BOZEMAN – Eastern Washington University’s chances of making the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament for the first time in three seasons took another major hit Thursday night when the Eagles suffered a 69-65 setback to Montana State in Worthington Arena.
The loss was the fifth straight for the reeling Eagles (9-12 overall, 3-6 in the Big Sky), who fell another game behind the Bobcats (10-9, 4-4) and Northern Colorado (8-13, 4-4) in the race for the BSC’s sixth and final postseason tournament berth.
Eastern, which got a game-high 17 points from junior center Brandon Moore, led by as many as 10 points on a couple of occasions in the first half, but it fell victim to a 15-4 second-half MSU run that changed the momentum of the game.
The Bobcats, who got a 16-point, 10-rebound effort from senior center Divaldo Mbunga, snapped their three-game skid and avenged an earlier 61-55 loss to EWU in Cheney. They also got 14 points from Erik Rush and 11 apiece from Branden Johnson and Austin Brown.
MSU attempted 18 more free throws than the Eagles and outscored them 17-7 from the foul line – a development that did not set well with Eastern coach Kirk Earlywine, who was whistled for a late-game technical foul after expressing his frustration over the foul situation to officials.
Afterward, Earlywine further detailed those frustrations.
“We played over half the game in a zone (defense) and still got called for 25 fouls and got outscored double digits from the foul line,” he said. “I’m not sure exactly how that happened.”
Earlywine was also upset by an offensive foul called on junior forward Mark Dunn that nullified a late putback bucket by Andy Genao and kept the Eagles from closing to within a point in the final seconds.
Eastern, which also got 10 points apiece from Big Sky scoring leader Benny Valentine and Milan Stanojevic, had several good scoring opportunities late in the game but did not come up with enough conversions to alter the outcome.
“I don’t know if we could have gotten better shots than we got down the stretch, but at some point, you’ve got to make them,” Earlywine said.
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