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EWU improves, but still loses to San Jose St.

Kirk Earlywine finally got the kind of effort he’s been wanting from his Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team at Reese Court on Friday night.

But the Eagles also gave their fourth-year head coaches a few things he could have done without – like 12 second-half turnovers, a bundle of mental mistakes and a perplexing second-half scoring drought that lasted almost six minutes.

And in the end, the turnovers, mental gaffes and inability to finish – along with a 34-point scoring outburst by San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver – trumped the Eagles’ competitiveness, resulting in a 67-60 nonconference loss to the Spartans in the season opener for both schools.

“I thought our level of competitiveness was significantly improved, which it needed to be,” Earlywine said, when asked to compare his team’s effort against San Jose State to that in its two exhibition losses to NCAA Division II teams.

“We guarded well enough to win a game, but we did not rebound the ball well enough, and we didn’t take care of the ball in the second half.”

The Eagles, who were again playing without a true point guard as sophomore Glen Dean and junior Cliff Colimon watched from the bench in street close because of foot injuries, held the Spartans to just 32.7 percent (18-55) shooting from the field but put them on the free-throw line 37 times.

And the 28 foul shots SJSU converted – which were 12 more than Eastern – was the difference in the game.

Oliver, a 6-foot-4 senior who scored 30 or more points for the 11th time in his career, went to the foul line 14 times and made nine of his attempts. He also knocked down 12 of 23 field-goal tries, with many of his makes coming on difficult, off-balance shots.

“He’s big, he’s strong and he has the ability to make very, very tough shots,” Earlywine said of Oliver, who, at one point, missed three straight free throws for the first time in his career. “He takes tough shots, but he has the ability to make them, and we knew that.

“Our objective was to keep him off the free-throw line, and we didn’t do a good enough job of that.”

Eastern, which got 21 points from first-year junior forward Treymayne Johnson and 15 from sophomore guard Jeffrey Forbes, led 36-33 at intermission and was still up 50-48 midway through the second half when the scoring drought hit.

The Eagles’ offensive swoon was initiated by turnovers on three of four possessions.

Both Forbes and fellow sophomore Kevin Winford were guilty of a couple of giveaways during the offensive shutdown, prompting Earlywine to wonder whether fatigue might have played a role.

“Maybe it did,” he said. “I didn’t think so at the time, but Winford and Forbes are both playing more minutes than they normally would and maybe fatigue was responsible. But I don’t think fatigue caused them to turn the ball over.”

Next up for Eastern is a trip to Seattle Tuesday to take on the University of Washington.

“We’ve got to continue to compete like we did tonight,” Earlywine said, when asked what his team could take from Friday night’s loss. “But we’ve got to do it with more intelligence and more discipline.”

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