 59-57. Of the 11 double-doubles in his career, five have come at Reese Court where he is averaging 16.1 points and 9.3 rebounds this season on 54.5 percent shooting from the field.
Williams is just 6-foot-4 but ranks second in the Big Sky Conference in rebounding (8.4 per game), sixth in scoring (13.6), eighth in field goal percentage (.509) and 13th in steals (1.08). The 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., has 28 steals with 41 assists in 26 games. One of just two seniors on this year's team, he is also averaging a league-high 35.4 minutes per game.
Williams has averaged 17.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and has made 59.6 percent of his field goal attempts in EWU's nine victories this season. Eastern has used a total of 10 lineups this season, but the one constant has been Williams. He has started all 26 EWU games this season, and the next-most starts by an Eastern player are 23.
Williams had his eighth double-double against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17 to extend a pair of impressive streaks. He has now led Eastern in rebounding in 21 of 26 games this season, but had his streak of 16-straight games snapped at Montana on Jan. 24. Also versus UNC, he had extended his streak of scoring in double figures to 12-straight games dating back to Nov. 29 when he had a season-low two points against Santa Clara. He extended it to 13 versus Montana but had it snapped at MSU on Jan. 26.
He has scored in double figures in 20 total games this season and has been EWU's leading scorer eight times. He has had double-doubles in six of EWU's nine victories, and had five in a six-game stretch from Dec. 5 to Dec. 29. Eastern is 6-4 when he has a double-double.
In a 76-52 victory over Sacramento State on Jan. 5, Williams had a near triple-double with 22 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists. His double-double against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17 was a 21-point, 13-rebound effort in a 91-85 overtime win over Northern Colorado in which he played all 45 minutes.
"Kellen has been a workhorse," praised Earlywine. "I've pointed it out to him that it's going to become tougher as the season wears on. He has gone from a 14 or 15 minute role player a year ago to a guy who is the focus of the other team's scouting report. It's going to be harder and harder for him but he is more than able to step up to that challenge."
In his 83-game EWU career (66 as a starter), Williams has averaged 9.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game with a career field goal percentage of .522. He played one season at Highline Community College in the Seattle area before transferring to EWU as a sophomore.
He was selected as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week in late December after recording double-doubles in a pair of men's basketball victories over Portland, Ore., colleges. He had 16 points and 10 rebounds in EWU's 84-75 win over Portland on Dec. 17. He then had a season-high 19 points and 11 boards in EWU's 58-57 Big Sky Conference-opening victory over Portland State as he hit the game-winning shot with five seconds to play. He finished the PSU game with 11 rebounds and a season-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, including a trio of three-pointers and 4-of-6 free throws.
"We drew up an isolation for him and he did what a fifth-year senior is supposed to do," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine of Williams, who played all 40 minutes of the game. "He didn't bail out when there was contact -- he got himself balanced and took a man's shot that went in."
Williams was also selected to the All-Tournament team at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout after averaging 11.7 points and eight rebounds in three games. He had his second double-double of the year with 13 points and 11 rebounds in EWU's 64-62 win over Alaska-Anchorage. He had 17 points and 13 boards in a 59-51 win over UC Riverside on Nov. 15. He had 13 points and 11 rebounds against Kansas on Dec. 5, and then had 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds one game later at Idaho on Dec. 9. He had 14 points and nine rebounds in a season-low 25 minutes of action in EWU's 91-59 romp over Cascade on Dec. 14.
"Kellen is playing really well," said Earlywine after the Great Alaska Shootout. "He has played a ton of minutes by default. He is certainly earning those minutes at this point, and he has become a much better defender over the last two weeks. Early in the year he was getting his fair share of rebounds, but he wasn't blocking out on the defensive end. Now, he is not only rebounding but he is blocking out and preventing his man from getting offensive rebounds. He is our workhorse right now."
Shooting is Latest Woe Needing Improvement: While losing five of its last six games, Eastern has made just 39 percent of its shots from the field. Post players Kellen Williams, Brandon Moore and Matt Brunell have combined for 49.2 percent (60-of-122) shooting during that stretch, but the rest of the team has made only 33 percent (63-of-193).
The Eagles are now 6-1 when they shoot a better field goal percentage than their opponent and 3-16 when they don't. Only four times this season has EWU made at least 47 percent, and the Eagles have won all four of those games.
Even before last weekend, Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine was hoping for the same turnaround in offensive fortunes that he has seen in other facets of his team's performance this season. Rebounding is one example. Eastern was out-rebounded by just one against Montana on Feb. 3 (31-30) after getting out-boarded 36-15 a week earlier. Eastern was also out-rebounded 43-28 by Montana State in a 64-57 home loss on Jan. 31 but responded with a commanding 18-10 advantage in the first half over the Grizzlies three days later. Eastern followed that game by winning the rebounding battle against both Sacramento State (35-31) and Northern Arizona (41-31).
"There are times like I've felt like the little boy plugging the hole in the dike, and then another hole appears," Earlywine said. "When we've identified something as a weakness and something that we needed to improve on, this group has done a pretty good job of shoring up those areas."
"Now we have to improve our offensive efficiency," he added. "When you shoot below 40 percent, it puts so much pressure on your defense. It's unrealistic to expect your defense to get a stop every single possession. The other team is going to score some, so we need to find a way to make some baskets and find an efficient way of doing it."
Very Little Size in EWU Lineup, But Defense Impressive at Times: Eastern's defense has been impressive at times, allowing 59 or less points 10 times this season. In EWU's nine victories this season, the Eagles have held opponents to an average of 61.3 points per game. Overall, Eastern is allowing 67.2 to rank third in the Big Sky Conference.
In back-to-back games versus Portland State and UC Santa Barbara, EWU held those two teams to just 109 total points. The Eagles were superb at the end of those games, holding PSU without a field goal for the last 7:04 of the 58-51 victory. In that stretch, the Vikings missed their last five shots and had four turnovers. Eastern overcame a 12-point deficit in the second half against UCSB by holding the Gauchos without a field goal in the last 6:16.
"It's becoming evident that we are going to be in a bunch of grinder games that are going to end up being one or two possession games that are going to be a coin toss at the last media timeout," said Earlywine, whose team battled back against UCSB to come within four with 3:35 to play. "Every mistake is magnified in those games and every bucket is bigger."
"I think our guys are getting more comfortable in those type of games," he added. "The difference between winning the conference and finishing last in the conference is how you do in those six or eight games that come down to the last possession."
Eastern has just two players on its roster 6-foot-7 or taller, but the Eagles have gone from allowing 82.6 points per game a year ago to a current average of just 67.2 per game. Senior Kellen Williams, in fact, is just 6-4 but ranks second in the league in rebounding (8.4 per game).
"Our little guys are going to have to go out there and compete," said first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine. "That is the way it has been all year -- we can either use that as an excuse or we can find a way to win. We are going to have to deal with our size issues from time to time. When we do, we are going to throw out some hodge-podge lineups at our opponents and we have to go rebound by committee."
