Eagles Host Lumberjacks in Early-Season Battle for First Place
Dec. 31, 2007
Life at the top can either continue or end this week for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
In an early-season battle for first place in the Big Sky Conference standings, the Eagles host Northern Arizona on Thursday (Jan. 3) at 7:05 p.m. at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. On Saturday (Jan. 5) at 7:05 p.m., Eastern closes its six-game homestand by hosting Sacramento State.
The Lumberjacks and Eagles are both 1-0 in the conference after picking-up league victories during the holidays. The Eagles are 6-9 overall and defeated Portland State 58-57 on Dec. 22. Northern Arizona, boasting the league's top overall record at 9-5 for a .643 winning percentage, defeated Northern Colorado 86-70 on Dec. 30.
Sacramento State, meanwhile, is 0-1 after falling to UNC 74-60 on Dec. 28. The Hornets are 2-9 overall and play at Portland State on Jan. 3 before coming to Cheney.
Eastern and Northern Arizona have just two common opponents, with both registering victories this season over Missouri-Kansas City. Eastern beat the Kangaroos 65-54 on Dec. 3 in Kansas City and NAU won at home 77-62 on Nov. 17. Both the Eagles and Lumberjacks lost at nationally-ranked Kansas by nearly identical margins -- EWU by an 85-47 score on Dec. 5 and Northern Arizona by an 87-46 score on Nov. 21.
Northern Arizona features the league's top shooting (.476) and rebounding (+7.9 margin per game) team, and ranks second in the league in scoring (73.4). Eastern is last in shooting (.386) and next-to-last in rebounding (-4.7), but is second in the league in scoring defense (66.5).
The Lumberjacks feature three players averaging in double figures, led by 6-foot-9 Kyle Landry who leads the league in rebounding (9.4) and is fourth in scoring (15.5). Point guard Josh Wilson averages 11.3 points and ranks second in the league in assists with a 5.6 average.
Wilson, a graduate of Mark Morris High School in Vancouver, Wash., had 21 assists in a pair of victories over EWU last year. Northern Arizona won those two games 109-101 and 91-80 despite playing without Landry because of an ankle injury.
"We have a huge game here against Northern Arizona, who has the best record in our conference," said first-year EWU head coach Kirk Earlywine. "They have a terrific point guard and a terrific center. That's going to be a challenge for us."
Northern Arizona was picked to finish fourth in the league standings by both the coaches and media, while Eastern was selected to finish ninth by the media and eighth by the coaches. Sac State was selected seventh by the media and ninth by the coaches.
The Hornets and Eagles both lost to Santa Clara at home -- Eastern by a 66-57 margin on Nov. 29 and Sac State by a 77-65 score four days earlier. The only victories thus far for the Hornets were over Simpson (104-71 on Nov. 12) and William Jessup (72-54 on Dec. 4).
Loren Leath ranks third in the Big Sky in scoring (16.1) and is first in three-pointers made per game (2.8). Vinnie McGhee leads the league in assists (6.2) and Justin Williams is first in blocked shots (1.4) and second in steals (1.9).
The Hornets are last in scoring defense (77.6) and field goal shooting (.493), but lead the league in turnover margin (+1.55) and steals (9.3). Sac State forces an average of 19.5 turnovers per game -- the best mark in the league by far (2 1/2 better than Northern Colorado and more than five better than EWU).
Eastern, with six players who had never played NCAA Division I basketball before -- let alone a Big Sky Conference game -- hopes to continue its recipe for recent success. Eastern has used discipline, defense and opportunistic offense to win five of its last nine after a 1-5 start.
Eastern is coming off a 58-51 non-conference loss to UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 29 in a game in which senior Kellen Williams had his seventh double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for EWU, including the PSU victory that Williams won with a leaning eight-foot shot with five seconds to play.
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 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.
Eagles Match 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 76-43 (.639) 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 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.
Very Little Size in EWU Lineup, But Defense Much Improved: Eastern's defense has been impressive in the last two games, holding Portland State and UC Santa Barbara to just 109 total points. The Eagles have been 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 67.1 per game. Senior Kellen Williams, in fact, is just 6-4 but ranks second in the league in rebounding (8.9 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. Our little guys found a way to hang in there with Portland State and kind of forced them to go small a couple times."
"We are going to have to deal with our size issues from time to time," he added. "When we do, we are going to throw out some hodge-podge lineups at our opponents and we have to go rebound by committee."
Double-Double Machine Kellen Williams Follows Honor With Another Huge Game: Eastern leading scorer and rebounder Kellen Williams followed an honor-filled week with one of the most productive games of his career in EWU's 58-51 loss to UC Santa Barbara.
Williams, the previous week's Big Sky Player of the Week, had his third double-double in a row and fifth in his last six games. His 23 points were a season high, and just one from his career high of 24 set against Idaho a year ago. He also had 10 rebounds and made 9-of-15 shots from the field with a pair of steals. However, he missed three free throws in the last 3:24 to spoil an otherwise splendid performance.
"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."
Williams is just 6-foot-4 but ranks second in the league in rebounding (8.9 per game) and is seventh in scoring (12.7) and seventh in field goal percentage (.514). The 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle, Wash., also has a team-leading 19 steals with 20 assists in 15 games. One of just two seniors on this year's team, he is also averaging a team-high 35.3 minutes per game.
Williams has averaged a double-double in Eastern's six victories this season, averaging 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game with a .556 shooting percentage, eight steals and 11 assists. He has had double-doubles in four of those six victories, including a total of seven this season. He has had five double-doubles in his last six games, and in the lone game he did not -- a runaway 91-59 victory over Cascade on Dec. 14 -- he came a rebound away from one and played a season-low 25 minutes. Eastern is 4-3 when he has a double-double.
In his 72-game EWU career (55 as a starter), Williams has averaged 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game with a career field goal percentage of .527. 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, then followed that with 16 points and 10 boards in a nine-point victory over Portland on Dec. 17.
"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."
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 -- includes 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. Through games of Dec. 30, EWU's strength of schedule was rated 43rd.
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.
Eagles Better in Second Half Than First Half: Eastern has now been outscored in the first half 492-411 (average score of 33-27), with its first halftime lead of the season coming in a 65-54 win at Missouri-Kansas City on Dec. 3. The team's only other halftime lead was 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.
In the second half, Eastern has been outscored by just 20 points total -- 505-485 (average score of 34-32). Eastern has either had advantages or been tied after halftime in eight games.
Three of Eastern's victories -- Portland, Alaska Anchorage and UC Riverside -- have 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.
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.
Earlywine on Tough, Early-Season Stretch: "It's a tough stretch right now, but I knew back in August the challenges that were ahead of us. We have to find a way to get better."
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
EWU-NAU Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 20-27 versus Northern Arizona, including a 6-16 record in Flagstaff, Ariz., 13-10 in Cheney and 1-1 on neutral courts. Eastern trails in the all-time series 20-28 (6-16 in Flagstaff, 13-11 in Cheney, 1-1 neutral).
Eastern had won six-straight games against the Lumberjacks and nine of the last 11 until falling 77-64 in Flagstaff on Feb. 5, 2005. The Lumberjacks beat EWU 105-95 on Jan. 5, 2006, in a game in which Eastern's Rodney Stuckey scored a school-record 45 points. Eastern defeated the Lumberjacks 73-61 in Cheney on Feb. 4, 2006, but lost twice in the 2006-07 season -- 109-101 in Flagstaff and 91-80 in Cheney.
Until a 72-65 victory in Flagstaff in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern had lost nine-straight meetings there since Feb. 16, 1991. Coupled with a win later in the 2000-2001 season, Eastern swept the regular season meetings with the Lumberjacks for the first time in 10 years. Eastern duplicated that feat in 2003 and 2004.
