Consider it the ultimate mulligan.
In a rare, if not unprecedented development, Eastern Washington University’s men’s basketball team will get a second chance to close its 2008-09 season with a victory.
The Eagles (12-17), who thought their season ended with last Saturday’s 66-62 overtime loss at home to Portland State, announced Friday that they have accepted an invitation from Saint Mary’s College to travel to Moraga, Calif., on Friday to take part in a previously unscheduled matchup against the Gaels that tips off at 7:05 p.m. in McKeon Pavilion.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything like this before,” said EWU coach Kirk Earlywine, who – like everyone else – thought the Eagles were finished for the year after officially being eliminated from contention for a spot in the six-team Big Sky Conference tournament by the loss to PSU in their regular-season finale.
“But it was just too good an opportunity to pass up.”
According to Earlywine, the Gaels (24-5) approached Eastern about the possibility of playing an extra game to further re-acclimate their all-West Coast Conference sophomore point guard Patrick Mills, who missed the last nine games of the regular season with a broken hand but was cleared to play in the WCC tournament that opened in Las Vegas on Friday.
Saint Mary’s (24-5) is the No. 2 seed behind regular-season champion Gonzaga and, like the Bulldogs, has a bye into Sunday’s semifinals. Earlywine is convinced coach Randy Bennett and his team can use their game against the Eagles to better prepare for either the NCAA tournament or the NIT.
The Gaels were able to look for another game after playing three in the early-season 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., which left them one short of the NCAA’s alternative limit of 27 regular-season games, plus one qualifying regular-season multiple-teams event.
The Eagles were able to oblige because their early-season game at Hawaii was exempt from the NCAA’s normal limitation of 29 regular-season games.
According to EWU athletic director Bill Chaves, the university will receive a monetary guarantee of $40,000 from Saint Mary’s for making the trip to Moraga. That amount will easily cover the cost of travel, Chaves said.
Chaves and Earlywine discussed the pros and cons of playing an additional game this late in the year and decided it made sense in too many ways.
“What a great opportunity – especially for our seniors,” Chaves said. “It’s like a game coming down from the sky. Really, you can’t make this up.
“How many times have kids sat in the locker room and thought, ‘Man, if I only had one more game.’ And in this case, our seniors do.”
Earlywine said his players, to a man, were excited about the opportunity to play another game.
“That was one of the contingencies I had placed on playing the game, was that everybody had to be on board with it,” he said, adding he expects his players to practice hard in the week leading up to the game and treat is as a meaningful encounter rather than an exhibition game.