Turnovers A Positive at Home for Eagles: At home, Eastern is averaging just 11.9 turnovers and forcing 17.2 per game for a positive difference of 5.3 per game. On the road, Eastern is averaging 14.9 and is forcing just 12.4 for a negative difference of 2.5 per game.
At times, that turnover margin has equated to victories for the Eagles. Eastern is 7-5 when is forces more turnovers but just 2-12 when it doesn't. In Eastern's last seven games, the Eagles have had three performances of seven or less turnovers but have been victorious just twice.
Shooting at home and away also shows a huge difference. The Eagles are 6-5 at home where they have made 42.2 percent of their shots from the field. However, away from home EWU is just 3-12 on 38.4 percent shooting. For the season, Eastern has made 40.1 percent of their shots compared to 46.3 for their opponents.
"On nights that you struggle shooting at around 40 percent from the field, it becomes even more important that you don't waste possessions," Earlywine explained after EWU's Jan. 17 victory versus Northern Colorado in which EWU had only five turnovers. "Our guys are starting to understand that and value possessions on both ends of the floor. Early on this season we were really valuing defensive possessions and we slipped a little in that regard. But we've really started to value how important each possession is on offense in the Big Sky. We are probably going to be in a lot of close games and every turnover and bad shot is magnified."
Back to Second Half Rallies: After going three games from Jan. 26-Feb. 3 with a halftime lead -- and losing all three -- Eastern returned to its normal identity of being a second-half team. The Eagles rallied from a 31-25 deficit at intermission at Sacramento State on Feb. 7 for a 59-57 victory, then fell behind 37-26 at Northern Arizona. Eastern rallied from a pair of 13-point deficits in the second half against the Lumberjacks, only to lose 68-64 in the final seconds.
For the season, Eastern has held halftime leads in just seven of 26 games this season. Eastern has been out-scored by 104 points in the first half (851-747 for an average score of 33-29), but has been out-scored in the second half and in overtime by a total of just 18 points (896-878 for an average score of 35-34).
Rodney Stuckey Update: Former Eagle and NBA rookie Rodney Stuckey has had his career-best scoring games with 13 points in back-to-back Detroit victories versus Charlotte (113-87 on Feb. 10) and Portland (91-82 on Feb. 8). The Pistons have now won eight-straight games and have the second-best record in the league at 37-13. Stuckey has averaged 10.0 points and 3.6 assists in the last five games while making 54 percent of his shots from the field. In the 25 career games he has played since missing 25 games with a hand injury, Stuckey is averaging 5.4 points, 2.4 assists, 1.9 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game. Detroit's next game is Tuesday at Atlanta.
EWU-Weber State Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 18-32 against Weber State (18-33 all-time). The Eagles are 13-10 in Cheney, 3-22 in Ogden and 2-0 on neutral courts versus the Wildcats since 1983-84 (3-23 in Ogden all-time). Eastern's lone victories in Ogden came in 2005 (76-73), 2001 (81-70) and 2000 (90-78) when Eastern snapped the Wildcats' 30-game home winning streak, which at the time was the fourth longest in NCAA Division I.
The Eagles have won 12 of the last 26 meetings after losing nine-straight from 1992-1996. Eastern has defeated the Wildcats three times in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament (72-53 in 2004, 62-57 in 2002 and 83-67 in 1990). Last year, Eastern lost in Ogden 93-84 before winning in Cheney just 11 days later, 89-74. That started a stretch in which EWU won four of its last five games of the season, but failed to advance to the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Earlier This Season -- Weber State 74, Eastern Washington 64: Simply put, turnovers and rebounding spelled doom for the Eastern men's basketball team Jan. 12 at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah.
Weber State jumped out to an early 16-point lead and held off Eastern's second-half comeback for a 74-64 Big Sky Conference win that spoiled the Weber State homecoming for first-year Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine.
Eastern fell behind at halftime 42-26 as the Wildcats out-rebounded Eastern 17-10 and scored 12 of their points off eight Eagle turnovers. Eastern rallied to cut the lead to four in the second half, but Weber State hit eight of their next nine shots to finish with a 56.3 percent shooting night -- the highest percentage the Eagles had allowed in their first 19 games this season.
"We battled our butts off to get it from 16 down to four," said Earlywine, who spent seven previous seasons as a Weber State assistant coach. "But there are only so many moral victories."
Junior guard Adris DeLeon led the Eagles with 18 points, but he made only 5-of-14 shots from the field and had four turnovers in a season-high 38 minutes of action. Milan Stanojevic made a trio of three-pointers to finish with 11 points and three assists, but he was just 4-of-10 from the field. Eastern finished with a 42 percent shooting night.
Senior Kellen Williams added 11 points and six rebounds as he has now led Eastern in rebounding in 18 of 19 games this season, including a streak of 15-straight games. Eastern had a 20-11 rebounding advantage in the second half to win the battle in the game 30-28, but the 17-10 deficit in the first half was too much to overcome.
Eastern finished with a respectable total of 15 turnovers, but Weber State capitalized and scored 20 points off of them. Four Weber State players scored in double figures, led by Dezmon Harris with 17.
"We not only turned it over, but we turned it over to them for layups," said Earlywine. "We can't draw up a defense for that. We just can't throw the ball to the guys wearing the other color shirt. As ridiculous and simplistic as that may sound, it contributed to us getting beat."
"We compounded that by not competing on the backboards," he added. "We did in the second half and out-rebounded them, but in the first half we were completely out-competed. It's the coach's job to have the team ready, and we obviously weren't ready."
Weber State used an early 12-2 run to open a 19-6 advantage early. Weber State closed the half with a 10-2 spurt to open a 16-point at intermission thanks in part to 59 percent shooting from the field.
In the second half, Eastern held Weber State scoreless for a four-minute stretch during an 11-0 run, with Stanojevic hitting a pair of three-pointers and DeLeon adding one of his own. That cut the score to 48-44 with 12:37 to play.
But the Wildcats scored on a pair of layups -- one on a fastbreak after an Eagle turnover -- to ignite a 12-3 run that bumped the lead back to 13. The closest EWU came after that was eight.
EWU-Idaho State Series History (Since 1983-84): Eastern has won 16 of the past 23 meetings against the Bengals, including a sweep in the 2001-02, 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. Idaho State swept the Eagles in the regular season in 2002-03, but Eastern won the third meeting by a 76-67 score in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Last year, Eastern lost 78-65 in Pocatello before rebounding for an 82-79 home win.
Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 27-24 against the Bengals, including an 18-7 record in Cheney and 8-16 mark in Pocatello (1-1 on neutral courts). Eastern lost eight-straight games to ISU from 1993 to 1997, and leads in the all-time series 30-25 (20-6 in Cheney, 9-18 in Pocatello, 1-1 neutral).
Earlier This Season -- Idaho State 58, Eastern Washington 56: When Milan Stanojevic gets hot, so does Eastern.
But two hot stretches, including an 18-4 start and a late 8-2 run, weren't enough to give the Eagles a rare Big Sky Conference road win as Idaho State held off the Eagles 58-56 Thursday Jan. 10 at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.
