December 6, 2007

After Midwest Road Split, Eagles Play at Idaho

Dec. 6, 2007

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Close to home will be followed by home sweet home.

After playing eight of its first 10 games on the road, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team returns home for seven-straight games in the Inland Northwest, starting Sunday (Dec. 9) at Idaho in a 3:05 p.m. Pacific time game at the Cowan Spectrum in Moscow, Idaho.

Eastern is 3-7 after a road split in the Midwest where the Eagles won at Missouri-Kansas City 65-54 on Monday (Dec. 3) before losing at third-ranked Kansas 85-47 two days later. The game against the Jayhawks equaled the highest-ranked team Eastern has ever played.

The game against the 1-6 Vandals is the next step in EWU's preparation for Big Sky Conference play that begins on Dec. 22 at home against Portland State. Eastern has four more non-conference games to play in December, including three more heading into the league opener.

"It's a huge game for us," said first-year EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine of Sunday's game at Idaho. "The philosophy I've always taken is that the most important game on your schedule is the next one. I don't know if we took a step backward against Kansas, but I know we didn't go forward. That's a little disappointing. So we have get back to moving forward on Sunday afternoon."

After playing at Idaho, Eastern takes on NAIA opponent Cascade at home on Dec. 14 in the first of six-straight games at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. Cascade has already matched its win total of a year ago, and is 4-4 heading into a Dec. 8 game at Pacific.

Then, Eastern plays a non-conference game against West Coast Conference foe Portland (Dec. 17), has its earliest league start in school history when PSU visits on Dec. 22 and then closes out the year by hosting UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 29. League play continues in January with home games against Northern Arizona (Jan. 3) and Sacramento State (Jan. 5). All six games in the homestand begin at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time.

Idaho is coming off a 65-49 loss at Central Arkansas on Wednesday (Dec. 5) in which the Bears used a late 17-3 run to pull away. The Vandals trailed by just six with 12:46 to play, but Idaho missed their next 11 shots as it went more than 11 minutes without a field goal.

The Vandals lost on the road at UC Riverside 56-55 on Nov. 24, just nine days after Eastern rallied at home for a 59-51 win over the Highlanders. The Vandals also lost by 31 points (74-43) on Nov. 16 to a nationally-ranked Washington State team the Eagles lost to by 27 (68-41) on Nov. 9. Idaho lost in overtime to Big Sky member Idaho State 71-69 on Dec. 1, and the lone victory for the Vandals was a 110-52 season-opening victory over Cascade College on Nov. 9.

Eastern has won the last two meetings against Idaho, including a 68-55 victory two years ago in Moscow and an 85-56 win last season in Cheney. Senior Kellen Williams, who is averaging 10.7 points and 7.9 rebounds for the Eagles this season, scored 11 points two years ago against the Vandals and had a career-high 24 on 9-of-12 shooting from the field in last year's meeting.

Idaho leads the all-time series 37-11, including a nearly 10-year winning streak. The Vandals won 22-straight games against the Eagles from Nov. 28, 1986, to Feb. 17, 1996, including a 65-62 buzzer beater in the 1990 Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game.

Idaho was 4-27 last year under George Pfeifer, who is in his second season at the helm of the Vandals. The team's leading scorer is 6-foot-3 forward Jordan Brooks, who is averaging 11.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

Eastern is coming off a 15-14 finish to the 2006-07 season as the last three EWU seasons have 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.

 

Williams Averaging Double-Double in Victories: Eastern leading scorer and rebounder Kellen Williams has averaged a double-double in Eastern's three victories this season, averaging 15.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game with five steals and six assists. After his third double-double of the season in a loss at Kansas, the senior from Seattle, Wash., is now averaging 10.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, and also has a team-leading 14 steals with 15 assists in 10 games. He is also averaging a team-high 35.8 minutes per game as one of just two seniors on this year's team.

Williams was 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.

"Kellen is playing really well," said Eagle head coach Kirk 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."

 

EWU vs. Idaho Series History: Eastern trails in the all-time series 11-37, but has won the last two meetings in each of the past two seasons. The Eagles won 68-55 in Moscow on Nov. 30, 2005, and 85-56 on Dec. 21, 2006, in Cheney. Eastern won four-straight games in the series from Nov. 29, 1999, to Dec. 7, 2002, but that was nothing compared to Idaho's nearly 10-year winning streak. The Vandals won 22-straight games against the Eagles from Nov. 28, 1986, to Feb. 17, 1996, including a 65-62 buzzer beater in the 1990 Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game. The streak was finally snapped with a 66-53 Eagle home win on Nov. 29, 1999.

 

Last Year in Cheney - Eastern Washington 85, Idaho 56: Junior Kellen Williams scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field to lead the Eastern to an 85-56 victory over Idaho Dec. 21 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., in the final non-conference game for EWU before starting league action.

Williams made a pair of three-pointers and all four of his free throws, and added six rebounds and three blocked shots. His previous career high was 19 as a sophomore and his previous season high was 13 two games earlier versus Santa Clara.

