The week didn’t get off to the best of starts for Tremayne Johnson.
But after suffering a mild knee strain while warming up for practice on Monday, Eastern Washington University’s junior forward took advantage of a couple of days off and threw in a game-high 20 points at Reese Court Thursday night as the Eagles cruised to a 65-51 win over Big Sky Conference rival Portland State.
Johnson, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound transfer from Los Angeles Southwest Junior College, scored 10 first-half points and helped keep Eastern (6-14 overall, 3-5 Big Sky) close while the Eagles’ sophomore guard trio of Kevin Winford, Glen Dean and Jeffrey Forbes continued to struggle shooting the basketball.
And when EWU’s young backcourt, which was a collective 0 for 17 in last Saturday’s 57-55 road loss to Sacramento State, finally figured things out in the second half, the undermanned Vikings (10-10, 3-5) were toast.
Winford, after scoring only two points in the first half, finished with 12, while Dean added 10 – all of which came after intermission – as the Eagles knocked down 18 of 30 second-half shots and moved into a tie for sixth place in the league standings.
“That was a huge win,” said Johnson, who made 8 of 15 basket tries and also pulled down seven rebounds in helping Eastern avenge the 74-58 road loss it suffered to the Vikings earlier in the year. “The loss to Sac State was really disappointing, and we needed this to get us back in the right mindset and back in position to make the (Big Sky) tournament.”
The Eagles trailed 26-22 at halftime after shooting a paltry 28.6 percent (8 of 28) in the opening period. But they made six out of their first seven shots after intermission, and then went on a 15-5 run midway through the second half to take control of the contest.
Coach Kirk Earlywine said he felt a bit cursed on Monday when Johnson tweaked his knee.
“He literally hurt it in warmups five minutes intro practice going just half speed,” he said. “When it happened, I just shook my head. But in the end, maybe the extra rest helped.
“Tremayne played really well tonight.”
Earlywine was also pleased with the way his young guards responded in the second half, after going a collective 2 for 12 from the field in the first.
“It was such a struggle for us in the first half,” he said. “I thought we got a little tight, and that’s something I haven’t seen from this group very much. But then in the second half, we stepped up and shot the ball confidently and looked like the guys I see in practice every day.
“Those perimeter guys are still sophomores, and they coming off a game where they went 0 for 17. So maybe if they were a little sideways, mentally, tonight it was to be expected.”
Winford made five of his six second-half field-goal tries, including 2 of 3 on 3-point attempts, while Dean finished 4 for 9 from the field and also knocked down a couple of 3-pointers in the second half.
Eastern’s defensive effort was solid once again. The Eagles held PSU to just 37.2 percent (16 for 43) shooting from the floor.
But Earlywine was quick to point out that the Vikings were without of the services of injured starters Chehales Tapscott (knee) and Nate Lozeau (ankle).
“They had to play a real unusual lineup for them,” Earlywine said, “and there’s no question that helped us some. But I thought our energy level and our effort was really good.
“We’re starting to develop an identity of being hard to score against, and that’s a good thing.”