Eastern missed three shots down the stretch with the game up for grabs and also misfired on four free throws in the final five minutes that could have made a difference. Meanwhile, Idaho State made three free throws in the last 37 seconds to clinch its second league victory in as many tries.
"This one is pretty tough to take especially when you get out to an 18-4 lead," said first-year EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine. "Credit Idaho State -- they made plays to win it and we didn't make the right plays."
Stanojevic had five three-pointers to finish with 19 points, making 7-of-14 shots from the field to lead three Eagles in double figures. Senior Kellen Williams played all 40 minutes and finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. Adris DeLeon scored 13 points and had four assists before having to leave the game in the final minute with an ankle injury.
Idaho State junior Matt Stucki, who scored 18 points and had eight rebounds in a home win over EWU last year, had 11 points and 10 assists to lead ISU on Thursday. However, Logan Kinghorn, Lucas Steijn and Donnie Carson also combined for 38 points and 16 rebounds after entering the game with a combined average of just over 15 points and less than eight boards per outing.
Despite holding the Bengals to 40 percent shooting from the field, Eastern allowed Idaho State to grab seven offensive rebounds in the second half and 10 in the game. Eastern made only 38 percent of its shots and was just 5-of-10 from the free throw line.
"Those extra possessions are huge," said Earlywine of ISU's offensive rebounds. "Maybe fatigue became a part of it -- when you guard them for 30 seconds and give up an offensive rebound, you then have to guard them for another 30 seconds. That becomes tiring. Those offensive rebounds were a very big part of their second half."
Eastern jumped out to an 18-4 lead as Stanojevic scored eight early points. At that point, Eastern was 7-of-14 from the field and ISU was just 1-of-11. But in the last 10 minutes of the half, Idaho State out-scored Eastern 12-4 and took a 26-22 lead at halftime. The Bengals made 9-of-14 shots in that stretch while EWU made only 2-of-14.
"What allowed them to get back into the game was our stupidity more than anything else," said Earlywine. "I guess this is another hurdle for us. We have not been in a situation too many times this year where we have had to deal with prosperity. We got off to an early lead and then abandoned what we were doing to get the lead. Consequently, they went on a 22-4 run to end the first half."
The second half was close throughout until Weber State surged ahead to take its biggest lead of the night at 51-45 with 4:14 to play. But behind a pair of treys by Stanojevic, Eastern pulled back to a 53-all tie with 2:11 to play.
Idaho State then followed with a 5-1 run, including a basket by Steijn and three free throws by Carson. Eastern had a chance to tie, but Stanojevic missed an off-balance three-pointer with 24 seconds to play.
"He shot the ball well tonight but he forced that one," said Earlywine. "He felt like we needed a three but we didn't. The big part of it was we didn't execute our out-of-bounds play the way we were supposed to. That's what happens when you don't execute and do what you are coached to do. You end up losing games like this."
Not having DeLeon on the floor at that particular juncture of the game made a difference.
"He did a really good job tonight of utilizing ball screens," Earlywine said. "When he came out of the game, the mistake we made came on the ensuing out-of-bounds play. We didn't execute coming off the ball screen, and Adris had been doing that and causing them a lot of problems. That very well could have made a difference, but those things happen."
MORE EWU NOTES
Eagles Picked to Finish In Back of the Pack: Defending Big Sky Conference Champion Weber State is the coaches' pick to repeat as men's basketball champion, while the media like the Montana Grizzlies to win it all in 2007-08. Both preseason polls were released Nov. 1 by the Big Sky Conference.
Northern Colorado is in its second year in the Big Sky Conference. Unlike 2006-07, the Bears are eligible to compete in the conference tournament. The top six finishers in the regular season will advance to the postseason tournament, which begins on Saturday, March 8 with first-round games. The semifinals and championship will be played March 11-12 at the site of the regular-season champion.
School (First-place votes) - Points
1. Weber State (4) - 60
2. Montana (4) - 57
3. Portland State (1) - 52
4. Northern Arizona - 44
5. Idaho State - 37
6. Montana State - 33
7. Northern Colorado - 19
8. Eastern Washington - 15
9. Sacramento State - 12
School (First-place votes) - Points
1. Montana (14) - 218
2. Weber State (8) - 200
3. Portland State (2) - 183
4. Northern Arizona (2) - 155
5. Montana State - 114
6. Idaho State - 111
7. Sacramento State - 74
8. Northern Colorado - 56
9. Eastern Washington - 55
Eagles Lose Halftime Leads After Rarely Having Them: In Eastern's first 21 games of the season, Eastern had halftime advantages just three times and was out-scored by a total of 112 points. But in the second half and overtime, Eastern had advantages or been tied in 12 of those games with an overall advantage of six points.
But all of that changed in the next three games, starting when Montana out-scored Eastern 37-28 in the second half on Jan. 24 in Missoula. In those games, Eastern had leads at halftime and with 10 minutes left in all three of them, and in the first two Eastern had leads with five minutes left. Those were the first times this season Eastern has lost in those three situations, giving them records of 4-3 at halftime, 5-3 with 10 minutes left and 6-2 with five remaining.
Eastern led Montana State at halftime 44-27 on Jan. 26, but lost 74-69 when the Bobcats rallied from deficits of 20 points in the first half and 19 in the second half. In a rematch on Jan. 31, the Eagles led 33-27 at halftime before falling 64-57. And after leading Montana 26-24 at halftime and 45-44 with 10 minutes to play, Eastern lost 59-57.
All totaled, Eastern out-scored the Bobcats and Grizzlies in the first half 103-78 and were out-scored 119-80 in the second half. Including the Montana game on Jan. 24, Eastern was out-scored by 48 points (156-108) in the second half during a four-game losing streak.
Eastern's first halftime lead of the season came in a 65-54 win at Missouri-Kansas City on Dec. 3 when the Eagles led 34-21 at intermission. The team's only other halftime leads were 36-22 versus Sacramento State on Jan. 5 and against Cascade on Dec. 14 by a 60-30 margin just one game after falling behind at intermission 26-17 against Idaho. Eastern has had three first-half performances of 19 or fewer points this season.
Against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17, Eastern trailed 38-36 at intermission, but had a 35-33 edge in the second half and a 20-14 advantage in overtime. A week earlier, Eastern out-scored Idaho State 34-32 after trailing 26-22 at halftime. Against Weber State, Eastern had a 38-32 advantage after intermission following a 42-26 deficit at intermission. The Eagles actually led 18-4 early against the Bengals, but were out-scored 22-4 the rest of the half.
Three of Eastern's victories -- Portland, Alaska Anchorage and UC Riverside -- featured second-half comebacks after trailing at intermission. In those three outings combined, Eastern was out-scored by 18 points in the first half (95-77) before turning the tables for a 37-point advantage in the second half (130-93).
Versus Portland on Dec. 17, Eastern used a 52-39 scoring advantage in the second half to rally from a four-point halftime deficit. A 13-2 run in the second half was the turning point in the 84-75 victory.
