There was some sloppy play and some anxious moments down the stretch that probably could have been avoided. But Eastern Washington University’s men’s basketball team wasn’t about to give back Thursday night’s 96-87 nonconference win over visiting Northwest University.
“We needed it, and it really feels good,” Eastern’s junior forward Laron Griffin said, after treating a Reese Court crowd of 1,127 to sensational individual performance that included career highs in points (19), rebounds (16) and assists (5). “We had some close, tough losses, but we’ve been playing hard all along.
“Maybe after finally getting a win, we can get on with things.”
For the better part of 30 minutes, it looked the Eagles (1-2) were going to breeze past their NAIA foe from Kirkland, Wash. But Northwest (3-1), which came into the game shooting over 48 percent from 3-point range, started knocking down long-range shots from all over the floor and sliced EWU’s 67-44 early second-half lead to 91-87 before the Eagles iced it with four straight free throws from sophomore guard Jeffrey Forbes, who finished with 15 points.
Junior point guard Cliff Colimon paced Eastern’s balanced scoring with 21 points, while Tremayne Johnson added 19 and Cliff Ederaine chipped in 10. The Eagles also won the rebounding battle by a lopsided 51-29 margin that included 23 offensive boards.
Still fourth-year head coach Kirk Earlywine wasn’t pleased with the way his team played – especially in the second half when it spit away most of its once-commanding lead.
“There’s a mindset to playing with the lead,” Earlywine said, “and, obviously, it becomes more difficult when you don’t have your point guard on the floor.”
Sophomore Glen Dean, the Eagles’ starting point guard last season, once again watched from the bench because of stress fracture in his foot. And Colimon, the first-year JC transfer who was brought in to spell Dean at the point, was limited to 17 minutes against Northwest.
Earlywine was particularly disappointed in the number of late fouls his team committed and the way they guarded the perimeter after intermission after holding Northwest, which got 21 points from Jordan Call, to just 1-for-6 shooting from 3-point range in the first half.
“I talked to our players at length before the game – and we addressed it very forcefully at halftime – that we have to stop fouling,” Earlywine said. “And then we went out and fouled them 17 more times in the second half.
“At some point our players, the freshmen in particular, have to understand the difference of playing at this level. They have to listen and hear, and I don’t know how much they’ve heard at this point. When we talk about something at halftime, it has to be corrected.
“That’s the challenge for this team right now.”
The Eagles play again on Wednesday at Boise State.