LAS VEGAS – Any lingering questions about how Eastern Washington might respond in the wake of last Saturday’s 57-point road loss to Brigham Young were answered early Tuesday night.
The Eagles, with a chance to beat up on a Chicago State team riding a six-game losing streak and still in search of its first win over an NCAA Division I opponent, blew it with a horrible first-half shooting effort that factored heavily into an unexpected 62-53 loss to the Cougars in the opening round of the Las Vegas Classic at Orleans Arena.
Eastern (4-8) made just 8 of 28 field-goal attempts in the opening 20 minutes and let Chicago State (4-7) loose on runs of 12-0 and 9-0. That put the Eagles in a 34-20 hole at intermission that proved too deep to escape, despite a slightly better second-half performance.
“When you shoot less than 30 percent, it’s hard to win,” EWU coach Kirk Earlywine said of his team’s 15-for-54 shooting (27.8 percent) from the field. “We played better in the second half than we did in the first, and we didn’t play awful in the first half.
“We just couldn’t hit a shot.”
Freshman guard Jeffery Forbes led Eastern with 13 points, while senior forwards Mark Dunn and Matt Brunell combine for 22 more. But the Eagles made only 4 of 21 tries from 3-point range and missed a couple of key shots down the stretch after slicing Chicago State’s lead to 57-53 on a 3-pointer by Forbes with just less than 2 minutes left.
The Cougars, who got 11 points, each, from Antonio Lofton and Kabangu Kasamba, also got five clutch free throws from Victor Scott in the final 60 second of the contest.
Chicago State, which came in shooting just 38.2 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, knocked down 5 of 8 3-point attempts in the first half and shot 46 percent (22 of 48) from the field for the game.
“They’re not a good shooting team,” Earlywine said of the Cougars, “but they made shots tonight.”
The loss dropped EWU into the losers’ bracket of the Classic. The Eagles will play winless Jackson State (0-10), a 71-62 loser to Wagner on Tuesday, in a consolation matchup today at noon.