Against Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 24, Eastern fell behind at halftime for the seventh time in seven games by a 26-23 margin. But the Eagles went on a 19-4 run to overcome the three-point halftime deficit and open a 12-point lead. Although Eastern had to hold off a furious rally by the Seawolves, EWU outscored them 41-36 in the second half.
In Eastern's first victory this season, a 59-51 triumph over UC Riverside on Nov. 15, Eastern held the Highlanders to 18 points in the second half as new EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine recorded his first official win. Eastern made only 21 percent of its shots in the first half in falling behind by as many as 14 and 33-22 at halftime, but held UCR without a point for a nearly seven-minute span in the second half.
In another game, a 79-75 loss to Northern Arizona on Jan. 3, Eastern rallied from a 20-point deficit in the second half in a game in which the Eagles trailed early 10-0 and at halftime 42-29. Eastern out-scored the Lumberjacks 30-17 in the final 9:50.
"1" Was Nearly as Impressive as "42" for Big Sky Player of the Week Adris DeLeon: The 42 points were impressive, but the number "1" was also what caught the eye of first-year Eastern Washington University head coach Kirk Earlywine when looking at the statistical line of junior guard Adris DeLeon against Northern Colorado on Jan. 17.
The "point-a-minute" man poured in 42 points -- the third-most in school history -- as the Eagles cooled off one of the hottest teams in the league by defeating Northern Colorado 91-85 in overtime. That, as well as having just one turnover in 42 minutes of action, helped DeLeon share Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors with Weber State's Dezmon Harris.
He averaged 23.4 minutes in 13 non-conference games as his minutes increased as Earlywine's confidence in DeLeon increases. Following the win over UNC, DeLeon had averaged a turnover every 12.7 minutes in league play after having one every 10.1 minutes in the non-league season. Eastern had just five team turnovers against the Bears.
"I get the feeling that Adris is getting a little better and a little better with every game," said Earlywine. "It's not just the points he put up, but it's the decisions he is making. He only had one turnover in 42 minutes and that pleased me almost as much as his production."
DeLeon, who earned his nickname "2 hard 2 guard" on the streetball circuit in New York City, hit 14-of-28 shots from the field and 11-of-16 free throws. He made just 3-of-10 three-point attempts as most of his points came on drives to the basket. Eastern had a season-high 46 points in the paint, beating its previous most by 10.
The only scoring performances better in school history were the school-record 45 that current Detroit Piston scored against Northern Arizona on Jan. 5, 2006, and the 44 David Peed scored versus UC-Irvine on Dec. 13, 1988.
The 42 points DeLeon scored equaled the 19th-most in Big Sky history. In fact, he and Stuckey have the only performances of 42 or more in the league in the last seven seasons.
"I didn't even realize that he had 42," said Earlywine. "We're trying to get him to understand that he has to play with efficiency on offense. Take 20 shots to get 20 points. He's getting a little better and guys are really learning how to play with him. Obviously 42 points -- that was the difference in the game."
Eastern rallied from a late seven-point deficit in regulation as a three-pointer by Milan Stanojevic with 23 seconds to play helped send the game in overtime. Eastern then scored 12-straight points in overtime and cruised to the win.
Had it not been for a missed point-blank shot at the buzzer by UNC's Neal Kingman after an offensive rebound, DeLeon's effort would have all for naught.
"It was a tremendous sense of relief because they missed a put-back at the end of regulation that could have won it, said Earlywine. "It got lost in our exhilaration of winning and having Adris score 42 points. We lost sight of the fact we made a mistake on the last possession that allowed them an offensive rebound. He probably makes that shot 98 times out of 100, so we were very fortunate to win that game."
Against UNC, 89 of 91 Points Scored by Quartet: Four Eagles -- Adris DeLeon, Milan Stanojevic, Kellen Williams and Brandon Moore -- combined for all but two of EWU's 91 points in Eastern's 91-85 overtime victory over Northern Colorado.
DeLeon scored 42, Stanojevic had 12 and Moore finished with 14. Williams had his eighth double-double of the season with 21 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Moore played 38 minutes, DeLeon and Stanojevic logged 42 and Williams played all 45 minutes.
"Kellen Williams continues to do more than I think any of us thought he would," said first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine. "Maybe the biggest thing in that game was that we received production from Brandon that we desperately need. We are starting to get a good idea of what we are going to get from Milan and Adris on a daily basis, and we know what Kellen is giving us. But we need Brandon to get us double figure points in each game, and that's going to be a product mostly of him staying out of foul trouble."
After Having Just Five Against UNC, Turnovers Key in Eagle Victories: In more than 20 years of coaching basketball, first-year Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine can't remember a team of his having fewer turnovers. But he was there for the last time the Eagles had such a low number.
The Eagles had only five turnovers in EWU's 91-85 overtime win over Northern Colorado on Jan. 17, matching the number Eastern had on Feb. 16, 2006, in a 76-73 win over Weber State in Ogden, Utah. Earlywine was as an assistant coach at Weber State under Joe Cravens in that game, one of just three victories EWU has ever had in Ogden in a current total of 26 games.
"I'm not sure if I've ever been in a game where the team I was coaching only had five turnovers -- especially in an overtime game," he said. "That was very pleasing to me. I'd take nine victories just like it if we can limit our turnovers like that. To keep it at five is excellent."
Eagles Start Attempt at Repeating History by Avoiding It: First-year head coach Kirk Earlywine has a little bit of history on his side that he was quick to point out when he was introduced as EWU's head coach last June. He is hoping that Eastern can contend for the Big Sky regular season title a year after not even qualifying for the conference tournament.
"The last three years in the Big Sky, the team that won (the regular season conference title) and hosted the (six-team) tournament was not in the tournament the year before," he explained, citing the success of Weber State (2007), Northern Arizona (2006) and Portland State (2005). "I don't see any reason why we can't make it four in a row and be hosting the Big Sky Tournament at Reese Court next March."
With Fifth-Highest Strength of Schedule, EWU Plays Nine of First 11 on the Road: Eastern's first 11 games -- all taking place in a month-long span from Nov. 9 to Dec. 9 -- included nine road games. Thankfully, the second month of the season -- Dec. 10 to Jan. 9 -- included exactly zero road games.
To make matters more difficult was the fact EWU had one of the toughest strength of schedule ratings in NCAA Division I, with a ranking of fifth in the Sagarin computer ratings at one point during that stretch.
Eastern lost to 10th-ranked Washington State 68-41 on Nov. 9 and fell 85-47 at No. 3 Kansas on Dec. 5 in games against Pacific 10 Conference and Big 12 Conference foes, respectively. The game against the Jayhawks equaled the highest-ranked team Eastern has ever played.
Eastern also lost five other games to teams from high-level leagues -- 82-68 to Washington of the Pacific 10, 69-52 to Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast, 61-53 to Michigan of the Big 10, 92-57 to New Mexico of the Mountain West and 66-57 to Santa Clara of the West Coast.
Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins: In the last nine seasons (including this season), Eastern has entered Big Sky Conference play with a collective 45-67 (.401) record. Those difficult schedules have yielded a 79-51 (.608) Big Sky Conference record in that span (through games of Feb. 10). Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last eight years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.
