Nov. 5, 2008
Eastern Washington University head men's basketball coach Kirk Earlywine has a lot of questions, but he's had to wait longer than anticipated to find some of the answers.
He hopes to take a big step in that direction this Saturday (Nov. 8) when the Eagles host a high-scoring University of Puget Sound team in the second and final exhibition game for his currently depleted EWU squad. Tipoff at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., is 2:05 p.m. as the Eagles continue preparations for their Nov. 14 opener at Illinois.
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Eastern is coming off a 58-56 exhibition loss to Carroll College in which three potential starters did not play. The Eagles out-scored the Fighting Saints 38-25 in the second half, but the damage was done in the first half when EWU made just 21 percent of its shots and fell behind at halftime 33-18.
"We didn't spend 10 seconds of preparation time for Carroll, nor will we for Puget Sound," said Earlywine. "Right now we have to concentrate on improving what we do, as opposed to spending time going over personnel of our opponents. I don't think that is important at this point. I think that it is more important that we concentrate on implementing all the things that we need to have implemented before we start to play regular season games, and certainly before we play Montana State (EWU's Big Sky opener on Dec. 6)."
-- About the Loggers -- The Loggers are a NCAA Division III squad who will be playing in their exhibition opener prior to officially opening their season on Nov. 15 against UC Santa Cruz. Last season, the Loggers were 19-7 overall and 11-5 in the Northwest Conference, and have been picked to win this year's league title. As a team, UPS averaged 93.2 points per game in 2007-08 and allowed 83.4 per contest.
Senior forward Jason Foster is a preseason All-American after averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 rebounds a year ago, and senior guard Antwan Williams is an honorable mention preseason All-American with averages of 17.3 points and 5.6 assists last season. Also on the team's roster is Austin Boyce, the younger brother of Eastern All-America football wide receiver Aaron Boyce.
-- Three Eagles Miss Carroll Game -- Of the three Eagles who missed the opener, returning center Brandon Moore has a knee injury and is questionable for this week, and forward Chris Busch and guard Adris DeLeon are currently not eligible to play. Earlywine said he doesn't expect Busch, a transfer from Merritt Junior College in California, to be cleared in time to play this week. He is unsure on the availability of DeLeon, who averaged 12.5 points and 3.1 assists in 27 games last year for EWU.
In any event, the absence of those three players makes 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. Hopefully we will have a larger roster by this weekend and maybe have a few more answers when we go to Illinois on the 14th.
"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 -- Earlwyine 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."
-- Opener Versus Illinois on the Horizon -- On Nov. 14, Eastern will play an Illinois team that finished 16-19 overall and 5-13 in the Big Ten Conference under head coach Bruce Weber. One of 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. It is coming quicker than I would like. 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."
-- 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."
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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
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