February 27, 2009

PSU Visits as Eagles Battle for BSC Survival

Feb. 27, 2009

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A victory Saturday (Feb. 28) is only a start to what remains of the postseason hopes for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team.

With its playoff picture much clearer -- and somewhat dimmer -- after a quartet of Big Sky Conference games the past two nights, Eastern takes the next step toward the league tournament when it hosts defending Big Sky regular season and tournament champion Portland State. Tipoff at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., is 7:05 p.m. as the Eagles will honor four seniors prior to the start of the game.

To get to the league tournament, Eastern will need to win Saturday to finish at 7-9 in the league, as well as root for 6-8 Montana State to lose at Northern Colorado on Sunday (March 1) and at home against Weber State next Tuesday (March 3). Other scenarios of making the tournament were wiped out Thursday when Northern Colorado defeated Montana 67-57.

Eastern could tie MSU and/or Northern Colorado for fifth at 7-9, but because those teams split their season series with each other, MSU would get the No. 5 seed by virtue of a win earlier this season against regular season champion Weber State. Northern Colorado would get the sixth and final berth because of its win over the Grizzlies.

Eastern could also tie MSU and/or Northern Arizona for the sixth and final berth at 6-10, but they also split their season series with each other. The next tiebreaker goes MSU’s way by virtue of its win over Weber State.

The quarterfinal round of the conference tournament begins on March 7, while the semifinals and championship game take place March 10-11 at WSU.

Making Eastern’s task even more difficult Saturday is the fact the Vikings can still finish second in the league and receive a first-round bye in the tournament. If PSU wins and MSU falls to Northern Colorado on Sunday, Portland State would overtake Montana as the league’s runner-up.

Following a 63-59 non-conference loss to Seattle on Tuesday (Feb. 24), Eastern enters the PSU game with a 12-16 record overall. The Eagles have a 6-9 Big Sky mark, having edged Northern Colorado 60-59 on Feb. 21 in EWU’s most recent league outing. That victory helped the Eagles eclipse the 11 wins EWU had last season in head coach Kirk Earlywine’s first season at the helm.

Taking a break from the stretch run of the league campaign, Eastern faced a Seattle team playing its first season in NCAA Division I in nearly 30 years. An independent without league affiliation, the Redhawks last played in NCAA Division I in 1980.

Eastern led by as many as 10 against the Redhawks, but couldn’t get over the hump down the stretch. In fact, Eastern lost for the first time in 13 games this season when it has led or was tied with one minute left in regulation. Seattle hit a three-pointer to force the game into overtime, where the Redhawks outscored EWU 7-3. Eastern went the final 4:08 of regulation and the five-minute overtime period without a field goal.

The loss itself didn’t sting as much as the way EWU lost the game, Earlywine isn’t exactly sure how his team will respond Saturday versus PSU.

"Hopefully we will play a little smarter and allow ourselves to be coached a little bit more going into the Portland State game," he said following the loss to Seattle.

The Big Sky Conference Tournament begins on Saturday, March 7 with the No. 6 seed playing at the No. 3 seed, and the No. 4 seed (Idaho State) hosting the No. 5 finisher. The top two teams receive byes into the semifinals, which will take place March 10 at regular season champion Weber State. The championship game takes place the next night in Ogden, and will be televised live on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. Pacific time.

The Eagles are now in their 22nd season in the Big Sky, but made just one trip to the Big Sky Conference Tournament in their first 10 seasons in the league. Eastern then qualified for the next nine tournaments, becoming only the fifth league member to do that in the 46-year history of the league. Now, needing a win and some help, the Eagles are trying to snap a two-year skid of not qualifying for the tourney.

Beating PSU -- 20-9 overall and 10-5 in the league after Thursday’s win against Montana State -- will be a difficult task for the Eagles after the Vikings exploded for 51 second-half points and romped 83-61 on Jan. 24 in Portland. The Eagles led by seven late in the first half, but were out-scored 24-5 over an eight-minute span to turn that lead into a 12-point deficit. Portland State later went on a 15-0 run to open a 25-point advantage as the Vikings finished the game with an 11-of-30 performance from the three-point stripe and forced 19 EWU turnovers.

"They took it to us in the second half at their place," said Earlywine. "We were never able to recover, and Portland State has a tendency to do that to opponents. They force a lot of turnovers and they make a lot of three pointers -- they can score in bunches. How well we take care of the ball and keep them from going on scoring runs will be a big factor Saturday night."

After closing the month of January with a 2-7 record, the Eagles are now 3-3 February. Before a 67-46 win over Sac State on Feb. 5 -- EWU’s seventh-straight in the series against the Hornets and the 13th-straight win over Sac State in Cheney -- the Eagles lost six-in-a-row and hadn’t won since beating Idaho State 71-68 on Jan. 8.

Links:
Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/ewas-m-baskbl-body.html
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://www.bigskyconf.com/sport.asp?path=mbball&tab=mens
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/m-baskbl/ncaa-m-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/scoreboard
Rodney Stuckey NBA Page -- http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html
More Information and Links are Available at: HTTP://WWW.GOEAGS.COM
 

-- PSU Ticket Offer -- For its final Big Sky Conference home game of the year, Eastern is offering a ticket bargain for fans.

A "Slam Dunk Deal" is being offered through EWU and Ticketswest for the Feb. 28 game against Portland State. The "Slam Dunk Deal" for two persons is $30 (two $15 seats, voucher for two hotdogs and sodas at the game -- a savings of $12). For four persons, the cost is $50 (four $15 seats, voucher for four hotdogs and sodas at the game -- a savings of $34).

Tickets may be purchased on ticketswest.com or at 1-800-325-SEAT. They cannot be purchased at the game.

The link directly to the ticket offer is: http://ev8.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetPackageInfo?packageCode=GS%3ATWC%3A%3AEREE0228%3A&linkID=twcorp&shopperContext=&caller=&appCode=

 

-- Senior Farewell -- Reese Court will bid adieu to four seniors prior to the start of Saturday’s game against Portland State. Guards Adris DeLeon and Milan Stanojevic have played the past two seasons after transferring to EWU from junior colleges. The other two seniors are forwards Andy Genao and Jeff Christensen, a pair of transfers from four-year colleges who redshirted a year ago.

DeLeon enters Saturday’s game with 17 starts in 46 games played, having averaged 9.9 points and 2.3 assists in those 47 games. His career was highlighted by a 42-point effort in a win last season over Northern Colorado that ranks as the third-best performance in school history. He is from the Bronx, N.Y., and came to EWU from the College of Southern Idaho.

Stanojevic has started 33 of 58 games in his career, with an average of 8.2 points per game. He has made 113-of-304 three-point shots in his career to rank fourth in school history for makes and sixth in attempts. The native of Subotica, Serbia, came to Eastern from Northwest College in Wyoming.

Genao has had four double-doubles in his only season as an Eagle, with averages of 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds this season. In the last nine games alone, he is Eastern’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, averaging more than 11 points and seven rebounds per game. In EWU’s first meeting with Portland State, he had 20 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Earlier this season, he equaled the fourth-best performance in school history with 17 rebounds against UC Irvine. Formerly from the Bronx, N.Y., Genao transferred to Eastern from Prairie View A&M.

