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Eagles not up to task in exhibition opener

Anyone hoping to get an early-season read on Eastern Washington University’s renovated men’s basketball team at Reese Court Tuesday night probably didn’t.

At least, Eagles fans better hope they didn’t.

Because on this night – matched up against an NCAA Division II opponent in the first exhibition game of the season – an Eastern team that is expected to have one of the best backcourts in the Big Sky Conference didn’t even have the best guard on the floor.

That honor belonged to Seattle Pacific’s Chris Banchero, a savvy 6-foot-1 senior point guard who poured in 38 points and handed out nine assists in leading the Falcons to an 87-82 win over the Eagles in front of an announced crowd of 1,721.

Of course, it helped Banchero’s cause that Eastern was without two of its three splendid sophomore guards – Glen Dean and Jeffrey Forbes – who were held out of the game because of injuries. Dean is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot, and Forbes has a strained MCL in his left knee, but plans to be ready for next Monday’s home exhibition against Montana State-Billings.

The absence of those two forced sophomore Kevin Winford and first-year junior transfer Cliff Colimon to play major minutes in the backcourt against a solid SPU team that also got 16 points from first-year Gonzaga transfer Andy Poling, and shot 62 percent (31 of 50) from the field.

Fatigue was a factor in EWU’s inability to defend, but Eagles coach Kirk Earlywine was still highly critical of his team’s effort – especially in the first half.

“If we’d have come out and played really, really hard defensively in the first half and ran out of gas, I can live with that,” Earlywine said. “But they shot 62 percent – and 66 percent in the first half. We just have to play better. We have to defend better.

“I’m not sure, up to this point, I’ve impressed upon the new guys how hard you have to play, how hard you have to focus every day, even in practice. But I guess that’s why you play these games.”

Of the eight players Earlywine used against the Falcons, only Winford, who finished with 14 points, and junior forward Laron Griffin were members of last year’s team.

But a couple of newcomers showed they can contribute right way.

Treymayne Johnson, a first-year junior transfer, finished with a team-high 22 points for the Eagles, while Colimon added 19 points, a couple of assists and three steals.

The Eagles were down 10 at intermission and trailed 47-30 after SPU opened the second with seven unanswered points. But they managed to put together a methodical comeback that whittled the Falcons’ lead to 73-70 with 90 seconds left – only to have Banchero take over again and score eight of SPU’s last 10 points.