Eastern Washington’s men’s basketball team must feel like it’s involved in a late-season game of “H-O-R-S-E.”
Just three days after traveling to Ogden, Utah, and posting their most impressive win in recent memory by upsetting Weber State 75-59, the Eagles are being asked to “prove it” by turning around and facing the Wildcats on their home floor once more – this time in the opening round of the six-team Big Sky tournament.
Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday in WSU’s Dee Events Center, and Eastern coach Kirk Earlywine is hoping his sixth-seeded Eagles (10-19), who are making their first postseason appearance in five years, can build on Wednesday’s victory over the third-seeded Wildcats (17-11).
In that game, EWU amassed an 18-point lead at intermission and then weathered an early second-half Wildcats storm that sliced the Eagles’ advantage to three points with just under 11 minutes remaining.
“We’ve been in that situation a couple of times this year,” Earlywine said of his team’s seemingly comfortable halftime lead and WSU’s second-half charge. “And we got real tentative in those other games. But in (the WSU) game we didn’t start playing tentative, and I was happy to see that.
“That shows our guys are maturing and improving.”
Lindsey Hughey ignited Weber’s rally on Wednesday, finishing with a game-high 21 points. And the 6-foot-3 senior guard will again be at the center of Eastern’s defensive focus as the Eagles attempt to advance to the BSC semifinals that will be hosted next Tuesday by regular-season champion and top-seeded Northern Colorado, which will also host Wednesday’s title game.
“I think it would be easy to make the case that we’re playing our best basketball right now,” said Earlywine. “I kind of thought, at the beginning of the year, we could be pretty good once we got everyone healthy. It just took us a long time to get there.
“And that’s why it still doesn’t feel like late February or early March, to me. I mean, we’re still putting in some stuff that we would normally have in by now, but weren’t able to use because of all the early injuries.”
Junior guard Cliff Colimon, a first-year junior college transfer who missed four early games with ankle problems, scored 17 points and matched teammate Jeffrey Forbes for team scoring honors in the last meeting against Weber.
But the player who has had the biggest impact since recovering from a preseason stress fracture in his foot, is sophomore guard Glen Dean, who is averaging a team-high 13.9 points and 4.3 assists.
“And he has continued to get better every game,” Earlywine said of Dean, who was recently honored as a second-team all-Big Sky Conference selection.