Sophomore Rodney Stuckey added 16 points, five assists and a career-high seven steals for EWU after playing just four minutes in his last outing because of back spasms. Paul Butorac added 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Omar Krayem finished with nine points, a career-high eight assists, three steals and five rebounds.

"It was nice to see some of our other guys step up," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. "Kellen was huge in the first half. He banged in a couple of threes, and played with a lot of confidence and energy."

Krayem also provided the Eagles much-needed defense on Idaho leading scorer Keoni Watson, who finished with 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Watson also had five turnovers as the 56 points Idaho scored were the fewest Eastern has surrendered in its first 12 games.

Eastern held Idaho to 42 percent shooting, and out-rebounded the Vandals 35-33. The Eagles also forced 23 turnovers and had just 14 themselves. Eastern had 25 points off turnovers compared to just five for Idaho.

Idaho took its only lead of the game at 3-0, but Eastern quickly erased that and went up by double digits. Eastern led 20-12 when Idaho went scoreless for nearly five minutes as the Eagles went on a 13-0 run to build a 33-12 advantage.

Eastern led by as many as 22 in the first half, taking a 41-19 advantage at halftime. The Eagles led by as many as 29 in the second half (the final score of 85-56) and by no fewer 20.

 

Last Time in Moscow - Eastern Washington 68, Idaho 55: Freshman Rodney Stuckey scored 18 points and sophomore Jake Beitinger had 16 as Eastern Washington used a late burst of offense and defense to defeat Idaho 68-55 on Nov. 30, 2005, at the Cowan Spectrum in Moscow, Idaho.

With the score knotted at 47 with 9:06 left, Eastern went on a 10-0 run to pull ahead and register its second win of the season.

"It was huge because we have a young ball club," said Eagle head coach Mike Burns, whose team had just one senior. "At the end of the day you need to win. And to get a road win at a very tough place to play is huge for us. It was definitely a confidence builder."

Beitinger made 6-of-9 shots from the floor as the Eagles dominated inside. Sophomore forward Kellen Williams added 11 points as Eastern made 57 percent of its shots in the second half while holding Idaho to 36 percent. Eastern made 10 of its last 15 field goals and its last 10 free throws, and finished the game at 49 percent from the floor compared to 43 percent for Idaho.

"For our players to have the ability to grind it out is a credit to them," said Burns. "Having the ability to grind out wins is so much of what we've talked to them about. When it was close in the second half they did a great job of grinding every possession offensive and defensively. That was the difference for us."

Eastern also out-rebounded the Vandals 34-20, and allowed Idaho to grab just five offensive rebounds. Eastern had 19 turnovers -- its season average -- but also had assists on 14 of 23 baskets, compared to three of 20 for Idaho.

 

Series Results (since EWU became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season)
12/28/83 - L - Idaho - 69-91 - A
1/17/84 - W - Idaho - 77-70 - H
1/16/85 - L - Idaho - 66-59 - A
2/13/85 - L - Idaho - 75-78 - H
12/7/85 - W - Idaho - 79-65 - A
1/15/86 - W - Idaho - 79-67 - H
11/28/86 - L - Idaho - 65-76 - ~
1/14/87 - L - Idaho - 45-55 - H
11/25/88 - L - Idaho - 54-79 - #
2/6/88 - L - Idaho* - 64-74 - A
2/27/88 - L - Idaho* - 58-61 - H
1/28/89 - L - Idaho* - 54-73 - H
2/5/89 - L - Idaho* - 74-87 - A
1/27/90 - L - Idaho* - 51-70 - A
3/1/90 - L - Idaho* - 54-72 - H
3/9/90 - L - Idaho - 62-65 - $
1/26/91 - L - Idaho* - 55-72 - H
3/2/91 - L - Idaho* - 65-80 - A
1/30/92 - L - Idaho* - 54-64 - A
3/7/92 - L - Idaho* - 57-60 - H
1/22/93 - L - Idaho* - 63-87 - A
2/20/93 - L - Idaho* - 80-82 - A
1/21/94 - L - Idaho* - 65-71 - A
2/19/94 - L - Idaho* - 64-82 - H
1/21/95 - L - Idaho* - 62-78 - A
2/17/95 - L - Idaho* - 54-61 - H
1/19/96 - L - Idaho* - 53-75 - H
2/17/96 - L - Idaho* - 63-76 - A
11/29/99 - W - Idaho - 66-53 - H
12/30/00 - W - Idaho - 73-66 - A
12/6/01 - W - Idaho - 59-48 - A
12/7/02 - W - Idaho - 67-62 - H
12/28/03 - L - Idaho - 60-64 - A
01/02/05 - L - Idaho - 50-52 - H
11/30/05 - W - Idaho - 68-55 - A
12/21/06 - W - Idaho - 85-56 - H

~ -- Inland Empire Classic in Spokane, Wash. (3rd)
# -- Inland Northwest Classic in Spokane, Wash. (4th)
$ -- Big Sky/Coors Light Tournament in Boise, Idaho (championship game)
* -- Big Sky Conference Game

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