Eastern Washington welcomed the Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix to Reese Court on Friday for its first home game of the season. After struggling against two top-20 teams (Syracuse and Oregon) on the road, the Eagles were glad to be home.
Unfortunately, the homecourt advantage didn’t give the Eagles their first win of the season.
The Eagles (0-3) continued their losing form with an 82-78 loss to the Phoenix (2-2) in overtime.
Ferris grad Cody Benzel opened the scoring for the Eagles with two 3-pointers, but went cold the rest of the game, finishing 3 of 11 from long range for 11 points.
At halftime, the Eagles trailed the Phoenix 28-26 as the offenses couldn’t heat up. Both teams shot less than 40 percent from the field in the opening half.
As the second half wore on, GB continued to drive the lane and drew multiple fouls. For the game, GB shot 31 free throws – including 14 in overtime – compared to 11 for EWU.
“Yeah, there were bright spots,” EWU coach Shantay Legans said. “You want to come out with a win, but there are bright spots when you look at it and we did a terrible job, we put them on the line 31 times. We can’t do that.”
EWU struggled to keep up with the Phoenix’s athleticism and strong defense, evident by the number of turnovers.
The Eagles coughed the ball up 18 times, leading to 20 points.
“We have to do a better job in transition. Those turnovers really hurt us,” Legans said.
Eastern led for less than 4 minutes in the game, but it kept the game close. It appeared that Luka Vulikic’s 3-pointer with 50 seconds left would seal the win, but the Eagles couldn’t hold their 66-62 lead.
Instead, the Eagles didn’t score in the rest of regulation and gave up four points, enabling GB to send the game to overtime.
Ty Gibson’s free throw clanked off the right side of the rim with 19 seconds left in regulation; the Phoenix answered with the game-tying bucket on the other end, sending the game to OT.
EWU didn’t have an answer for the fast-paced GB offense in OT, allowing the Phoenix to dictate the tempo.
Gibson returned after suffering an injury against Syracuse. He was on the floor for 33 minutes and finished with 12 points. He didn’t suffer any setbacks and appears to be healthy.
EWU’s Jacob Davison also made his first appearance of the season, playing 16 minutes and scoring 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Legans said Davison was scheduled to play around 15 minutes, so he was happy to see him get back into the flow.
The roster is still being shuffled around to account for injuries that are affecting the normal rotations. All-Big Sky post Mason Peating is still working his way back, as is BYU transfer Stephen Beo.
“It is going to help our depth,” Legans said. “I think getting Mason (Peating) back and getting Stephen Beo back is going to be huge for us. (Beo) is a great shooter, another guy who can score the ball, and Mason is huge. I think he is the best big in our league.”
A positive to take out of the early-season losses is the real-game experience the young players and reserves are receiving in place of the injured starters.
“We are trying to see what freshmen, what young guys, can play good with some injuries,” Legans said. “You know we have some key injuries to some important players on our team. At the same time, the next guy has to step up and we had a couple guys do that.”
Senior Jesse Hunt, who has struggled with injuries his three years in Cheney, led the Eagles with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“It is great to see,” Legans said of Hunt. “We are still trying to get him in shape. He is still clutching that foot a little bit. It is still slowing him down, hurting his athleticism. At the same time, he is playing very hard, and we don’t have another guy to back him up right now in that position.”
EWU is back in action at Reese Court at 3:15 p.m. Saturday against the UMKC Kangaroos in the consolation of the subregional of the 2K Empire Classic.
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