This year, Eastern entered conference play 5-8, which compares favorably to the previous eight seasons (in order) -- 6-6, 5-8, 3-10, 4-9, 8-6, 6-8, 5-5, 3-7. One of Eastern's worst pre-conference records was in 2003-04 (4-9), yet resulted in an 11-3 league mark, Big Sky regular season and tourney titles and the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. In the 1999-2000 season -- EWU's final season under former head coach Steve Aggers -- the Eagles were just 3-7 before sharing the Big Sky Conference regular season title with Montana as they both finished 12-4 in conference play.
Eagles Get First Great Alaska Shootout Victory During Difficult Stretch: The Eagles won for the first time in six all-time games at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout with a 64-62 victory over host Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 24. Eastern also lost by 17 to Virginia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference (69-52) and by eight to Michigan of the Big 10 Conference (61-53) as Eastern continued to show improvement against some difficult opposition.
Eastern's 19-4 run to start the second half was the key in Eastern's win over the Seawolves, a NCAA Division II team who failed to defeat a Division I foe in their tournament for only the sixth time in 30 tournaments. EWU was led by the 13 points and 11 rebounds by senior Kellen Williams.
"I don't think everybody appreciates how good of a win that was over Alaska-Anchorage," said Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine. "They have a really good team, and two great players. The Great Alaska Shootout has been going on for 30 years, and 24 of those years Anchorage has beaten a Division I team in that tournament. Although they are a Division II team, that was certainly not a gimme win. They are a very good Division II team to begin with and they played on their home court with their home crowd. It was a good win, and I was happy with that."
Eastern started the season 1-5, including losses by 27 points to Washington State of the Pacific 10 (68-41), 35 to New Mexico of the Mountain West (92-57) and 14 to Washington of the Pac-10 (82-68). Eastern's lone win in that stretch was a 59-51 victory at home over UC Riverside on Nov. 15 when the Eagles rallied from a 14-point deficit.
Eastern's first two opponents (WSU and UNM) had a 41-25 record last year, including a 26-8 record and NCAA Tournament appearance by the Cougars. Washington, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Alaska Anchorage all had at least 19 victories a year ago, and collectively were 82-47. Like Washington State, Virginia Tech also advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I was happy with the trip in general," said Earlywine of his team's trek to Alaska. "We were competitive against Virginia Tech -- we played better against Virginia Tech than we did the previous game against Washington. We were even better against Michigan than Virginia Tech, and we were within one point with a minute and a half to go. We got better each game in Alaska, and that is what we went up there to do."
Tough Early-Season Schedule a Formidable Task for Earlywine and Undermanned Eagles: This early stretch of difficult games has provided a formidable task for first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine, who was named as head coach at EWU on the late date of June 14, 2007. He pieced together a makeshift roster built around returning starter Kellen Williams and returning letter winners Brandon Moore and Marcus Hinton.
Besides those three players, EWU's roster entering the season included one 2006-07 redshirt and nine newcomers. However, three of the new players are transfers and are not eligible to play this season. In addition, walk-on Blake Solomon would have been a 10th newcomer but he had to leave the team because of his wife's health.
That left the Eagles with 10 available players, and freshman Petar Milasinovic is redshirting after suffering early season ankle and rib injuries. Returning redshirt Jack Loofburrow missed Eastern's first five games with a foot injury and has played sparingly since then.
Thankfully, Adris DeLeon was cleared to play by the NCAA over questions regarding his junior college transcripts. His appeal was approved on Nov. 9 in time for him to play that night against Washington State, giving EWU eight players in uniform.
DeLeon was not eligible prior to that, but the seven players Eastern did have available helped engineer a 91-49 romp over NCAA Division III Pacific in an exhibition game on Nov. 3. Five scored in double figures, led by the 25 of true freshman Trey Gross who was making his collegiate basketball debut.
Focus on Offense Pays Dividends: The Eagles focused on defense early in the year, then spent more practice time on the offensive end. It showed in a pair of games against Cascade and Portland.
On Dec. 9 in a disappointing 58-48 loss at Idaho, Eastern suffered through an almost unimaginable offensive drought. The Eagles went 16:10 without a field goal and missed 16-straight shots from the field. That outing left Eastern with a season scoring average of just 55.6 points per game.
But EWU responded to score 175 points in its next two games, including a 91-59 victory over Cascade on Dec. 14 and an 84-75 win over Portland on Dec. 17. Eastern made a season-high 56 percent of its shots from the field against the Pilots, shattering its previous high of 47 percent in a win at Alaska Anchorage on Nov. 24.
Particularly noteworthy was EWU's three-point shooting as six different players hit treys in those two victories. Eastern had a school-record 16 on 27 attempts in the victory over Cascade and followed that with an 11-of-22 performance versus Portland. Eastern made 27 of 49 three-point attempts in that two-game stretch after making just 2-of-11 against Idaho.
Regardless of the offensive success, first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine will continue to preach defense to his squad.
"Some nights it goes in and some nights it doesn't," said Earlywine. "That's why we have been spending 70 percent of our practice time on defense. I think our team at times becomes offensive sensitive, and when shots don't go in they don't guard as hard. We have spent a lot of time talking about that and working on it."
Eagles Versus Ranked Teams: Eastern is now 1-14 versus nationally-ranked teams -- including three games in the 2004-05 season alone as well as three the year before. Seven of the 13 games came under former head coach Mike Burns and five others came under Ray Giacoletti from 2000-2004.
12/5/07 vs. #3 Kansas - L, 47-85
11/9/07 vs. #10 Washington State - L, 41-68
12/15/06 vs. #22 Oregon - L, 74-100
11/24/06 vs. #16 Washington - L, 83-90
12/19/05 vs. #8 Gonzaga - L, 65-75
12/16/05 vs. #11 Washington - L, 74-91
12/28/04 vs. #14 Arizona - L, 45-79
12/21/04 vs. #13 Gonzaga - L, 70-83
12/5/04 vs. #14 Washington - L, 56-89
3/19/04 vs. #3 Oklahoma State - L, 56-75
12/31/03 vs. #16 Gonzaga - L, 49-70
11/21/03 vs. #14 Oklahoma - L, 59-69
11/15/01 vs. #10 St. Joseph's - W, 68-67
11/25/00 vs. #4 Michigan State - L, 61-83
1/21/85 vs. #10 DePaul - L, 50-72
Big Crowds: Eastern's first two games of the 2007-08 season drew crowds of 10,216 (at Washington State) and 12,016 (at New Mexico), marking the 16th and 17th times since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. The 18th came on Dec. 12 when Eastern lost to Kansas at legendary Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
In the 2006 season, the Eagles played in front of 10,000 at Washington after the previous two games there drew 9,876 (2005) and 9,418 (2004). In the 2004-05 season, Eastern played in front of a crowd of 14,535 fans at Arizona, 10,216 at Wichita State and 12,000 against Gonzaga. Three of the 10,000+ crowds also came in the 2003-04 season. Several other games have been played in the first game of pre-season tournaments that have drawn at least that many fans, but the Eagles haven't faced the host team.
Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win all 17 of those games in which it has played in front of at least 10,000 fans. Here is a list of those crowds:
16,840 - 3/19/04 vs. Oklahoma State - L, 56-75
16,374 - 11/15/02 vs. Wisconsin - L, 55-81
16,300 - 12/5/07 vs. Kansas - L, 47-85
14,759 - 11/25/00 vs. Michigan State - L, 61-83
14,535 - 12/28/04 vs. Arizona - L, 45-79
12,533 - 11/24/01 vs. Minnesota - L, 68-86
12,299 - 12/31/03 vs. Gonzaga - L, 49-70
12,016 - 11/12/06 vs. New Mexico - L, 57-92
12,000 - 12/21/04 vs. Gonzaga - L, 70-83
11,879 - 12/19/05 vs. Gonzaga - L, 65-75
11,268 - 11/21/03 vs. Oklahoma - L, 59-69
11,031 - 12/5/03 vs. Iowa - L, 54-70
11,000 - 12/22/02 vs. Gonzaga - L, 64-67
10,432 - 12/28/01 vs. Indiana - L, 60-87
10,216 - 11/20/04 vs. Wichita State - L, 62-80
10,215 - 11/9/06 vs. Washington State - L, 41-68
10,210 - 3/12/03 vs. Weber State - L, 57-60
10,000 - 11/24/06 vs. Washington - L, 83-90
Eagles 0-15 Versus Big 12: Eastern Washington has lost all 15 games it has played against current members of the Big 12 Conference, including an 0-4 record versus Nebraska. In the last three meetings against Big 12 foes, Eastern has played a nationally-ranked team. Here is the complete list:
12/30/80 - L - Nebraska - 68-82 - A
1/12/84 - L - Kansas State - 57-64 - A
1/14/84 - L - Nebraska - 71-105 - A
1/9/85 - L - Kansas State - 43-81 - A
12/16/88 - L - Missouri - 68-81 - A
12/21/91 - L - Nebraska - 67-102 - ~
12/2/94 - L - Colorado - 67-87 - #
11/29/97 - L - Baylor - 51-67 - A
11/20/99 - L - Baylor - 61-68 - A
12/18/99 - L - Colorado - 61-79 - A
12/16/00 - L - Kansas State - 56-70 - A
12/31/02 - L - Nebraska - 60-63 - A
11/21/03 - L - #14 Oklahoma - 59-69 - $
3/19/04 - L - #3 Oklahoma State - 56-75 - %
12/5/07 - L - #3 Kansas - 47-85 - A
~ -- Nebraska Ameritas Classic in Lincoln, Neb. (2nd)
# -- Mile High Classic in Boulder, Colo.
$ -- Sooner Invitational in Norman, Okla.
% -- NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. (first round)
A -- Away
Shootout Was Late Addition for New Coach: Under the duress of a short time frame in which to work, new Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine filled his roster and schedule for the 2007-08 men's basketball season during the summer months.
One of his decisions was to agree to become a last-minute replacement at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska. Eastern, which was 0-3 in its only other appearance in the Shootout in 2005, was a late replacement for Liberty in the eight-team tourney.
"The schedule was pretty much complete," Earlywine said at the time. "The wrinkle with the Great Alaska Shootout only added to my to-do list."
Eastern 12-66 Versus the Pacific 10 Conference: With losses to Washington each of the last five seasons and a 1-9 record all-time against the Huskies, Eastern is now 12-65 all-time versus current members of the Pacific 10 Conference. Eastern has a current eight-game losing streak versus the Pac 10 after losing at Washington State 68-41 on Nov. 9 and Washington 82-68 on Nov. 18.
Eastern's win at Washington in the 2002-03 season snapped a five-game losing streak versus Pacific 10 Conference opponents dating back to Eastern's 83-82 overtime win versus Washington State on Dec. 22, 1997, in Kennewick, Wash. That victory was Eastern's first-ever victory over a Pacific 8 or Pacific 10 Conference opponent since the inception of the conference in 1968. It was also Eastern's first win over Washington State since Dec. 1, 1952, when the Eagles pulled out a 72-71 overtime win in Pullman. The Cougars had led the all-time series 49-10 and had won 17-straight games over the Eagles prior to that EWU victory.
Prior to falling at 16th-ranked Washington 90-83 on Nov. 24, 2006, Eastern's last game against a Pacific 10 opponent was a 91-74 loss to 11th-ranked Washington on Dec. 16, 2005. In the 2004-05 season, Washington was ranked 14th in the nation and defeated EWU 89-56. The Huskies also prevailed 104-91 in 2003, but Eastern defeated the Huskies 62-58 in December 2002. Washington won the previous four meetings which all took place between 1990 and 1997.
Other recent meetings against the Pac 10 have yielded losses to Oregon (100-74 on Dec. 15, 2006), Arizona (79-45 on Dec. 28, 2004), California (56-27 on Nov. 16, 2001 and 94-63 on Nov. 25, 1998), Oregon State (58-50 on Dec. 19, 2000 and 78-62 on Dec. 15, 1999) and Washington State (91-72 on Dec. 5, 1998).
Earlywine on his EWU Debut Against Pacific: "I was excited and I was anxious -- I know the players were. We had a number of guys who have never played a Division I basketball game before tonight. And for that matter, I've never been a head coach in a Division I basketball game before so there was a little bit of anxiety on my part too. Mostly because I wanted our fans and our students to see a team on the floor that they were proud of. I think our guys played very, very hard. We were unselfish on the offensive end, which I really like. We gave an effort that our fans and our students can be proud of."
Earlywine on Trey Gross Against Pacific: "I'd like to say that he surprised me, but he really didn't. He did exactly what he's done in practice. He's been our most consistent perimeter guy in practice. He has terrific basketball savvy. I'd like to claim that that's coaching, but he showed up with that. For an 18-year-old to go out there and get those kind of numbers in his first game, albeit an exhibition game, it was still pretty impressive."
Earlywine on Piecing Together a Roster: "It's been very difficult after taking over in the middle of June. We granted a (letter of intent) release to anybody who asked for one and some of them chose to do that. During the course of the summer where I would normally be recruiting players for the following year, I was trying to piece together a roster for this year. It was the difficult, and the fact we added 10 new players to three returning players has made it very, very hard."
Earlywine on Yearly Goal to Win Big Sky: "I don't want to term it a rebuilding year and I don't want to say that there is a three-year plan or a four-year plan or anything like that. I think that would be a tremendous disservice to Kellen Williams and Marcus Hinton -- our two seniors. When I took the job I said our goal every year would be to win the Big Sky. The past three winners of the Big Sky were teams that were not in the conference tournament the year before. We would like to make it four. I haven't seen anything yet from our guys that leads me to believe we aren't capable of doing that."
