Short turnarounds are never easy, especially when you’re playing shorthanded in the backcourt against an up-tempo opponent with plenty of depth, talent and experience.
Eastern Washington University learned that painful lesson in front of a Reese Court crowd of 1,471 Saturday night, blowing a 15-point first-half lead and coasting in on fumes while suffering a 74-71 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball loss to Northern Colorado.
It was the second hard-to-stomach defeat in just over 24 hours for the Eagles (6-13 overall, 2-4 in the Big Sky), who lost at home to Northern Arizona, 73-69, on Friday and were once again without the services of guards Alden Gibbs (ankle sprain) and Abebe Demissie (academic issues).
Northern Colorado (16-4, 5-2) was playing on short rest, as well, after losing to Portland State on Friday night. But the veteran Bears were able to persevere, while Eastern’s young, over-worked backcourt simply ran out of gas in the second half.
“I thought fatigue was a huge, monster factor in the last 10 minutes of the game,” Eagles coach Kirk Earlywine said. “We put pressure on them in the first half and scored 41 points, but we couldn’t run in the second half. I thought our guys tried their butts off, but the tank was on empty.”
Eastern once again showed nice scoring balance as senior forward Mark Dunn scored 16 points to lead a trio of double-figure scorers that also included freshmen guards Jeffrey Forbes, who finished with 14, and Glen Dean, who added 11.
But after running up a 39-24 lead with the just under three minutes left in the first half, the Eagles suffered through a scoring drought that spanned intermission and lasted almost seven minutes. And UNC took advantage of that swoon to score 15 answered points – including the first 10 of the second half – and claw its way back into the game.
The Bears, who got 21 points from Will Figures and 20 from Neal Kingman, took their first lead seven minutes into the second period and never let the Eagles loose again, converting on nearly every possession down the stretch.
Still, Eastern had a chance to win it with five seconds left, and UNC leading 73-71, when freshman Kevin Winford launched a well-guarded 3-pointer from the right corner, only to watch in sail over the rim and bounce out of bounds off the leg of teammate Brandon Moore.
Figures was followed immediately on the ensuing inbounds passed and missed the second of two free throws, giving Eastern just enough time to call a timeout and set up a desperation play that saw Forbes’ toss from half court bounce off the front of the rim as time expired.
“It felt good when it left my hand,” said Forbes, who admitted to being gassed because of the extended minutes he and his backcourt teammates were forced to play for the second straight night.
“The fatigue factor was major,” he said. “I’m not going to lie, I just didn’t have much left in the last eight minutes. The way they play is so up and down the court, and it took a toll on me. I didn’t feel like I had any legs left at the end of the game.”
The absence of Gibbs and Demissie was key, according to Earlywine.
“There’s no way to minimize or overstate the effects of that – and the accumulative effect of the extra minutes the guys had to play last night,” he said. “Forbes and Dean go 33 minutes again tonight, and each of them had only one turnover against a team that really pressures you.
“Those two guys tried really, really had, but they just had dead legs in the last five or six minutes. Obviously, if we’d have had another guy out there … ”