Christensen has played in 26 games this season, starting once. He is averaging 11 minutes per game and has scored 46 points, including a season-high seven against both Idaho and UC Irvine. He is from Portland, Ore., and graduated from Wilson High School in 2004. He attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland before transferring to EWU.

 

-- Road Woes And Home Joys -- Eastern has allowed just 54.5 points in its last four home games, and is hoping that can carry-over Saturday against Portland State. Eastern is now 5-2 in the league at home after concluding the road portion of the conference season with a 1-7 record, including losses in its last six games on opponent home courts.

For the season, Eastern has out-scored opponents 66.3-63.5 at home, but on the road has been out-scored by more than 10 points per game -- 71.9 to 61.1. EWU is 9-4 at home and just 3-12 on the road where EWU has made only 41 percent of its shots compared to 49 percent for its opponents. Eastern has also been out-scored (270-150) and out-shot (373-223) at the free throw line on the road this season, an average deficit of eight makes and 10 attempts per game.

 

-- Eagles One Notch Above 2007-08 Win Total -- Thanks to a home sweep on Feb. 5 (Sacramento State) and Feb. 7 (Northern Arizona), and a home win over Northern Colorado on Feb. 21, the Eagles have exceeded last year’s win total of 11. Eastern’s 6-2 record after the first eight games was its best start since the 2002-03 season when EWU used a four-game winning streak to improve to 7-2. Eastern was unable to duplicate that 7-2 start by losing at Hawaii on Dec. 13, but Eastern won its Big Sky opener against Montana State in the earliest Big Sky start in EWU history.

 

-- Genao and Moore Impressive in Last Nine Games -- Forward Andy Genao and center Brandon Moore have been impressive at times in EWU’s last nine games, and they have led EWU in scoring and rebounding during that stretch.

Genao has had a pair of double-doubles and has averaged 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds to lead EWU in both categories during that nine-game stretch. Moore has scored in double figures in seven of those nine games, averaging 11.6 points and 6.0 rebounds. Benny Valentine, EWU’s leading scorer on the season (15.4) and in Big Sky games only (15.6), is averaging 11.2 points in the last nine games.

Genao and Moore combined for 27 points and 14 rebounds in a 67-46 win over Sacramento State on Feb. 5 and 21 points and 12 boards in their most recent outing against Seattle on Feb. 24.

Genao had a 14-point, 12-rebound performance at Montana on Jan. 31, and had eight points and seven boards one game earlier versus Montana State. He had a season-high 20 points with 10 rebounds and four assists on Jan. 24 at Portland State, then bettered that with a 21-point outing at Idaho State on Feb. 14. He has had four double-doubles in 28 games this season, and for the year is averaging 7.5 points and 5.8 rebounds (fifth in the Big Sky) while making 47 percent of his shots from the field.

 

-- Valentine & DeLeon Hit Extremes in Last Two Games -- In Eastern’s 60-59 win over Northern Colorado on Feb. 21, EWU was sparked by the play of guards Benny Valentine and Adris DeLeon. They started together for the first time this season and combined for 34 points on 14-of-21 shooting from the field, and also combined for six steals and seven assists.

"They both played well, especially in terms of their shot selection," said Earlywine. "They were a combined 14-of-21 and we can live with that, especially as much as it’s been a struggle for us offensively this year. Their field goal percentage was a big factor in us winning the game."

However, they combined for only eight points on 1-of-14 shooting in a 63-59 loss to Seattle, with DeLeon going scoreless on 0-of-8 shooting from three-point range. They also combined for five assists, three steals and five turnovers.

Valentine now ranks third in the league with a 15.4 scoring average, ranking behind Anthony Johnson from Montana (17.5 average) and Loren Leath from Sacramento State (15.6).

For the season, Valentine has made 40 percent of his shots from the field, 34 percent of his three-pointers (52-of-152) and 73 percent of his free throws to go along with averages of 3.1 assists (fourth in the league), 1.4 steals (sixth) and 2.8 rebounds per game. He has led Eastern in scoring in 15 games thus far, with a pair of 30-point performances, six outings with at least 20 and 23 of 28 games in double figures.

In EWU’s 12 victories this season, he has averaged 17.8 points on 46.6 percent shooting from the field. In Eastern’s losses, those figures fall to 13.6 points and 34.7 percent shooting.

 

-- Benny Valentine Earns Academic All-District Honors -- Eastern Washington University junior Benny Valentine was selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VIII men’s basketball team released Feb. 5. The squad is selected by members of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).

Valentine has a 3.40 grade point average as a business administration major after transferring from Texas Tech University. The qualifying standards include a minimum 3.3 grade point average at Eastern and be a significant contributor to the team.

"We’re proud of Benny and his efforts and success in the classroom," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "To be honest, I expected no less from him when he came to Eastern. He was a good student in high school, junior college and at Texas Tech, so I had every reason to believe he would be an excellent student here as well."

Eastern’s December Scholar-Athlete of the Month, Valentine is a 2005 graduate of Omaha Central High School in Nebraska. He and the four other members of the squad now advance to the national ballot, with the Academic All-America teams announced on Feb. 25.

Current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey won the same honor in both 2006 and 2007, and went on to earn third team Academic All-America honors in 2007. EWU’s other All-District VIII selections were Jason Humbert (2002) and Aaron Olson (2001).

The other four players selected included fellow Big Sky Conference player Matt Stucki from Idaho State. Also selected were Washington State’s Taylor Rochestie and Daven Harmeling, as well as Fresno State’s Nedeljko Golubovic.

The District VIII university division includes all NCAA Division I teams from nine western states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

 

-- Moore Having Season of Highs and Lows -- Eastern 6-foot-9 junior center Brandon Moore is having a season of highs and lows, and his shooting percentages and fouls are a great indicator of his recent trials and tribulations. Moore is from Graham, Wash., and is a 2005 graduate of Bethel High School.

Moore is the only Eagle to have started all 28 games this season and is averaging 10.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game to rank 19th and second, respectively, in the Big Sky Conference. In his 85-game career (45 as a starter), Moore has averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds while making 49 percent of his shots from the field. His 56 blocked shots rank fourth in school history, and he needs three more to move into third.

Moore had three double-doubles in Eastern’s first 12 games of the season, but hasn’t had any in the 16 games since. A career 60.8 percent free throw shooter entering the season, he has made 64.7 percent this year to increase his career mark to 62.5 percent. He had made 17 of his last 19 attempts heading into EWU’s Jan. 24 game at Portland State.

However, his field goal percentage has gone the opposite direction. Entering the year he had made 52.2 percent in his career, but this year it has dropped to 46.1 to give him a career mark of 49.3 percent.

In Big Sky play, Moore has averaged 9.8 points and 6.1 rebounds, with highs of 17 points twice and nine rebounds twice. He has made 75.0 percent of his free throws (39-of-52) to rank ninth in the league, but has made just 44 percent of his shots from the field in league play.

On Jan. 11 in a 77-69 loss against Weber State, foul trouble limited Moore to 10 total minutes. He was 4-of-4 from the free throw line and 0-of-0 from the field after getting fouled on the only field goals he attempted. He had four points and five rebounds before fouling out. One game earlier he had no fouls in a 17-point, seven-rebound effort against Idaho State. Against Northern Colorado on Jan. 15, he was 8-of-10 from the line but just 1-of-8 from the field.

