The troubling trend that has plagued Eastern Washington’s men’s basketball in recent games continued at Reese Court Saturday night as the Eagles fell to visiting Cal State Northridge 68-59 in a nonconference game that was part of ESPN’s BracketBusters weekend.
Northridge (11-16), after shooting less than 30 percent in the first half, made 13 of its 21 second-half shots to overcome a 30-26 halftime deficit and hand Eastern (8-18) a second straight loss.
Lenny Daniel finished with a 19-point, 11-rebound double-double for the Big West Conference Matadors, who also got 15 points from Rashaun McLemore, 13 of which came after intermission.
“In four of our last five games, for some reason, we guard our asses off in the first half, and then in the second half we don’t sustain it,” Eastern coach Kirk Earlywine said. “And I don’t know what the answer is.”
In this instance, the Eagles’ ineffectiveness against CSUN’s half-court trapping defense was a contributing factor.
During a 14-2 Matadors run that shifted the momentum early in the second half, Eastern turned the ball over five times. And three of those ball-handling gaffes resulted in fast-break buckets for Northridge, which ended up with 19 points off EWU turnovers.
“We were very, very tentative,” said Earlywine, whose Eagles had only one day to prepare for Northridge following Wednesday night’s 83-74 Big Sky Conference road loss to Northern Arizona. “We worked on it as much as we could, after getting back late on Thursday.
“In essence, we had yesterday and that was it. You spend maybe 10 minutes working on zone offense, or maybe 15, and obviously, that wasn’t enough.”
Eastern ended up settling mainly for outside jump shots, which explains why guards Glen Dean, Cliff Colimon, Jeffrey Forbes and Kevin Winford accounted for all but 10 of the Eagles’ points. Dean led the way with 17, followed by Colimon with 14 and Forbes with 10.
It didn’t help that Earlywine’s two starting big men, Laron Griffin and Cliff Ederaine, were dealing with foul trouble throughout much of the second half.
Northridge ended up making 23 of 33 free throws, while Eastern managed to convert on just 7 of 15.
If there was an upside to the evening, it was the fact that the loss did nothing to damage EWU’s postseason chances. Those still hinge of finishing among the top six teams in the Big Sky and earning a spot in the conference tournament.
The Eagles play the first of their remaining three conference games at home Thursday night against Montana State, the team they are tied with for fifth place in the Big Sky standings at 5-8.
“I think so, and I hope so,” Earlywine said, when asked if he expected his team to be able to shake off the Northridge. “We’ll very, very quickly turn our attention to Montana State.”