Eastern Washington's men's basketball team snapped a five-game losing streak with a 79-75 home win over Big Sky Conference rival Sacramento State on Thursday night.
You can read an unedited version of the game story that will appear in Friday morning's S-R below.
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It could have been prettier – and a whole lot easier. But any win that comes on top of a five-game losing streak is a keeper.
Which is why
“We probably shouldn’t have had to hang on that tight,” was about as far as the EWU’s third-year head coach would go after watching his team fritter away all but a couple of points of a big second-half lead and then hang on to outlast the Hornets at Reese Court.
And even with that, he was being kind to his Eagles (5-10 overall, 1-1 in the Big Sky), who needed a career-high 29 points and seven assists from freshman point guard Glen Dean to put away a Sac State team (6-9, 1-2) that finished 2-27 last year.
Eastern was up by 16 points midway through the second half, but found itself leading by only 75-73 after the Hornets’ John Dickson knocked down a 3-ponter from the top of key with just under 20 second remaining. Still, the Eagles were able to close things out with four consecutive free throws from senior forward Mark Dunn, who finished with 26 points and nine rebounds, and Dean to snap their five-game skid.
“This was a very important win for us,” admitted Earlywine, whose team was playing at
Dean, a 5-foot-10, 170-pounder out of Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, seemed particularly comfortable in more familiar surroundings, knocking down seven 3-pointer to tie a single-game school record held by five others. And the 6-8, 260-pound Dunn was a force inside, scoring on nine of his 14 field-goal tries and finishing a perfect 6-for-6 from the foul line.
Earlywine was extremely pleased, but not surprised, by Dean’s effort, which also included three rebounds and only two turnovers.
“He’s been very, very consistent, not only in terms of his performance but in his effort level, as well,” Earlywine said. “Every day in practice – and in every bounce of the ball – he competes his butt off.”
Not surprisingly, Dean suggested the Eagles’ recent struggles have been more a matter of lack of effort than lack of confidence.
“I guess our confidence was hurting a little bit,” he said. “But, in my opinion, it was more about our effort level. We’ve got a lot of good players on this team, but I think we just weren’t trying hard enough – especially on defense – in some of those (losses).”
Of his record-tying long-range shooting performance, Dean added, “Coach always tells us, ‘If you’re open and your feet are set ,it’s a good shot, so take it.’ I guess I had some good looks, and I just kind of fell into a good rhythm.
“We definitely needed this win to get back on the right track and realize that we compete in the Big Sky.”
The Eagles needed big effort from Dean and Dunn to offset the absences of senior guard Bennie Valentine and senior forward Matt Brunell.
Valentine, according to Earlywine, did not play because of a “coach’s decision,” and Brunell was sidelined with an ankle injury.
Earlywine refused to disclose what went into his decision to not play Valentine, who is averaging 10.2 points per game. And when asked if Valentine will play in the Eagles’ Jan. 8 road matchup against Big Sky rival