Moore had his third double-double of the year with 22 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high three assists in EWU’s 90-87 win over Evergreen State on Dec. 22. Moore made 6-of-12 shots from the field and 10-of-13 free throws against the Geoducks, and seven of his rebounds came on the offensive end. The 6-foot-9 Moore came just one point from his career high of 23 points set as a freshman against Evergreen State. His assists tied his career high from that game.

Moore’s other double-doubles this season came against Idaho (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Texas Arlington (16 points, 11 rebounds), giving him five in his career. He had a near-miss at Boise State on Dec. 29 when he finished with 12 points and nine boards. He also has seven double figure rebounding performances as an Eagle.

 

-- EWU in Big Sky-Only Statistics -- In league games only, Eastern is second in the Big Sky in offensive rebounds (10.5 per game) and turnover margin (+2.13 per game). Thanks to allowing a total of 96 points in back-to-back home games against Sacramento State and Northern Arizona, the Eagles moved from eighth to third in scoring defense, and currently fourth (66.5) after allowing only 59 versus Northern Colorado on Feb. 21. Eastern is last in three-point field goal offense (.314), eighth in scoring offense (62.7) and seventh in field goal percentage offense (.413) and defense (.471).

Individually, Benny Valentine ranks fifth in scoring (15.6), sixth in three-pointers made (1.9 per game), eighth in steals (1.6) and eighth in assists (3.2). Brandon Moore is fifth in rebounding (6.1), third in offensive rebounds (2.5) and 11th in free throw percentage (.750). Also, Andy Genao is ninth in rebounding (5.5) and fifth in offensive rebounds (2.0), and Milan Stanojevic is 11th in three-pointers made per game (1.6).

 

-- Eagles Were an Early Leader in the Big Sky in Scoring Defense -- Including all games, the Eagles currently rank fourth in the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense, allowing 68.0 per game (Montana leads at 64.6 per game). Through eight games -- and a 6-2 record -- the Eagles were allowing just 66.1 to lead the league. Before holding Boise State to 57 points on Dec. 29, the Eagles had allowed an average of 78.3 in their previous four games to fall out of the lead.

In its 16 losses this season, Eastern has allowed 71.8 points and 48.8 percent shooting. In EWU’s 12 victories, those figures drop to 63.0 and 44.0. Eastern is 8-4 when it holds opponents to 65 points or fewer and 7-3 when it holds opponents to 43 percent shooting or less. The Eagles are 1-7 when allowing at least 75 points.

In its first six victories of the season, Eastern had allowed only 62.5 per game while holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting from the field and 29.0 percent from the three-point stripe. But in their seventh win, a 90-87 triumph over Evergreen State, the Geoducks made 66 percent from both the field overall (35-of-53) and the three-point stripe (10-of-15). Eastern followed that by holding Boise State to 42 percent shooting overall (20-of-48) and 18 percent from the arc (2-of-11) in a 57-48 loss.

Ideally, Eastern would like to win with defense like it did in early February when the Eagles held Sacramento State and Northern Arizona to a combined 96 points in a pair of EWU wins. In its league opener on Dec. 6, Eastern held Montana State to just 22 second-half points as the Bobcats made only 29 percent from the field after intermission. The result was Eastern’s best defensive performance of the season at that point by allowing MSU just 55 total points, eclipsing the 58 Eastern allowed one game earlier against Portland in a 63-58 win. The Pilots scored only nine points in the final 8:21, including a fairly meaningless basket with 16 seconds to play. But in the eight minutes prior to that, the Pilots were just 1-of-7 from the field with four turnovers.

"I know we’re not going to shut anybody out -- I tell our players that all the time," said Earlywine. "But we need to make teams earn their points. For the most part against Portland, we did not give them points -- they had to earn them."

 

-- Eagles 6-1 When They Score 70 or More and 1-14 When They Make 44 Percent or Less -- Until falling 75-70 at Idaho State on Feb. 14, Eastern had won all six games this season when the Eagles score at least 70 points. When they make at least 45 percent of their shots they are 11-2, with the lone losses coming in back-to-back games at Portland State on Jan. 24 and at MSU on Jan. 29. The Eagles are 1-14 when they make 44 percent or less from the field.

Eastern is 8-4 when holding opponents to 64 or fewer points and 7-3 when holding them to 43 percent shooting or less. The Eagles are 8-2 when EWU has a better field goal percentage than its opponent. In addition, the Eagles are 8-4 when they out-rebound opponents and 8-5 when they hold opponents to 31 rebounds or less. Eastern is also 9-7 when forcing more or equal turnovers and 6-2 when the Eagles force at least 15 turnovers. Eastern is also 5-13 when their opponent makes at least 44 percent.

 

-- DeLeon and Busch Finally Cleared to Play -- The 75-55 Hawaii loss on Dec. 13 marked the season debuts for returning 12-game starter Adris DeLeon and junior college transfer Chris Busch. Both missed the first eight games of the season before being officially cleared to play on Dec. 12 after final exams from fall quarter were completed and grades submitted.

DeLeon has averaged 6.2 points in an average of 17.8 minutes per game. He made his first start of the season against Sacramento State on Jan. 4 and responded with 17 points and three assists. He had 16 points, five assists and four steals in a critical 60-59 win over Northern Colorado on Feb. 21. Busch, who scored a team-high 13 at Washington on Dec. 20, is averaging 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game. Busch is a transfer from Merritt Junior College in California while DeLeon averaged 12.5 points and 3.1 assists in 27 games last year for EWU.

 

-- Eagles Win Three on Road, Nine at Home -- The schedule, with just one occurrence of back-to-back road games until the start of league play, started well for the Eagles. Eastern picked up road wins at UC Irvine, Portland and Sacramento State, and won six of its first seven games at Reese Court.

But losing a pair of league home games -- 77-69 to Weber State on Jan. 11 and 63-50 to Montana on Jan. 21 -- were blows head coach Kirk Earlywine was hoping to avoid. Of the first 18 league games played, Weber’s victory was just the fifth road breakthrough. Two of the home losses at the time were owned by 0-4 Sac State.

"It’s becomes even more difficult when you give away a home game," said Earlywine, whose team is trying to return to the Big Sky Conference Tournament for the first time since EWU had a nine-season streak of berths (1998-2006).

Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season. As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.

 

-- Eagles Picked to Finish as High as Seventh -- The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball program has been picked to finish as high as seventh in the Big Sky Conference in preseason polls released Oct. 22 by the Big Sky Conference.

The league’s head coaches selected EWU seventh, while the media picked EWU to finish eighth in the nine-team league. Last year, the Eagles finished 11-19 overall and seventh in the league with a 6-10 mark under first-year head coach Kirk Earlywine.

The Eagles had only three players with NCAA Division I experience on their roster last year and a total of just eight players who participated in at least 15 games. Entering the 2008-09 season, Eastern had a full roster of 14 players that included six returning letter winners. Returning starters were center Brandon Moore and guards Trey Gross and Gary Gibson, but Gross left the team in December.

 

-- Pre-Season Losses Lead to Big Sky Conference Wins -- In the last nine seasons (including the 2007-08 season), Eastern has entered Big Sky Conference play with a collective 45-67 (.401) record. Those difficult schedules have yielded an 81-53 (.604) Big Sky Conference record in that span. Eastern has finished third or better in the Big Sky regular season standings in six of the last nine years en route to a pair of regular season Big Sky titles, one Big Sky Tournament title and three-runner-up tourney finishes.