Last Season in Cheney - Northern Arizona 91, Eastern Washington 80: Stephen Sir continued his hot shooting as he and his Northern Arizona teammates made 64 percent of their shots in the second half to pull away from Eastern Washington 91-80 Jan. 18 in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Sir made 7-of-10 three-pointers en route to finishing with a game-high 25 points. Eastern's Rodney Stuckey had 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but made only 10-of-21 shots overall. He missed all four of his three-point attempts and five free throws.
Northern Arizona, the preseason pick by coaches to win the league title, finished 12-of-20 from three-point range as Sir extended his hot streak that saw him make 26 of his last 34 treys. Eastern was just 2-of-14 from the three-point stripe. The Eagles also made only 8-of-22 free throws, including just 4-of-9 by Stuckey, the Big Sky's leader entering the game at 86.3 percent.
With Sir scoring 14 points after halftime -- with four three-pointers -- NAU opened up a seven-point lead less than five minutes into the second half. Eastern cut the margin to one at the 11:01 mark, but NAU used an 8-0 run to take command and led by as many as 13.
Eastern managed to out-rebound the Lumberjacks 34-30 and had 14 turnovers to NAU's 10. Eastern actually shot better than NAU, making 56.5 percent for its fourth-best shooting percentage of the season. The Lumberjacks finished at 54.1 percent.
Ryan McCurdy made 8-of-10 shots and finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Bazy came off the bench to finish with 19 points and five assists, and Josh Wilson had a career-high 14 assists.
The first half featured nine ties and three lead changes as NAU led 40-38 at intermission. Eastern, thanks to 58 percent shooting in the first half, led by as many as six.
Last Season in Flagstaff - Northern Arizona 109, Eastern Washington 101: Eastern Washington University did a good job of staying within striking distance of Northern Arizona Jan. 6 at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz.
But the Eagles couldn't stop the Big Sky Conference favorite from doing the striking as Tyrone Bazy and Stephen Sir combined for 54 points to lead NAU to a 109-101 league victory.
Bazy scored 32 to lead NAU, which made 61 percent of its shots from the field. Sir added 22 on 5-of-5 shooting from the three-point line as NAU made 8-of-11 treys as a team. The Lumberjacks also made 33-of-38 free throws for 73 percent.
Eastern was led by the 23 points of Rodney Stuckey, but the Eagles made just 45 percent of their shots. Stuckey suffered through a 6-of-21 shooting night a year and a day after making 15-of-21 in Flagstaff to finish with a school-record 45 points in a 105-95 Eagle loss.
Paul Butorac added a career-high 21 points, including 14 in the first half when EWU was out-scored 49-43. But he had just three rebounds as the Eagles were out-rebounded 36-33. After leading the rebounding war 19-16 in the first half, the Eagles were out-rebounded 21-13 after intermission.
Eastern used a 17-6 run in the first half to rally from a 10-point deficit and take a 39-38 lead on a three-pointer by Matt Penoncello. But Eastern had a pair of turnovers down the stretch in the first half and never led again.
In the second half, Eastern fell behind by as many as 11 before pulling to within 77-73 with 8:48 to play. But Northern Arizona scored 10-straight points to regain an 87-73 advantage. Sir made his fifth three-pointer of the game in that run as the closest Eastern came after that was six with 15 seconds to play.
Penoncello equaled his season high with 13 points off the bench. Ruben Boykin Jr. added a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds for NAU, and Josh Wilson chipped in 11 points and seven assists.
EWU-Sacramento State Series History (Since 1983-84): Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are 19-7 versus Sacramento State. The Eagles have won 12 of their last 15 games against the Hornets, and have an 12-1 record versus Sacramento State in Cheney and 7-6 record in Sacramento.
Eastern won both meetings in the 2006-07 season, beating the Hornets 100-85 in Sacramento State and 80-72 in Cheney. Eastern has won the last 11 meetings at home against Sac State, dating back to a 68-67 Hornet victory on Jan. 19, 1995.
Last Season in Cheney - Eastern Washington 80, Sacramento State 72: Rodney Stuckey led three players in double figures with 18 points as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team kept alive its hopes of a 10th-straight appearance in the Big Sky Conference Tournament with an 80-72 victory over Sacramento State Saturday (Feb. 24) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Senior Paul Butorac added 17 points and eight rebounds, and freshman Brandon Moore chipped in 13 points and nine rebounds. Eastern, which finished the regular season 15-14 overall and 8-8 in the Big Sky, registered its first three-game winning streak of the season with the win over the Hornets.
However, results of subsequent league games to end the regular season did not go Eastern's way, and the Eagles found themselves on the outside looking in as tiebreakers broke a three-way tie for fifth.
Eastern took an 11-point lead in the second half, but Sac State rallied to take a 66-65 lead with 7:06 to play. But a three-pointer by Marcus Hinton gave Eastern the lead for good, and he added a layup and dunk to complete EWU's 7-0 run and open a six-point lead with 3:22 left. Although Eastern missed five-straight free throws at one point in the last 6:15, the Eagles made 7-of-12 in the last 1:28 to clinch the win.
"You have to take your hat off to Sacramento State for their performance tonight," said Burns of the Hornets, who ended their season 9-19 overall and 4-11 in the Big Sky. "On one hand they didn't have a lot to play for, but they played hard tonight and made it a very, very difficult game for us to win. I'm proud of the effort our guys put forth."
Four Eagle seniors -- Butorac, Rhett Humphrey, Neal Zumwalt and Derek Risper -- played their final home games in EWU uniforms. As it turned out, it was also the last game for Stuckey, who would eventually skip his final two years of collegiate eligibility for the NBA. Risper had a game-high 11 rebounds and Zumwalt finished with eight points.
The Eagles registered their first Big Sky Conference weekend sweep of the season.
Last Year in Sacramento - Eastern Washington 100, Sacramento State 85: With Rodney Stuckey providing a 15-of-16 performance from the free throw line, Eastern rallied from a 15-point deficit to win by that margin, 100-85, over Sacramento State in a Big Sky Conference game Jan. 25 at the Hornets Nest in Sacramento, Calif.
"We showed great poise and great character," said head coach Mike Burns, whose team out-scored the Hornets 73-45 after falling behind 40-27. "I'm very proud of them for that.
Paul Butorac had 21 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. Kellen Williams added 11 points and nine rebounds, and Derek Risper came off the bench to finish with 13 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots.
But Stuckey was again his amazing self, finishing 8-of-19 from the field and 15-of-16 from the free throw line to go along with seven rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals. Stuckey missed his 16th and final attempt against Sac State, which could have equaled him with Jason Lewis for the best single-game free throw percentage performance in school and Big Sky history (16-of-16 in 2001 versus Weber State).
Stuckey scored many of his points on drives to the baskets against Sacramento State's pressure defense. The result was Eastern making 16-of-24 field goals and 21-of-27 free throws in the second half. Eastern finished the game making 58.6 percent from the field and 32-of-41 free throws for 78 percent.
"When they really crawl up in you and extend that defense, they give you one choice," explained Burns. "And that one choice is to put it on the deck. Through most of the second half that was what we did. When you can get by the first guy, it opens things up.
"We shot 67 percent in the second half, and that's why," he added of the team's offensive performance, which also included just 15 turnovers after Sac State entered the game forcing an average of nearly 21 per game. "Kudos to our players for being strong with the basketball and taking care of it."
Eastern fell behind early 31-16 and 33-18, but eventually chipped into that lead to take a 43-42 advantage late in the first half. Eastern's zone defense and a 45-30 rebounding edge in the game helped the Eagles overcome the big deficit.
Tied at 47 at halftime, Eastern trailed 59-55 when it went on a 12-0 run to take the lead for good. The Eagles broke the game open with a 12-2 run that gave them an 86-70 advantage with six minutes left. Eastern led by no less than 11 the rest of the way and led by as many as 19.
MORE EWU NOTES
Recent 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 have 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 recent 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.