PULLMAN – From the debris here Saturday afternoon emerged two telling details, one mathematical and the other metaphorical.
The math: 20 points, 13 rebounds for Washington State’s Charlie Enquist, an agreeable soul and a willing senior who hadn’t managed to score that many points during the course of two of his previous three seasons in a Cougar uniform.
The metaphor: WSU coach Ken Bone’s watch was still ticking.
The last time the Cougars lost to Eastern Washington in basketball, the man who sat in Bone’s chair – Kevin Eastman – broke his Rolex slamming a clipboard to the hardwood in frustration. The closest thing to frustration for Bone this night was that the Cougars’ turnover count was nearly as large as their winning margin in a 75-49 blitz of the Eagles.
Frustration holed up down the hall instead.
Jim Hayford’s first November as coach at Eastern was mostly balloons and streamers, with decisive road wins at Hawaii and Idaho and even the losses being strong showings in higher stakes races. That led to a three-game winning streak and a lot of big eyes among the Eagles and their quick-to-leap constituency, especially factoring in Wazzu’s tepid start and scaled-down weaponry.
The Eags don’t see these kinds of openings often. The last time they won in Pullman – Bill Ellis throwing in a bucket with 30 seconds left in overtime – was a mere 60 years ago.
Hayford isn’t going to sleep on a Pac-12 opponent no matter what its circumstance, but he did regret “just missing an opportunity.
“We’re trying to put Eastern on the map and in the first six games, I didn’t have to apologize for the effort or the outcome. Tonight, I do.”
The faster you go, of course, the more the speed bumps rattle your chassis, a message Hayford will try to distill in what he called his latest teachable moment.
When the Eagles arrived in Pullman, they found Wazzu not only still just a week removed from a three-game flop at the 76 Classic but undermanned. Forward Abe Lodwick and guard Mike Ladd had been missing for some time with injuries, but leading scorer Faisel Aden had turned up with a concussion Thursday and then newcomer D.J. Shelton had apparently failed to get the memo on the team’s citizenship makeover, earning an indefinite suspension from Bone, who saw enough nonsense last year.
That left the Cougs with seven available scholarship players, but instead of a crutch they used it as a cause.
“It doesn’t always work out in victory,” Bone reasoned. “I thought we faced the same situation last year against UCLA – I can remember sitting here being really proud of the effort our guys gave. But when you’re short-handed, I think players tend to come together and do everything for the team.”
And when you’re riding high, well, maybe not so much.
The Eagles, while still looking pretty frantic, nonetheless scratched out a 14-13 lead 12 minutes into the game and had finally managed to get their ace, Collin Chiverton, going after 10 minutes without a shot. But moments later he took a second foul and then a silly third, and the Eagles would make just one field goal in the next six minutes.
When he returned, he was ineffective and his teammates were worse. This was, indeed, a group swoon.
“When you’re playing on the road and adversity is coming at you,” Hayford said, “that’s when you have to come together and be more cohesive and more unified. And we obviously splintered.”
It wasn’t all good for the Cougars. Their point guard, Reggie Moore, committed a ghastly nine turnovers, and freshman DaVonte Lacy, who could have used this as a coming-out platform, shot 0-for-6. Big Charlie, bless his heart, is unlikely to forge many more double-doubles.
But Wazzu has a nice schedule upcoming that could allow them to get it together for the Pac-12 launch on Dec. 29.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have significant road tests at Cal State Fullerton, UCLA and Saint Mary’s before opening the Big Sky season in Montana, and got another little blast when it was learned that assistant coach Craig Ehlo will leave to join the staff of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, according to a source close to the program.
“The bigger principle here is that sometimes it’s harder to handle success than failure,” said Hayford, “because failure motivates you to do better and sometimes success makes you take it easy.
“I’ve got to do a better job coaching guys through success. Because I want to win more than three in a row, you know?”