In 2007-08, Eastern entered conference play 5-8, which compares favorably to the previous eight seasons (most recent are listed first) -- 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.

 

 

SERIES HISTORY

-- EWU-PSU Series History (Since 1983-84) -- Eastern has won five of the last eight meetings, but has dropped the last two games between the Vikings and Eagles -- both in Portland. The Eagles have won two of the last three in Cheney and five of the last eight in Portland.

Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 16-11 versus the Vikings. All of the meetings have come since 1997 when PSU joined the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles have won 14 of the last 20 meetings, and Eastern is 10-3 in Cheney and 6-7 against PSU in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) since 1983-84. Eastern leads the overall series 17-14, with EWU owning an 11-4 record in Cheney and 6-9 mark in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) against the Vikings.

-- Earlier This Season . . . Portland State 83, Eastern Washington 61 -- Defending Big Sky Conference champion Portland State exploded for 51 second-half points and romped past Eastern Washington University 83-61 Jan. 24 at the Stott Center in Portland, Ore.

The Eagles led by seven late in the first half, but were out-scored 24-5 over an eight-minute span to turn that lead into a 12-point deficit. Portland State later went on a 15-0 run to open a 25-point advantage as the Vikings finished the game with an 11-of-30 performance from the three-point stripe.

The game marked the halfway point of the league season for EWU, which fell to 9-11 overall and 3-5 in the conference. Portland State, the defending Big Sky regular season and tournament champion -- and the favorite to repeat this season -- improved to 6-1 in the league and 15-5 overall.

"It’s disappointing. We were right in it in the first half," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "Other than our 10 turnovers in the first half, we played really hard and we moved the ball. We got the shots we wanted and shot a high percentage. We were playing pretty good and we were playing the kind of basketball I was expecting.

"In the second half we kind of deviated from that," he continued. "That’s a sign of a team’s toughness -- especially when things go bad. Can you stay the course and do what you’re coached to do? We didn’t do that tonight."

In the second half, when things started heading downhill for the Eagles, Earlywine thought his team might have tried too hard to stem the tide.

"Sometimes that happens -- they want so badly to do well that they do too much," he explained. "They just need to play to their strengths and stay away from their weaknesses. You need to trust your teammates, trust your coaches and do what you’ve been coached to do. Tonight we didn’t do that, and a couple of players wanted to do a little extra to help the team. We have to learn from it."

Eastern senior Andy Genao had a double-double with a season-high 20 points and 10 rebounds as four Eagles finished in double figures. He made 10-of-12 shots and added a season-high four assists to record his first double-double since getting 14 points and 17 rebounds against UC Irvine on Nov. 19 in EWU’s second game of the season.

"We welcomed the real Andy Genao back to the team tonight," Earlywine said. "He got back to doing what made him successful and helped our team early in the year -- and that was go rebound the ball. Every shot that goes up he needs to look at it as a pass to him, and he did a good job of that tonight. We need him to continue to do that."

Junior Benny Valentine added 13 points, but was just 5-of-16 from the field. Six-foot-9 center Brandon Moore made 6-of-11 shots to finish with 12 points and eight rebounds, and 6-8 Mark Dunn chipped in 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

Eastern finished the game with a 49 percent shooting night, its best performance since EWU’s second game of the season when it made 53 percent against UC Irvine. In its last three games, Eastern had made only 37 percent.

However, Eastern had 19 turnovers -- just one game after having only five in a 63-50 loss to Montana on Jan. 21. They were the second-most EWU has had this season, ranking only behind the 22 the Eagles had at Washington on Dec. 20.

"They were turnovers that broke our back," said Earlywine. "If we just hang on to the ball, we were getting good shots. But when you throw the ball to the other team, it’s hard to design a defense to stop them. It’s hard to get back there and stop them on the other end."

Portland State sophomore Phil Nelson, a transfer from the University of Washington, led the Vikings with 22 points, including four three-pointers. Portland State made 56 percent of its shots from the field and had four players score in double figures. It also out-scored Eastern in points off turnovers 31-14 and bench points 32-0.

"Those shots are certainly easier when they are wide open," said Earlywine of PSU’s shooting percentage. "When we turned the ball over, we can’t get our defense back and Portland State does a good job of having multiple ball-handlers in transition. They caught us not being able to get getting matched-up, and Nelson got open shots that he knocked in."

The game was close early before four different Eagles contributed to a 9-0 run that gave the Eagles a 31-24 lead with 4:08 left in the half. But Eastern managed just five points in the next 8:02, and fell behind 48-36 early in the second half. Later in the half, Eastern went scoreless for 5:06 as PSU used a 15-0 run to open a 70-45 advantage.

The turning point in the game came in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the second half when the Eagles had four turnovers.

"That was the game," Earlywine added. "After that happened we just weren’t tough enough to right ourselves."

 

OTHER NOTES

-- Benny Valentine’s Hot Stretches -- Eastern’s Benny Valentine was the kind of leader head coach Kirk Earlywine was looking for on Feb. 7 against Northern Arizona and again on Feb. 21 versus Northern Colorado.

En route to a game-high 18 points against UNC, Benny Valentine scored 12 of EWU’s last 18 points in the last 7:39 of the game, including the final eight points of the game in the 60-59 must-win victory. Valentine sank two free throws with eight seconds to play to give Eastern a three-point lead, and he also had a pair of steals and two assists to go along with his 8-of-11 shooting from the field.

Against NAU, in a game in which the largest lead for either team was four points, Valentine scored 13 points and had seven assists as the Eagles survived for a 54-50 victory. He made 6-of-10 shots from the floor, including the only three-point shot he tried. His seven assists were a season-high by two. He also had three rebounds and a pair of steals, including one theft in crunch time that helped give EWU the lead for good. Tied at 50 with 2:09 left, Valentine had a steal and assist on a fast-break basket by Gary Gibson that gave EWU the lead for good and a two-point advantage with 1:21 to play.

"I thought Benny Valentine played his best game of the year by far, by a wide margin," said Earlywine of Valentine’s performance against NAU. "He ran the team. He got shots for his teammates. He had seven assists, a season high. He wasn’t out there chucking shots. I thought that he was the key to the win and he didn’t have to score 25 or 30 points to help us."

Earlier, in a four-game stretch from Jan. 4 to Jan. 15, Valentine averaged 24.5 points on 35-of-63 shooting from the field (54.0 percent), 12-of-24 from the three-point stripe (50.0) and 18-of-24 from the line (75.0). In one of those games, he made 11-of-16 shots to finish with 31 points in a 75-68 loss at Northern Colorado on Jan. 15. He scored 33 points three games earlier against Sacramento State on Jan. 4 when he finished with his best scoring game of the season. It was his first of more than 16 in nine games since getting 29 and 21 in back-to-back games in late November against Minnesota and UC Irvine, respectively.

"He was very selective in the first half -- he took nine shots but I thought all nine of them were really good, open shots," said Earlywine after the Sac State game. "There will be some games where we need him to shoot more, but there are more games where we need him to run our team and get more shots for the other players who are shooting a high percentage. He needs to pick his spots, and tonight he did that."

Valentine saw his average drop from a high of 20.3 after the UC Irvine game on Nov. 30 to 15.5 heading into EWU’s meeting with Sac State. In those previous eight games, the Texas Tech transfer had averaged 11.9 points while making just 36-of-113 shots for 32 percent and 14-of-46 three-pointers for 30 percent. He also had more turnovers (31) than assists (26) in those eight games.

In a 75-55 loss at Hawaii, he had his first double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds to go along with a team-high five assists. Valentine then scored 29 points against Minnesota on Nov. 26, and followed that with 21 in EWU’s 78-64 victory over UC Irvine on Nov. 30. He followed that by scoring 15 at Portland in a 63-58 Eastern victory, including 12 in the second half and 10 of Eastern’s last 11 points in the final 3:13. He made three of four shots from the floor and all four of his free throws in that stretch.

And in a 61-55 win over Montana State, Valentine scored 10 points in the first half and finished with 15 for the game to go along with four assists and three steals. He assisted on three-straight baskets in the second half to give EWU a four-point lead en route to a 33-22 scoring advantage in the second half.

"Benny trusted his teammates," said head coach Kirk Earlywine after the MSU win. "Sometimes when things aren’t going as well as we would like it is easy for him to go off on his own, get shots for himself and try to score. He kept throwing the ball to the right spot. It’s good for him to trust his teammates like that."

En route to winning Big Sky Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25, Valentine averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals in EWU’s previous three games -- all victories over NCAA Division I opponents. He made 46.2 percent of his field goal attempts (18-of-39) and 68 percent of his free throws (19-of-28) as Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59).

He had 28 points and four assists versus UTA, a NCAA Tournament participant last year and the defending Southland Conference champion. Valentine is originally from Omaha, Neb., and is a 2005 graduate of Omaha Central High School.

"Against Texas Arlington and Minnesota we needed him to score for us," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "In other games, we’ve just needed him to run our team. But against UC Irvine (on Nov. 30) we needed him to do both within the same game. In the first half when we were struggling, we needed him to score and he did. In the second half, we needed him to run our team, get the ball inside and do the things that got us the 18-point lead, and he did that as well. It’s very encouraging that he is gaining a feel and understanding for what our team needs at particular moments and be willing to do that."

The Eagles found out against Idaho how important it was to have Valentine on the floor. He scored 13 points and had four assists in 29 minutes versus the Vandals, nailing all four of his free throws in the last two minutes while playing with four fouls. Eastern led by as many as 21 in the second half versus the Vandals, who were able to rally without Valentine in the game and pulled to within six with 2:19 left. He took just one shot in the first half, but EWU led 41-23.

"Idaho is quick and athletic all over the floor," Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine 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."

 

-- Rodney Stuckey Returns to Eastern on Jan. 11 in Year He Would Have Been a Senior -- Consider it the Senior Day he was never able to receive.

Former Eastern Washington University men’s basketball All-American and current Detroit Piston Rodney Stuckey had his EWU jersey retired in ceremonies that took place on Sunday, Jan. 11 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The event took place in conjunction with Eastern’s Big Sky Conference game against Weber State that was televised live regionally on Altitude Sports and Entertainment. He spent more than an hour afterward signing autographs and taking photos with Eastern fans.

"I am very honored and humbled to have my EWU jersey retired," said Stuckey on Dec. 30. "I have so many wonderful memories from my college days and I’m thankful to the University, the fans, my coaches and my teammates."

Stuckey played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Eastern before becoming a first-round draft choice (15th overall) by the Pistons in the 2007 National Basketball Association draft. He became Detroit’s full-time starter at point guard on Dec. 9, and on Dec. 23 had a breakthrough game with 40 points, four assists and four steals in a 104-98 victory over Chicago.

He had another huge game with 38 points and seven assists in a 98-92 victory over Sacramento on Jan. 2 to help him earn NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. He helped the Pistons win four-straight games to earn the honor, averaging 23 points, 5.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

Detroit pushed its winning streak to seven before an 84-83 loss at Portland on Jan. 7 in which Stuckey scored 13 points and had seven assists. He had nine points and a pair of assists in a win at Denver on Jan. 9 and 19 points and two assists in a loss Jan. 10 at Utah. Following that road stretch, the Pistons were 14-5 in games Stuckey had started and 22-13 overall.

Considering that this would have been his senior season at EWU had he remained in college, it was appropriate that Stuckey was honored in such a manner. He spent three years on the EWU campus and still has many friends in Cheney, including former high school teammate Aaron Boyce, who is an All-America wide receiver for the Eagle football team. At the ceremony, Boyce presented a framed photo collage to Stuckey on behalf of EWU Athletics.

"I’m happy to share this experience with all the people who supported me throughout my college career," Stuckey said.

Stuckey was an All-American at Eastern -- both athletically and academically -- after averaging 24 points per game in each of his two seasons (2005-06 and 2006-07). He helped EWU win 30 games in two seasons and had a 3.34 grade point average. A 2004 graduate of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., Stuckey was a NCAA non-qualifier and had to sit out the 2004-05 season at EWU.

"We’ve talked about honoring Rodney by retiring his jersey for some time now," said Eastern Athletic Director Bill Chaves. "What he accomplished here in two seasons and Detroit in two more is nothing short of phenomenal, and it’s thrilling to watch his progress in the NBA. We’re excited to have him back on campus to give him the recognition he deserved but didn’t get because of how highly-regarded he was by the NBA."

Through 33 games this season (19 as a starter), the second-year pro was averaging 13.5 points, 5.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 29.2 minutes per game. In first 90 games of his career (21 as a starter), Stuckey was averaging 9.8 points, 3.6 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 22.7 minutes per game.

In his first four games as a full-time starter (including a three-game winning streak), he averaged a double-double -- 15.5 points and 10.0 assists. In his 40-point output against Chicago, Stuckey made 15-of-24 shots from the field with his outstanding driving and finishing ability. He also sank 9-of-11 free throws, and his passing has also been exceptional. In his first 16 games since taking over as a full-time starters, the Pistons were 11-5 as he averaged 18.1 points and 5.9 assists.

Although several Eastern football players have been honored previously in such a manner -- including the retired No. 84 jersey of Bob Picard -- it’s believed that no Eastern men’s basketball player has had his jersey retired. Eastern’s all-time leading basketball scorer (1,741) and rebounder (1,273) Ron Cox is another candidate after being drafted in the sixth round by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1977, but an injury kept him from playing a game in the NBA.

Cox was inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998, and Stuckey will no doubt join him as a member as soon as soon as he’s placed on the ballot. Another such professional is current Tennessee Titan offensive tackle Michael Roos, who is also a prime candidate to have his jersey retired in the near future. Roos recently became the first-ever Eastern football player to be selected to the Pro Bowl and was also selected as a first team All-Pro selection as one of the top two offensive tackles in the NFL.

"Rodney and Michael have both had unprecedented success in the professional ranks for former Eastern student-athletes," said Chaves. "We are extremely proud of them both. The great talent (Rodney) put on display for Eastern fans for two seasons is now being watched by a world-wide audience. It’s truly exciting."

More on Stuckey may be found at:
http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html

-- Eastern Kept Improving During Six-Game Losing Streak -- Despite a six-game losing streak, Eastern was at both its best and worst during the skid.

