Coach Kirk Earlywine got a lot of what he wanted out of his Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team Friday afternoon at Reese Court – just not a victory.
The Eagles, after battling back from an eight-point deficit late in the game, had a chance to tie or beat Northern Colorado at the buzzer and treat an energetic crowd that included many members of EWU’s No. 1- ranked football team to a memorable finish.
But Glen Dean’s shot off an aggressive drive to the basket was rejected by UNC’s Elliott Lloyd at the buzzer, letting the Bears escape with a 75-73 Big Sky Conference win.
Eastern (4-9 overall, 1-1 in the Big Sky) got a sensational effort from its backcourt, which accounted for 60 points – including a team-high 21 from sophomore Jeffrey Forbes. But Earlywine’s bigs just didn’t get it done inside, as evidenced by UNC’s 35-27 rebounding advantage.
The Bears (6-7, 2-0) got a game-high 23 points from senior guard Devon Beitzel and made 14 consecutive free throws in the final six minutes to keep their league record unblemished.
Earlywine praised the play of his young guards and the defensive job they did on holding Beitzel to just seven second-half points.
“They did a good job of chasing him,” Earlywine said. “I was happy with the job we did defending in the second half. But in the end, the final analysis of the game was on the glass.
“Being a minus-8 on the boards was the game.”
This loss could haunt the Eagles for some time, considering the chances they had to pull off the upset of a UNC team that figures to be in the Big Sky title chase.
Down two with 46 seconds left, Dean missed the first of a one-and-one free throw opportunity, only to come back eight seconds later and misfire on two more foul shots.
Still, the Eagles managed to get the ball back on a 5-second count with 11 seconds left, but didn’t get the possible foul call on Dean’s final drive to the bucket.
“On both ends of the floor tonight, we got want we wanted,” Earlywine said of his team’s performance in end-of-game situations. “If you give me Glen Dean at the foul line in the last seconds with a chance to tie it or win, I’ll take it every time.
“The more times you’re in those situations, you can draw from those past experiences. What happened at the end of regulation against Sac State on Wednesday night helped us, and I think what happened tonight will help us.
“I just think its better if you can draw on winning experiences.”
Along with Forbes’ big offensive effort, in which he knocked down 6 of 8 3-point attempts, the Eagles got 13 points each from Dean, Kevin Winford and Cliff Colimon. But they missed 6 of their last 10 free throws, including two in one-and-one situations.
When asked about the play of his young guards – Forbes, Dean and Winford – Earlywine said, “The fact that those three sophomore guards are giving us a chance to win against a really old, experienced and good team bodes well for the future.
“But that’s not much consolation at this moment, to be perfectly honest.”
Eastern shot the ball well, especially from long range, in the first half, but still needed a buzzer-beating tip-in by freshman Rocky Brown to take a hard-earned, 43-42 lead at intermission.
Winford paced the Eagles with 11 first-half points – with five of those coming from the foul line. EWU knocked down 8 of 13 shots from 3-point range, with Forbes and Dean combining to go a perfect 5-of-5.
Beitzel scored 16 first-half points for UNC, which led 24-16 midway through the opening period.