With Northern Colorado, the surprise team in the this year’s Big Sky Conference race, headed into Reese Court for tonight’s 7:05 men’s basketball matchup against Eastern Washington, the Eagles can’t spent much time trying to figure out what went wrong in Friday night’s 73-69 home loss to Northern Arizona.
But we do have some additional thoughts and postgame comments from Coach Kirk Earlywine and senior guard Benny Valentine below, along with some links to other related stories.
The gamer that ran in the Arizona Daily Sun is here, and the story NAU’s sports info folks posted can be found here. In addition, I’ve included links to the game stories about Northern Colorado’s 85-69 Friday night road loss to Portland State that appeared in the Greeley Tribune and Oregonian.
And now back to Eastern’s untidy loss to NAU:
Actually, the Eagles did a lot of good things during the game — but none of them in the final three minutes when they turned the ball over three times, missed the front end of a crucial one-and-one free-throw opportunity and let the Lumberjacks’ Cameron Jones in the back door for the go-ahead basket that infuriated head coach Kirk Earlywine.
Freshman guard Glen Dean, who has been Eastern’s most consistent and effective player throughout the season, looked very freshman-like down the stretch. The 5-foot-10, 170-pounder finished with five turnovers after getting picked by NAU’s Julian Olubuyi near the top of the key with just over a minute remaining and the game tied at 67, and then turning the ball over again in the final 20 seconds when the Eagles had a chance to tie or take the lead.
Earlywine admitted Dean’s turnover with a minute left will be what most of those in attendance remember, but quickly came to the defense of the talented young man who is fast becoming the face of Eastern basketball.
“He’s not going to be the best player on the floor every night,” he said of Dean, who finished with 11 points, three rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes. “He’s still getting the ball to the right spots, he handled it when they double teamed him on the ball screen and he got shots for our guys with his passes.
“They did a good job of guarding him, but he still went 5-for-12 (from the field) and had a pretty good look at a 3(-pointer) after they took the, but it didn’t go in.”
While disappointing, it wasn’t Dean’s late turnovers and missed trey that rankled Earlywine. What set the Eagles’ third-year coach off was NAU’s out-of-bounds play coming out of a timeout that led to an easy bucket by Jones and put the Lumberjacks ahead 70-69 with 30 seconds left.
Jones used a screen to slip along the baseline, take the pass from Eric Platt and score from in close.
“The single-most disappointing thing was that we told our players during the timeout exactly what play Northern Arizona was going to run,” Earlywine explained. “That was the most disappointing thing to me. That, and the fact that that (inbounds) play was the very first thing we guarded when we began our preparation on Monday — the very first one.
“And then you compound that disappointment with our missed free throws and the inability to score with our big guys. We get the ball deep to them in the post, and they don’t score in there.”
Eastern’s four bigs — Brandon Moore, Mark Dunn, Matt Brunell and Laron Griffin — were a combined 9-for-28 from the floor. And most of those 19 misses came from kick-in range.
Earlywine said the absence of Alden Gibbs, a 6-3 junior wing, hurt Eastern’s ability to contain Jones. Gibbs missed the game with an ankle injury suffered on Tuesday, but not during practice.
When asked how the injury happened, Earlywine said Gibbs told him he had slipped on the ice. But he didn’t seem to buy that account, noting the warm weather, of late.
For those of you who made it this far, be sure to check back later tonight for an early look at the game story from the Northern Colorado-EWU game that tips off at 7:05.