Earlywine on Familiarity with the Big Sky: "There were five new coaches last year, so I don't know the league as well as you think I would being only one year removed. Familiarity of the road trips will be a little bit of an advantage. More than anything else I think maybe its more of an advantage in terms of recruiting knowing what level of player we need to win this league and not wasting time chasing guys that are going to sign higher or ones that maybe aren't good enough to win in this league. When you go to a new league there is a feeling out process with recruiting that I don't have."
EWU in Exhibitions: Eastern has won its last 12 exhibition games, which are contests that do not count in EWU's season record or statistics, dating back to the last loss on Nov. 13, 1999, to the Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder. In that 73-71 loss, former Pepperdine player Shann Ferch made a three-point play with 19 seconds to lift NBC to the win. Here is a list of recent exhibition games:
11/3/07 - Pacific - W, 91-49
11/4/06 - Northwest Nazarene - W, 98-55
11/13/05 - UC-San Diego - W, 75-44
11/13/04 - Central Washington - W, 79-63
11/12/03 - Ukraine Touring Team - W, 83-55
11/7/03 - Northwest Sports - W, 100-79
11/7/02 - Northwest Basketball Camp (NBC) Thunder - W, 99-72
11/1/02 - Northwest Sports - W, 117-73
11/2/01 - NBC Thunder - W, 108-106
10/10/01 - Alumni - W, 94-85
11/14/00 - SON Blue Angels - W, 90-78
11/4/00 - NBC Thunder - W, 72-63
11/13/99 - NBC Thunder - L, 71-73
11/5/99 - The Hoop USA - W, 106-64
A Look at the 2007-08 Eagles: Just three short years ago in 2004, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball program was basking in the glow of playing in its first-ever NCAA Tournament.
Now, it's the job of new Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine to return the Eagles to prominence after three EWU seasons that yielded a collective record of 38-49. In the 2006-07 season, the Eagles had their string of consecutive Big Sky Conference Tournament berths snapped at nine.
Earlywine has a little recent history on his side in that effort.
"The last three years in the Big Sky, the team that won (the regular season conference title) and hosted the (six-team) tournament was not in the tournament the year before," he explained, citing the success of Weber State (2007), Northern Arizona (2006) and Portland State (2005). "I don't see any reason why we can't make it four in a row and be hosting the Big Sky Tournament at Reese Court next March."
Eastern's program was rebuilt from 1995-2000 by Steve Aggers, then Ray Giacoletti took the program to new heights from 2000-2004 with a NIT Tournament berth in 2003 followed by the NCAA berth in 2004. Giacoletti was 69-50 overall and 41-17 in the Big Sky in his four seasons. His .707 winning percentage in conference games is fourth-best in the 44-year history of the league among coaches with at least four seasons at the helm.
Giacoletti and Earlywine share common threads in coming to Eastern. Both were assistants at large Division I schools (Giacoletti at Washington and Earlywine at Utah) and both had head coaching experience at NCAA Division II schools (Giacoletti at North Dakota State and Earlywine at Pfeiffer).
"With the tradition over the last nine or 10 years at Eastern with coach Aggers and coach Giacoletti, this is a place that has proven that it can win the Big Sky Conference," he said. "Unless you're in the top 20 or 25 where you're trying to get to the Final Four, every school should have as their goal to win their conference, and that will be our first and foremost goal every year."
Earlywine has added nine new players to three returning letter winners and a returning redshirt. The returning players include senior 6-foot-4 forward Kellen Williams, the lone returning starter who averaged 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in 2006-07. He is a 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, and played one year at Highline Community College in the Seattle area.
The other two players returning made their Eagle debuts last season.
Sophomore center Brandon Moore came off the bench in 26 of the 27 games he played. The 2005 graduate of Bethel High School in Graham, Wash., averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds while making 59.8 percent of his shots from the field. Eastern's biggest player at 6-9, 240 pounds, he was selected as the team's most inspirational player.
Marcus Hinton started nine of 25 games and was named the team's most improved player. The 6-3 guard finished the season with 33 points in his last two games, including 24 and the game-winning shot in an 82-79 win over Idaho State on Feb. 22. A 2004 graduate of Wilson High School in Tacoma, Wash., and transfer from Centralia (Wash.) Community College, Hinton finished with a 6.0 scoring average and made 14-of-25 three-point attempts.
Earlywine New Coach at Eastern: Eastern Washington's new head coach is Kirk Earlywine, a former assistant coach at Big Sky Conference rival Weber State.
Earlywine, 43, was named head coach on June 14, 2007, by EWU President Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo. He is the 16th head coach in the history of Eastern, which will celebrate its 100th recorded season of men's basketball in the 2007-08 season.
He comes to EWU after spending one season as the top assistant coach at UNC Wilmington - his 21st as an assistant at the NCAA Division I level. He also spent the 1995-96 season as a head coach at Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, N.C.
His 22-year collegiate coaching career includes seven seasons at Weber State where he worked as associate head coach on the staff of Joe Cravens. The Wildcats won 116 games while Earlywine was there - the most in the Big Sky in that span.
The 2002-03 Weber State team had a perfect 14-0 Big Sky finish. The Wildcats defeated Eastern 60-57 for the Big Sky title, then lost to Wisconsin 81-74 in the NCAA Tournament. The following season, Eastern advanced to its first-ever NCAA Tournament before going 38-49 the past three seasons under Mike Burns.
Earlywine's team at Pfeiffer was 21-8 overall and 14-4 in conference play to advance to the NCAA Division II Championships. It was the school's first season as a D-II member after playing previously as a member of the NAIA.
He took over the team in July 1995 with only two players returning and picked up a 71-62 first-round NCAA Division II Tournament victory over 12th-ranked N.C. Central. The season ended with a 49-47 loss to undefeated and No. 1 ranked Virginia Union in the regional semifinals.
Earlywine's first full-time post as an assistant coach came in 1987-88 under the colorful Rick Majerus at Ball State. He worked two seasons for Majerus in Muncie, Ind., including an outstanding campaign in 1988-89 that featured the Mid-American Conference title, a 29-3 record and a first-round victory over Pittsburgh in the NCAA Tournament.
Earlywine then followed Majerus to Utah in 1989-90 and stayed four seasons. In his second year in Salt Lake City, the Utes went 30-4, captured the Western Athletic Conference title and reached the "Sweet Sixteen" with a sterling 30-4 record. Utah advanced to the NIT Final Four in 1991-92 and captured the WAC championship once again in 1992-93.
His next stop as an assistant came in 1993-94 when Earlywine served on Leonard Drake's staff at Central Michigan. He spent two seasons with the Chippewas before landing his first head coaching job at Pfeiffer, where one of Earlywine's assistants was a young Benny Moss.
More than 10 years later, Earlywine's 21st year as a D-I assistant came in the 2006-07 season at UNC Wilmington where he worked for Moss.
Eastern Just The Fifth BSC School to Make Nine-Straight Tournament Appearances: Although its streak came to an end in the 2006-07 season, Eastern is just the fifth school in league history to make nine-straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern started the streak back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member of the conference.
