Despite the superior muscle and big scoring edge visiting Weber State exhibited on the low blocks during Saturday night’s Big Sky Conference matchup against Eastern Washington, Eagles coach Kirk Earlywine felt it was the Wildcats’ perimeter shooting that made the biggest difference in their 80-68 victory at Reese Court.
Weber State (14-9 overall, 8-4 Big Sky) came in ranked No. 5 in the nation in 3-point shooting accuracy, having knocked down 42.2 percent (186 of 441) of its long-range shots.
Earlywine was hoping his Eagles (8-16, 5-7) might cope with Weber State’s perimeter shooting, based on the fact their 3-point field-goal defensive percentage of 32.2 percent against Big Sky opponents was the best in the conference.
Turns out, they couldn’t.
The Wildcats, in running their late-season winning streak to five, threw in 9 of 14 shots from beyond the 3-point line and had five players score in double figures in putting away the Eagles in front of a crowd of 1,122.
“I thought it was a battle of whether we could guard them at the 3-point line or not, and they shot 54 percent from beyond the arc,” Earlywine said. “So they won that battle, credit to them.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of guard them out at the 3-point line.”
Scott Bamforth, who tied teammate Kyle Bullinger for team scoring honors with 17 points, was a 3 for 3 from the arc. Freshman Bryon Fulton, who finished with 13 points, made 3 of 5 long-range shots, including two in the final 2 minutes of the first half, when the Wildcats reeled off eight unanswered points to take a 36-31 halftime lead.
Earlywine thought Weber State’s run to close the first period – which was helped along by a couple of Eastern defensive slip-ups – was crucial to the outcome.
“I thought we really shot ourselves in the foot in the final minute and a half of the first half – that 8-0 run,” he said. “I thought those eight points were huge in the game. We were up 31-28 and went in down 36-31.”
It didn’t help that Eastern, which got a game-high 26 points and six assists from Glen Dean, was outscored in the paint 24-8.
“They were good – good, big and strong,” Eagles junior forward Tremayne Johnson, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, said of Weber’s experienced front line. “We had to work hard the whole game to get anything over them.
“We felt like we just needed that little extra something to get over the hump, and we never got it.”
Junior forward Laron Griffin had 11 rebounds for EWU, but missed all seven shots he tried from inside.
Dean, who missed the first seven games of the year with a stress fracture in his left foot, did a splendid job of directing Eastern’s offense, which got a ton of good looks against Weber State’s defense.
“We needed him to come out and be aggressive tonight, and he was,” Johnson said of Dean, who left the game in the final seconds after apparently injuring his right ankle. “We just didn’t do a good enough job of stopping their 3s.”
Earlywine didn’t know the extent of Dean’s injury but said his sophomore point guard, after limping over the bench, told him he would be fine for Wednesday night’s game against Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Ariz.