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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eags keep hopes alive by edging UNC

They are tearing down the press courtside press tables at Reese Court, and the power had bee n shut off, but I still wanted to post the story on Eastern's important 60-59 win over Northern Colorado on Saturday night.

You can read an unedited version of the gamer that will appear in Sunday morning's S-R below.  And I would love to hear what those of you in attendance thought of UNC coach Tad Boyle's meltdown over an officials call near the end of the game.

Given the chance to make next week matter, Eastern Washington University did.



Led by Benny Valentine’s game-high 18 points – 12 of which came in the last 7 ½ minutes of the game – the Eagles overcame some horrible first-half shooting on Saturday night to dump Big Sky Conference rival Northern Colorado 60-59 in a sloppy, but entertaining, matchup that played out in front of a Reese Court crowd of 1,890.



By virtue of its victory, Eastern (12-15 overall, 6-9 in the Big Sky) kept its slim hopes of qualifying for the six-team league tournament alive and potentially placed a heap of importance on next Saturday’s regular-season and home finale against Portland State.



Much must still play out for the Eagles before then, including a Tuesday night non-conference game at home against Seattle University.  But they certainly took care of what they could control against the hard-luck Bears (12-17, 6-8), who also remain in contention for a BSC tournament berth despite the loss.



“It’s a really good feeling to have finally grinded one out,” said Valentine, the Eagles’ junior point guard, who made eight of 11 field-goal attempts and finished as the game’s top scorer, despite scoring only four points in the first half.  “Tonight, I felt like we just dug deep and played with a lot of purpose and passion.



“If we don’t win, it’s season over, so it really feels good to still have something to play for.”



Nothing came easy in this one for the Eagles, who shot a paltry 33.3 percent in the opening period before throwing in 16 of their 24 second-half basket tries.  In addition, they managed to shore up some major rebounding deficiencies over intermission and survive a late-game charge by the Bears, who clawed their way back from a 10-point deficit in the middle of the second half to tie the game at 54 with a just over two minutes remaining.



They had a chance to take the lead with 18 second left and Eastern nursing a 58-57 lead, but John Pena was called for a highly questionable charge against Matt Brunell, and Valentine iced the game 10 seconds later with a pair of clutch free throws.



The call on Pena set UNC coach Tad Boyle off big time, and the game ended with Boyle charging wildly after the official who blew the whistle as he walked off the court.



Still, it was a win the Eagles earned, and one that second-year coach Kirk Earlywine will probably treasure for some time.



“They are a really hard team for us to guard,” Earlywine said of the Bears, who were paced offensively by Will Figures’ 14 points.  “Last year we had to score 90 points to beat them.  They are just a really tough cover for us, but I thought tonight, for the most part, we did a really good job.



“It was not a perfect game by any means, but our guys tried really hard and were competitive.  And we made enough shots in the second half to win.”



Of Valentine’s late-game heroics, Earlywine added, “All week, more than anything else, we have addressed our shot selection. I told Benny that I wanted him to cut down on the number of 3-pointers he was taking, and tonight he only took one.



“Tonight, he was outstanding.”



Eastern, which also got 16 points from senior shooting guard Adris DeLeon, battled UNC to a draw on the boards in the second half, after being outrebounded 22-12 in the opening 20 minutes.



“In the first half, we missed 20 shots and did not have an offensive rebound,” Earlywine pointed out. “Mark Dunn, Brandon Moore and Matt Brunell combined for 28 minutes and did not have an offensive or defensive rebounds between the three of them.



“That was very disappointing to me, and I was sure to point that out at halftime.”


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