"We’ve done enough good things to give ourselves a chance to win, and now it’s time to take the next step," said Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine after the sixth loss of the skid. "Instead of simply being competitive and in those games with a chance to win, we need to make the plays to pull out a victory."

In its sixth loss of the losing streak, Montana used a 14-6 run mid-way through the second half to break away from a 35-all tie and win 60-52 on Jan. 31. The Eagles made just 33 percent of their shots, while the Grizzlies made 46 percent in a game in which the Eagles took 22 more shots, won the rebounding battle 38-31 and had only nine turnovers.

In a 69-65 loss at Montana State on Jan. 29, the Bobcats rallied from 10 points down in each half, using a 15-4 run to lead them to the four-point win. Eastern out-shot MSU 46 percent to 39 percent, but missed its last three field goals and its last two free throws as EWU went the final 2:58 without scoring.

On Jan. 21 in Cheney, Wash., the Grizzlies handed EWU a 63-50 loss at Reese Court -- representing Montana’s second road win in 10 games this season and EWU’s second-straight home setback. The Grizzlies opened a 15-point lead at halftime and withstood a late EWU rally for the win.

Prior to the losses to the Montana schools, Eastern was coming off an 83-61 loss at league favorite and defending champion Portland State on Jan. 24. The Eagles led by as many as seven late in the first half, but PSU runs of 24-5 and 15-0 turned the promising start into a blowout.

The losing streak started on Jan. 11 with a 77-69 home loss to Weber State in which EWU fell behind by as many as 17 points in the second half after a nearly five-minute scoreless stretch in the first half. The Eagles followed that with a 75-68 loss at Northern Colorado in which the Bears turned a one-point game into seven-point win in the final 32 seconds.

Eastern has played some good stretches of basketball in the last four outings of the streak, but consistency was a problem. Eastern rebounded well (29-25 against PSU and 38-31 against Montana on Jan. 31), took care of the ball well (just 14 turnovers total in two games versus Montana and only eight against MSU) and shot well (49 percent versus PSU and 46 percent against MSU). But they have also not rebounded well (41-32 versus Montana on Jan. 21 and 40-32 versus MSU), not handled the ball well (19 turnovers versus PSU) and not shot well (31 and 33 percent in games against Montana).

In 2008 at this juncture of the season, the Eagles were mired in a four-game losing streak -- all in games against Montana and Montana State -- to go from 3-3 in the league to 3-7. Eastern won three of its last six games, but the damage was done as EWU finished 6-10 in the league and failed to qualify for the league tournament for the second-straight season.

During its six-game losing streak, EWU made only 39 percent of its shots from the field, including only 28 percent of its three-point attempts (33-of-118). Opponents, meanwhile, made 47 percent from the field and 37 percent (46-of-123) from the arc.

But the most glaring difference was at the free throw line where Eastern was out-scored by more than double -- 107-52. Opponents received 70 more attempts from the stripe -- an average of nearly 12 per game. In fact, the Eagles had more field goals than their opponents (140 to 137) during the losing streak, with 62 more field goal attempts.

Scoring dry spells and opponent runs were Eastern’s undoing.

"Early in the year we were grinding out possessions and grinding out a full 40-minute game," said Earlywine prior to the MSU-UM weekend. "We haven’t done that as much lately. We are going through stretches where we don’t score, and at those times you have to be extraordinarily tough with the ball and rebounding. We are not doing that well enough for long enough to win right now."

 

-- Dry Spells and Scoring Runs -- Eastern games in January and late December were punctuated by long scoring dry spells for EWU and opponent runs.

Against both Montana schools at the end of January, second-half scoring runs of 15-4 by the Bobcats and 14-6 by the Grizzlies led to Eastern defeats. Prior to that, Eastern was out-scored 24-5 over an eight-minute span to turn a seven-point EWU lead at Portland State into a 12-point deficit. Later in the game, Eastern went 5:06 without scoring as PSU used a 15-0 run to win easily, 83-61.

On Jan. 11 at home, the Eagles went 4:54 without scoring as Weber State went on a 17-2 run to turn a 23-18 deficit into a 32-25 advantage in the 77-69 Wildcat win. Against Northern Arizona in a 72-49 road loss on Jan. 2, the Eagles went the final 7:57 without a field goal as they were out-scored 14-4 in that stretch. The Eagles went 9:11 without a point against Boise State, and on Dec. 20 versus Washington, Eastern had a stretch of 8:22 without a field goal and an additional 5:03 stretch without a point in the 80-53 loss.

But at other times this season, Eastern has had more than enough offense. The Eagles scored 87 points in an 87-74 win over Sacramento State on Jan. 4 after scoring just 97 combined in losses to BSU (57-48) and NAU (72-49). Before the Sac State victory, Eastern’s last win was a 90-87 victory on Dec. 22 over Evergreen State, which entered the game 7-2 and was the 16th-ranked team in NAIA Division II. The Geoducks were coming off an 82-68 win over that division’s No. 1 ranked team and defending national champion, Oregon Tech.

 

-- Infamy for Valentine and Joshua Lewis-- When Benny Valentine missed a free throw with a half-second remaining in the first half against Idaho State on Jan. 9, little did he know he would have so much in common with former Eagle Joshua Lewis.

Thanks to a 16-of-16 free throw effort in the second half, the Eagles finished with a 20-of-21 night from the line. The 95.2 percent accuracy equaled the school record set in a 95-77 loss at Portland on Dec. 10, 1994 in Portland, when EWU was also 20-of-21. The only player to miss was Lewis, who made 5-of-6 in the game. Eastern made its first eight and its last 12 in that game. Lewis is now living in the Los Angeles area and attended this year’s Eastern versus UC Irvine game.

 

-- Eagles Register First League Win on Dec. 6 -- Eastern opened Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 6 with a 61-55 victory over Montana State The league opener came less than a month into the 2008-09 campaign, and was the earliest start to the Big Sky schedule in EWU history. Benny Valentine finished with 15 points, four assists and three steals in the win over the Bobcats.

With the victory over MSU, the Eagles were in first place in the league for nearly a month.

"I will caution our players that we were 1-0 last year in the conference as well and ended up not playing in the conference tournament," said head coach Kirk Earlywine after the MSU win. "So while it’s a good start and it certainly beats the alternative of being 0-1, there is still a long ways to go."

 

-- More on Eastern’s Hot Start -- Eastern’s 6-2 start to the 2008-09 season was a complete turnaround from last year when the Eagles were 2-6 after eight games and had been out-scored by an average of more than 12 points per game. Eastern didn’t win its sixth game of the season until Dec. 22.

This season, EWU won its sixth game on Dec. 6 against Montana State. Through eight games, the Eagles had a 535-529 scoring advantage despite losing to a pair of Big Ten Conference foes by a combined 37 points. Eastern out-rebounded opponents by one per game, and had averaged just 12.5 turnovers per game.

As a result, Eastern won all four of its games decided by six points or fewer, and its victories came by margins of three, five, five, six, 10 and 12. Last season, Eastern was 3-6 in games decided by five points or less, with all six setbacks coming during conference play.

