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EWU men fall to UC Irvine in Big Sky play

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 18, 2012, 11:38 p.m.

IRVINE, Calif. – If New York has Lin-sanity, then Cheney has schizophrenia.

Eastern Washington overcame inconsistent shooting and two seven-point deficits to take a three-point lead with 3:23 to play – then lost 78-73 to UC Irvine on the road in Saturday night’s ESPN Bracket Buster men’s basketball game at the Bren Events Center.

The defeat was the Eagles’ (12-15) seventh in their last 10 games as they prepare for their final three Big Sky Conference contests that will determine whether they will appear in the postseason tournament.

Collin Chiverton led all scorers with 20 points. Cliff Colimon added 13 points while Cliff Ederaine and Tremayne Johnson had 11 points apiece. Yet EWU shot just 34.4 percent and scored only one point in the final 3 minutes.

“With us, it kind of comes and goes,” Chiverton said. “When we’re hot, it looks like we’re going to win by 20. Then we go cold and we don’t score for 6 or 7 minutes.

“It’s kind of hard to watch. It’s hard on everybody. But all we can do is learn from it and get better.”

Irvine (10-17) used a 17-5 surge to move ahead, 25-18, with 8:46 left in the first half. Chiverton scored all five of EWU’s points on free throws.

But after missing 11 of their first 15 shots, the Eagles made nine of their final 14 in the first half to take a 44-42 halftime lead. Colimon led the recovery with 11 points.

The Anteaters responded with an 11-1 blitz that gave them a 66-59 lead with 6:23 to play. But a 13-3 spree, which ended with eight points in 2 minutes, enabled EWU to regain a 72-69 advantage with 3:23 remaining.

However, after Irvine’s Chris McNealy made a jump shot, teammate Michael Wilder converted a 3-pointer that put the hosts ahead, 74-72, with 2:35 to play.

EWU drew within 76-73 as 1:32 remained. But missed chances on three successive possessions proved pivotal.

Colimon’s attempted lay-in missed the rim with 27.7 seconds to go. McNealy stole Johnson’s cross-court pass with 13 seconds left. Then Colimon missed two free throws with 5 seconds to play.

EWU missed 26 of 35 shots in the second half, sabotaging their defense. The Eagles scored 26 points off 23 turnovers while committing only nine.

“We did what we wanted to do,” EWU coach Jim Hayford said. “We felt like we could force turnovers, and we forced a ton. We felt like we could take care of the ball, and we did. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the basket.”

McNealy scored 15 points as Irvine shot 61.7 percent. Daman Starring added 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists.