FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Just when it seemed that Eastern Washington’s men’s basketball team was warming up to life on the road, Wednesday night happened.
The Eagles, after edging Idaho State 69-67 late last month to snap an 18-game losing streak on games played away from Reese Court, coughed up an 18-point first-half lead at the Rolle Activity Center and suffered an 83-74 Big Sky Conference loss to Northern Arizona that did nothing to enhance their chances of making the six-team conference tournament that begins March 5.
Despite getting a career-high 31 points from sophomore point guard Glen Dean, Eastern (8-17 overall, 5-8 Big Sky) experienced a second-half meltdown that probably snuffed out any chance it might have had of hosting a first-round BSC tournament game.
Northern Arizona (15-10, 7-6) got a combined 56 points from Gabe Rogers and Cameron Jones and outscored EWU 56-35 after intermission to move into sole possession of fourth place in the BSC standings, two games clear of Eastern and Montana State, which are tied for sixth.
Eagles coach Kirk Earlywine praised his team’s defensive effort in the first half, which helped stake Eastern to a 39-27 lead at intermission.
“We came out and really guarded them,” he said. “We played awfully well in that first half, even though we weren’t getting any baskets in the paint. But in the second half, we weren’t allowed to continue it.”
NAU ended up converting 11 of 16 second-half free throws to Eastern’s 7 of 10 and ended up reeling in the Eagles, who were just 20 of 30 from the foul line. EWU, despite its energetic defensive effort, allowed the Lumberjacks to shoot 62.5 percent (25 of 40) from the field, which included 4 of 6 attempts from 3-point range, and was also outrebounded by a lopsided 35-26 margin.
“It’s kind of par for the course when you have a lot of young guys,” Earlywine said.