"The combination of us defending fairly well and limiting our turnovers have been the two things in particular (that have helped win close games)," explained Earlywine after the MSU win. "Our offensive rebounding hasn’t been overwhelming, but we seem to get them at the right time. Those three things have allowed us to win games, but our statistics as a whole makes you wonder how are we winning those. But it’s been timely, clutch plays, and somebody seems to make a basket at the right time. Andy Genao came up with three buckets, including two tough baskets, in the last 2:35 against Montana State. Maybe the stars are aligned right now because we are finding ways to win tough games."

The last time Eastern was 6-2 to start a season came in came in 2002-03 when that squad began the year 3-2 and stretched it to 7-2 with a four-game winning streak. That year the Eagles lost to Weber State 60-57 in the Big Sky Tournament championship game with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Current Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine was an assistant coach that season for the Wildcats, who were 14-0 in the league and 26-6 overall.

 

-- Four-Game Grind Ends With 3-1 Mark -- Eastern closed a stretch of four games in eight nights with an 88-67 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 26. In the first three games of its four-game grind, Eastern defeated UC Irvine (74-69), Texas Arlington (73-70) and Idaho (69-59). The win over Texas Arlington was particularly impressive because the Mavericks were a NCAA Tournament participant last year and are the defending Southland Conference champions.

"It seemed like those were the types of games that slipped away from us a year ago," said Earlywine, particularly of his team’s narrow victories over the Anteaters and Mavericks. "I don’t know if that means we are improved or the basketball gods are smiling on us at the moment. I know we are better at this point than we were a year ago at this time. How much I don’t know yet.

"Having a guard out there in Benny Valentine that can make plays and handle the ball against pressure certainly helps you in those late-game situations," added Earlywine. "Those are very good wins for us and are a sign that we’re advancing and becoming better as a program."

Eastern opened its season with a 66-50 loss on Nov. 14 at Illinois of the Big Ten Conference in a game that was tied at 35 at halftime. However, Eastern went 8:05 without a field goal during a 15-1 Illinois run in the second half to spoil a combined 27-point outing for new Valentine and returning 6-9 center Brandon Moore.

 

-- Eagles Versus the Big Ten Conference -- Eastern is now 0-6 all-time versus the Big Ten Conference. Before this season, the last meeting against the league took place last November against Michigan in a 61-53 loss.

11/26/08 - L - Minnesota - 67-88 - A

11/14/08 - L - Illinois - 50-66 - A

11/23/07 - L - Michigan - 53-61 - ~

12/5/03 - L - Iowa - 54-70 - #

11/15/02 - L - Wisconsin - 55-81 - $

12/28/01 - L - Indiana - 60-87 - %

11/24/01 - L - Minnesota - 68-86 - A

11/25/00 - L - Michigan State - 61-83 - &

~Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, Alaska

#Gazette Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa

$NABC Classic in Madison, Wisc.

%Ameritech Hoosier Classic in Indianapolis, Ind.

&Spartan Classic in Lansing, Mich.

A -- Away

 

-- Eagles Versus Ranked Teams -- This may be the first time since the 2002-03 season that Eastern has not played a nationally-ranked team. The Eagles have played 12 such games in the five seasons since then.

Eastern is 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 -- The Eagles played in front of 14,422 fans at Illinois on Nov. 14, which is the sixth-largest crowd EWU has ever played against. A crowd of 11,977 were on hand on Nov. 26 when EWU played at Minnesota. Those were the 19th and 20th times since the 2000-01 season that Eastern has played in front of crowds in excess of 10,000 fans. Unfortunately, Eastern has failed to win in all 20 of those games.

Eastern’s first two games of the 2007-08 season drew crowds of 10,216 (at Washington State) and 12,016 (at New Mexico), Later in the year on Dec. 12, 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.

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

14,422 - 11/14/08 vs. Illinois - L, 50-66

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

11,977 - 11/26/08 vs. Minnesota - L, 67-88

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

 

-- Schedule Tough, but More Manageable in 2008-09 -- Eastern’s 2008-09 schedule is once again difficult, with road games scheduled against the likes of Illinois, Minnesota, Hawaii, Washington and Boise State. However, back-to-back road games are rare.

"It’s a challenging schedule, but it’s a little more playable than a year ago in terms of the balance of home games versus away games," explained Eastern head coach Kirk Earlywine. "We don’t get stuck on the road too long."

In all, Eastern has six non-conference home games and seven on the road. Eastern opens the season at Illinois and UC Irvine, but after that, only during the league season does Eastern play back-to-back road games again. Last year, Eastern had only two home games in its first 11 outings of the season.

As a result, Eastern was just 3-8 to start the season before going 8-9 in their next 17 games. The Eagles ended the season with a pair of road losses and finished the season 8-5 at Reese Court and 3-14 away from home.

"I like looking at this schedule more than the one we had last year," said Earlywine. "I like the balance of home games versus road games, and I like the fact we aren’t playing more than two consecutive road games."

Last season, Eastern played a trio of NCAA Tournament teams (Kansas, Washington State and Portland State), and this year the same is true. Texas-Arlington, which lost to Memphis 87-63 in the first round, plays at EWU on Nov. 22. Boise State, a 79-61 loser to Louisville, hosts the Eagles on Dec. 29 and is scheduled to play at Eastern the following season.

The Eagles will play Big Sky Conference rival Portland State on Jan. 24 before hosting the Vikings in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 28. Last season, Eastern lost at Kansas 85-47 and PSU fell to the eventual national champions 85-61 in the NCAA Tournament.

"We have some games against the power conferences that our guys are really excited about," said Earlywine of the schedule. Besides games against the Big 10, Pacific 10 and Western Athletic Conference, Eastern plays a home-and-home series against UC Irvine, a team from the Big West Conference which won seven of its last nine games of the 2007-08 season.

League play – believe it or not – starts just seven games into the season with a home game versus Montana State on Dec. 6. A nine-team league and the participation of some teams in the ESPN Bracketbusters in February, necessitates the early start.

"I’m definitely not in favor of playing conference games the third week of the season," said Earlywine. "But one good thing is that it’s a conference game on a Saturday at home with our students here. We did not have too many of those last year. We hope we will have a heckuva crowd with our students right before final exams with the Bobcats coming to town."

Earlywine expects Portland State to be the early favorite to repeat as league champions. The past two seasons there have been six first-year coaches in the league, and Earlywine thinks those two years of building programs by those schools will pay off this season.

"The word out there is that everybody thinks the Big Sky is going to be very, very good. I would agree," he said. "Portland State and Montana are loaded, and you can never count out Northern Arizona – Mike Adras keeps doing it year-after-year. And I think Idaho State has a chance to make a huge jump. The league is going to be good."

 

-- EWU in Exhibitions -- Until falling 58-56 to Carroll College on Nov. 1, Eastern had won its last 12 exhibition games, which are contests that do not count in EWU’s season record or statistics. It’s last exhibition loss came 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:

11/8/08 - Puget Sound - W, 90-66

11/1/08 - Carroll - L, 56-58

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

 

-- Three Eagles Miss Carroll Game -- Of the three Eagles who missed Eastern’s exhibition opener against Carroll College, returning center Brandon Moore had a knee injury and returned to play 14 minutes against Puget Sound. Forward Chris Busch and guard Adris DeLeon were not cleared to play.