Weber State had its string of 24-straight appearances stopped in 2005-06, and Montana had a string of 21-straight from 1978-98. The other streaks were 16 by Idaho (1981-96) and 11 by Nevada (1982-92). Two years ago, Eastern equaled the streak of eight by Northern Arizona (1997-04).
Interestingly, Montana's 77-69 victory over the Lumberjacks on Feb. 28, 2005, extended Eastern's streak and ended NAU's. Eastern's streak started in 1998 with an end-of-year victory at Montana. That "winner advance, loser eliminated" game ended Montana's 21-year streak.
Eastern is now 7-9 in 10 appearances in the league tournament. Eastern ended its season with losses to Montana in both 2005 and 2006, but the year before won the title with a 71-59 championship game victory over Northern Arizona.
Here is a list of Eastern's appearances in the Big Sky Tournament.
2006 - Semifinal (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #2 Montana - L, 71-73 (ot)
2006 - Quarterfinal (Cheney, Wash.) - #3 seed vs. #6 Portland State - W, 81-75
2005 - Quarterfinal (Missoula, Mont.) - #6 seed vs. #3 Montana - L, 48-58
2004 - Championship (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #2 Northern Ariz. - W, 71-59
2004 - Semifinals (Cheney, Wash.) - #1 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 72-53
2003 - Championship (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #1 Weber State - L, 57-60
2003 - Semifinals (Ogden, Utah) - #2 seed vs. #4 Idaho State - W, 76-67
2002 - Championship (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Montana - L, 66-70
2002 - Semifinals (Bozeman, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Weber State - W, 62-57
2001 - Championship (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #1 CS Northridge - L, 58-73
2001 - Semifinals (Northridge, Calif.) - #2 seed vs. #5 Northern Arizona - W, 58-53
2000 - Semifinals (Missoula, Mont.) - #2 seed vs. #3 Northern Arizona - L, 65-82
1999 - Quarterfinals (Ogden, Utah) - #6 seed vs. #3 Portland State - L, 74-80
1998 - Quarterfinals (Flagstaff, Ariz.) - #3 seed vs. #6 CS Northridge - L, 98-104 (ot)
1990 - Championship (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #1 Idaho - L, 62-65
1990 - Semifinals (Boise, Idaho) - #2 seed vs. #5 Weber State - W, 83-67
Four Eagle seniors - Paul Butorac, Rhett Humphrey, Neal Zumwalt and Derek Risper - played their final home games in EWU uniforms on Feb. 24 when Eastern beat Sacramento State 80-72. Including a 71-70 victory over UC Santa Barbara and an 82-79 win over Idaho State, Eastern ended the season with its first three-game winning streak of the season. The Eagles won four of their last five games.
The top six teams in the league advanced to the Big Sky Tournament. Eastern finished in a tie for fifth, but tiebreakers kept the Eagles out of the tourney for the first time since 1997. Regular season champ and tourney host Weber State went on to win the title and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Eastern is just the fifth school in league history to make nine-straight appearances in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern started the streak back in 1998 after making just one trip to the tourney in their first 10 seasons as a member.
With a home win over Weber State on Feb. 7, Eastern was 1-4 against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament (Weber State, Oregon, Gonzaga and UNLV). Oregon and UNLV both advanced to the Sweet 16.
Eastern played eight of its first 10 league games on the road, and Eastern won four of those games. During the brutal road stretch, Eastern logged 6,557 miles during the five-week stretch of games. Between Jan. 3 and Feb. 3, Eastern was on the road 19 of 32 days.
En route to earning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors for the third time in the 2006-07 season and the seventh time in his career, Rodney Stuckey scored a season-high 36 points in Eastern's 92-86 home loss against Portland State on Feb. 10. He scored in double figures in 58 of 59 games in his career, and was Eastern's leading scorer in all but seven. He had a streak of 15 in a row broken when Marcus Hinton made a game-winning three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left in EWU's 82-79 victory against Idaho State on Feb. 22. Hinton scored 24 and Stuckey had 23.
Setting a school record in the process, Marcus Hinton made a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds to play to give Eastern an 82-79 victory over Idaho State on Feb. 22. He made all six of his treys to break the school's single game percentage record that was previously held by Greg Gaulding with a 5-of-5 performance versus Gonzaga on Jan. 20, 1987. Hinton finished with a game-high 24 points after entering the game averaging just 5.1 points per game on the season. In Eastern's next game - an 80-72 win over Sacramento State - he scored all seven points in a 7-0 EWU run in the second half to give Eastern the lead for good. For the weekend, he made 12-of-17 shots (7-of-8 three-pointers) for 33 points in just 37 minutes of action.
Rodney Stuckey averaged 24.4 points in 59 career games - 24.8 as a senior and 24.2 as a junior - with a total of 1,438 points that moves him into fourth on EWU's all-time leaders list. It took him just 43 career games to join 14 others as the only Eastern players in school history to score 1,000 points in a career.
Eastern ranked third in NCAA Division I with an average of 84.2 points per game that was also the fourth-best average in school history. VMI was the nation's leader at 100.9 per game. Rodney Stuckey was seventh individually with an average of 24.6 points per game and 18th in steals with an average of 2.4. Eastern was also ranked sixth in assists (17.7) and sixth in field goal percentage (.495). Paul Butorac was eighth in field goal percentage (.640).
Eastern's average of 84.2 points per game was a pace that ranked just behind the school record of 90.0 set by the 1971-72 team. The 1970-71 squad averaged 86.3 and in 1975-76 Eastern averaged 85.2. The last time Eastern scored or allowed points in the 80's came in 1990-91 when the Eagles averaged 80.9 and allowed 82.0.
With 99 blocked shots in his career, Paul Butorac broke the school record of 79 held by Chris White (1998-00). He set the record against Washington on Nov. 27 when he had three blocks. Although no records exist for dunks, Butorac had 101 career dunks, including 41 as a senior. He had five at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3.
On his way to setting a total of 10 school records, Rodney Stuckey broke the school's career free throw record against Sacramento State on Jan. 25. He had 376 in his two-year career to break the school record of 317 set by Randy Buss from 1970-72. Stuckey's 465 attempts are second, just 34 from EWU's record of 499. He made 15-of-16 free throws against the Hornets, missing his final attempt that would have equaled the Big Sky and EWU records for single game free throw percentage (16-of-16) set by Jason Lewis on Jan. 27, 2001, against Weber State.
Although the final score wasn't indicative of how close the games actually were, Eastern's road games against Montana State (84-67 loss) and Montana (85-78 loss) featured 22 ties and 29 lead changes. Eastern won at UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 17 in a game that featured 15 lead changes and eight ties. Four of Eastern's losses were nail-biters, including a 102-98 loss at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 3 in which the Eagles held a three-point lead with 3:32 remaining. Eastern lost to then-16th ranked Washington 83-70 in a game that featured 13 ties and 16 lead changes before the Huskies pulled away. Eastern also narrowly lost at UNLV 82-79 after rallying from a 15-point deficit with 7 1/2 minutes to play. The Eagles opened Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 28 with an 82-79 loss to Montana State in which Bobcat Carlos Taylor made a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer for the win.