Desperation and emotion proved to be a good combination for the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team.
In a must-win situation on Senior Night, the Eagles turned back Idaho State 63-53 before 2,276 fans at Reese Court Saturday night.
That pulled the Eagles (11-17, 6-8) even with the Bengals (9-16, 6-6) in the win column of the Big Sky Conference and assured them the tiebreaker if a berth in the conference tournament comes to that when the season ends in two weeks.
“It’s sad knowing I’ll never play another game here,” senior Marcus Hinton said after scoring 11 points, grabbing three rebounds and coming up with a clutch steal down the stretch. “I feel good about this win. It puts us in a better position as far as the playoffs.”
Kellen Williams, the only other EWU senior, had 13 points, nine rebounds, four steals and two assists without a turnover, and sophomore post Brandon Moore continued his emergence with 14 points.
“It’s a big weight off my shoulders since teams can’t concentrate on just one person,” Williams said. “Then I can do what I do. It was our defense and blocking out. Brandon Moore stepped up big. So did our other senior and the rest of the guys.”
The Eagles forced a season-high 24 turnovers and turned them into 27 points. On the flip side, they threw the ball away 12 times, just four times in the second half.
“Idaho State plays without a point guard, so we felt we could extend our defense tonight,” Eagles coach Kirk Earlywine said. “I didn’t know we could force that many turnovers. … I thought we could disrupt their timing on their offense a little bit. I thought it helped our aggression tonight.”
The Eagles led by as many as 12 before settling for a 29-26 advantage at the half. After scoring just one basket during a 4-minute stretch midway through the half, the Eagles hit 5 of 6 shots in less than 3 minutes for a 10-2 run that made it 27-15. Williams and Moore each had two buckets, with Moore scoring on a putback after the only miss. That’s a big reason the Eagles finished with a 38-20 advantage on points in the paint.
“They shot 53 percent in the first half, but we guarded them very, very well for the first 25 seconds of the shot clock,” Earlywine said. “We gave them a lot of points, fouling them and letting them score in the last 10 seconds.
“That was disappointing that we weren’t able to maintain our toughness and discipline through the entire shot clock. I thought we did a better job of that in the second half.”
Several times in the second half, after ISU scored the first basket to pull within one, Eastern seemed ready to blow the game open.
Lucas Steijn, a 6-foot-10 post, kept the Bengals close by scoring 13 of his 15 points.
But 6-5 guard Logan Kinghorn had only one of his 10 points after the break and the Bengals shot just 39 percent.
“Steijn and Kinghorn hurt us there,” Hinton said of the game at Pocatello. “They hurt us a little bit this game, but overall our team defense did a good job.”
The difference was they didn’t have the help. Matt Stucki, who had 11 points and 10 assists in the 58-56 ISU win, had just five points and six assists plus four turnovers on Saturday.
After ISU’s opening basket in the second half, the Eagles pushed the lead back to 13 as a Milan Stanojevic steal and coast-to-coast drive for a layup capped a 16-4 run with 9:32 left.
That’s when Steijn came to life, scoring all of his second-half points in less than 6 minutes. That pulled ISU within six with 3:43 remaining, but Williams and Hinton made some big plays to lead the Eagles down the stretch.
Eastern plays at Northern Colorado next Saturday and then finishes at league-leading Portland State a week later. ISU has the Montana schools at home next week and finishes with the Sacramento State-Northern Arizona road trip.
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