The absence of those three players made it difficult for Earlywine to get a good feel for his team and how the team’s five newcomers blend with six returning letter winners and three returning redshirts in game situations.

"It was hard because there are some questions I have about this year’s team that we needed the exhibition games and early-season games to answer in terms of combinations in our lineup, minutes and so forth," explained Earlywine. "I couldn’t get any of those questions answered against Carroll.

"I didn’t see as much personnel as I would have liked, and obviously I was disappointed but not discouraged at all," he added. "I knew that when we scheduled Carroll that they would come in and be competitive and would compete. I didn’t want to schedule somebody that we were going to beat by 20, 25, or 30 points and not get anything out of the game.

 

-- Earlywine Sees Carroll Loss as Learning Opportunity -- Earlywine wasn’t as concerned about the loss to Carroll as he was with the learning opportunities.

"Like I told our guys, that loss will be long forgotten and meaningless in March if we can use the things that we learned from that loss to get better and improve," he said. "We need to keep taking steps in the direction we need to go.

"I also told our players that Ohio State (by Findlay) and Michigan State (by Grand Valley State) were defeated by non-Division I teams last year," Earlywine added. "It’s not the end of the world. What we do from here to improve is much more important than the final score in an exhibition game."

 

-- Positives from Carroll Game -- Returning starter Trey Gross scored 17 to lead the Eagles against Carroll, and returning guard Milan Stanojevic chipped in 11. Six-foot-8 Mark Dunn added seven points and 10 rebounds, and Gary Gibson had six points, three steals and three assists -- all in the second half as he fueled EWU’s comeback from a 19-point deficit.

"Certainly, Mark Dunn’s play was a positive," Earlywine said. "Double-digit rebounds for him was a pleasant surprise. His conditioning continues to get a little better and a little better and his play was very encouraging. He certainly played more minutes against Carroll than he would have if Brandon had been healthy.

"I also thought Gary Gibson’s play in the second half was a positive," he added. "But those two things were really about the extent of the good news from the Carroll game."

 

-- Practice Time a Premium for Eagles -- One of Kirk Earlywine’s early-season concerns in preparing for a mid-November opener is the lack of practice time prior to that opener after practices began on the late date of Oct. 17.

"I think more than anything else, the five fewer days of practice this year makes it difficult," he explained. "This year it was the nature of the calendar -- we start practice on the Friday nearest to October 15th. A year ago that was October 12th and this year it was on October 17th. So we lost five days of practice this year.

"I think as you establish a program and have more returning guys in your program, that’s probably a little easier to overcome," he said. "But it’s not enough time when you have new players and are trying to establish a program. We were nowhere near to being ready to play a full game against Carroll -- we hadn’t even scrimmaged or had referees in our gym yet. We certainly looked like it."

 

-- Moore Impressive in Last Eight Games of 2007-08 Season-- Sophomore Brandon Moore averaged 11.3 points and 7.6 rebounds on 53.1 percent shooting in the last eight games of the 2007-08 season. He closed the season with seven points and 12 rebounds in a loss at Portland State, but in his previous game at Northern Colorado he played just 22 minutes because of early foul trouble and finished with only two points and one rebound.

The 6-foot-9 Moore helped lead the Eagles to a crucial home sweep over Weber State (69-57) and Idaho State (63-53) in mid-February as he scored 35 points and had 14 rebounds. He made 14-of-20 shots in the two games and added two blocked shots and two steals. Six of his rebounds were on the offensive end, including four offensive boards versus Weber State.

 

-- More on the Big Sky Conference Polls -- Ken Bone’s Portland State Vikings have been selected by the coaches and the media to capture the 2008-09 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball title in preseason polls released Oct. 22. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.

Portland State, which finished 23-10 in 2007-08, earned seven first-place votes from the coaches and 63 total points. The Vikings earned 23 of 26 first-place votes from the media and 230 total points.

Portland State won the regular-season title in 2007-08, finishing 14-2 in conference. The Vikings won their first ever postseason championship, downing Northern Arizona 67-51 in the championship game. Portland State’s season came to an end with a loss to eventual national champion Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Vikings return Big Sky MVP Jeremiah Dominguez, a senior guard from Salem, Ore. Dominguez averaged 14.2 points and four assists per game. The Vikings are expected to be bolstered by Phil Nelson (Washington), Dominic Waters (Hawai’i) and Jamie Jones (Portland), who all sat out last season after transferring from Division I institutions.

The University of Montana was selected second in both polls. The Grizzlies earned two first-place votes from the coaches and 56 total points. Montana also earned two first-place votes from the media and 180 total points. Wayne Tinkle’s Grizzlies finished the 2007-08 season 14-16, losing in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Championship. The Grizzlies will be led by senior forward Jordan Hasquet, and junior guard Ryan Staudacher. Montana will also benefit from the addition of Division I transfers Jack McGillis (Oregon State) and Michael Taylor (Eastern Washington).

Joe O’Brien’s Idaho State Bengals were selected third in both polls. The Bengals received one first-place vote from the media, and 169 total points. In the coaches’ poll, the Bengals earned 49 total points. Idaho State returns four starters from a team that finished 8-8 in conference play last season, including senior guard Matt Stucki and junior guard Amorrow Morgan. The Bengals returned seven of the top eight scorers from last year’s squad.

Northern Arizona, which has advanced to the Big Sky Championship game three consecutive years, was picked fourth by the coaches and fifth by the media. Weber State, which claimed the 2006-07 championship, was tabbed fourth by the media and fifth by the coaches. Northern Arizona will be led by senior guard Josh Wilson, who ranks fifth on the Big Sky’s career assists list with 551. Weber State will be led by senior forward Daviin Davis and senior guard Kellen McCoy.

Northern Colorado, entering its third year of league play, was picked sixth in both polls. Tad Boyle’s Bears return four starters and nine lettermen from the 2007-08 team, which won 13 overall games. Leading the way is senior forward Jabril Banks, who averaged 13.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior.

Rounding out the polls were Eastern Washington, Montana State and Sacramento State. EWU was picked seventh by the coaches and eighth by the media. Montana State was picked seventh by the media and eighth by the coaches. Sacramento State, which enters the season with new coach Brian Katz, was selected ninth in both polls.

Weber State will be the first team to play this season, opening against Miami, Ohio, on Wednesday, Nov. 12 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Westwood, Calif. Six other Big Sky teams open play on Friday, Nov. 14.

The Big Sky Championship begins with quarterfinal games on Saturday, March 7. The semifinals and championship will be played on Tuesday, March 10, and Wednesday, March 11 at the home of the regular-season champion.

The semifinal games will be televised on Altitude Sports & Entertainment. The championship game will be shown live on ESPN2.

Coaches Poll

Team (First-place votes) - Total Points

1. Portland State (7) - 63

2. Montana (2) 56

3. Idaho State - 49

4. Northern Arizona - 41

5. Weber State - 34

6. Northern Colorado - 29

7. Eastern Washington - 22

8. Montana State - 14

9. Sacramento State 10

Media Poll

Team (First-place votes) - Total Points

1. Portland State (23) - 230

2. Montana (2) 180

3. Idaho State (1) - 169

4. Weber State 165

5. Northern Arizona - 153

6. Northern Colorado - 104

7. Montana State - 76

8. Eastern Washington - 64

9. Sacramento State - 38

 

-- 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

 

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