From staff reports
CINCINNATI – Eastern Washington’s brutal road trip to start the season ended with another tough loss on Sunday.
But the Eagles, who lost at Cincinnati 85-73 despite 21 points from Cedric Coward, showed for the second straight game the ability to hang with Power Five basketball programs.
In a game that resembled Friday’s 75-64 loss to Ole Miss, EWU stayed within striking distance most of the way, trailing just 47-42 following Coward’s three-point play with just over 15 minutes left in the second half.
Cincinnati (3-0) answered with a 13-2 run and kept the Eagles at bay behind big man Victor Lahkin, who scored 18 of his career-high 26 points in the second half.
“We knew it was going to be a tough road trip. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves, learned a lot about our team,” EWU coach David Riley said. “I’m really excited about the ceiling of this team (and) about where we’re going, but we want to get there sooner than later.”
EWU (0-3) was gritty on the defensive end for the second straight game following a season-opening blowout loss to Utah, where the Eagles allowed 55% shooting. EWU held Cincinnati to 46.7% from the floor, including 4 of 15 from 3-point range in the second half.
“We could have won this game on the defensive end,” Riley added. “Since I first met with this team on June 27 when they came in for the summer and on Sept. 12 when they came in for the fall, the first message is always been ‘we’re going to win these games, we’re going to win the championship and we’re going to go to the NCAA tournament on the back of our defense.’ ”
The first half was a story of runs. After an early 7-4 lead for the Eagles, Cincinnati stormed out to an 18-7 lead with a 14-0 run over 5 minutes. The Bearcats held EWU without a point for nearly seven minutes.
But Eastern responded with a 17-8 burst, cutting the deficit to 26-24 with help from reserves Andre Mulibea and LeJuan Watts, who combined for 10 of the 17 points.
Casey Jones finished with 16 points for EWU, which managed just 5 of 23 from 3-point range.
Eastern’s road swing continues Friday with a 6 p.m. game at Stanford. The Eagles’ first home game is Nov. 23 against Walla Walla University.