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Eagles go broke in Vegas tourney

LAS VEGAS – Eastern Washington University’s men’s basketball team continued its pre-holiday freefall Wednesday, losing to previously winless Jackson State 72-67 in the consolation bracket of the Las Vegas Classic in Orleans Arena.

The loss was the fourth straight for the Eagles (4-9), who will break briefly for Christmas before venturing into Gonzaga’s McCarthy Athletic Center on Monday for a 6 p.m. non-conference matchup against the nationally ranked Bulldogs.

Unless Eastern can find a quick fix for its sputtering offense, things could get even uglier than they were in Vegas, where the Eagles dropped back-to-back games to Chicago State and JSU, a pair of struggling teams that came into the event with a combined record of 3-17 and no Division-I wins between them.

In Jackson State (1-10), EWU was facing a team that had been outscored by an average of almost 20 points per game. Still, the Eagles never established any kind of offensive rhythm or control, and needed a barrage of late 3-pointers from senior guard Benny Valentine to make the final score much closer than it probably should have been.

Valentine, who finished with 17 points to tie freshman guard Glen Dean for team-high scoring honors, threw in three 3-pointers in the final 21 seconds after Eastern had fallen behind 70-58.

Otherwise, the Eagles didn’t have much to crow about during a second half that saw Jackson State score 10 straight points to build a 60-50 lead and then douse any comeback hopes Eastern might have had by making 12 straight free throws down the stretch.

The Tigers, who got a game-high 19 points from junior wing Tyrone Hanson, came in shooting just 37.7 percent from the field. They knocked down 20 of 45 basket tries – along with 30 of 38 free throws – against the Eagles, whose front-line players were 4 for 14 from the field.

“Our lack of speed, quickness and athletic ability on the front line was very evident,” Eastern coach Kirk Earlywine said. “We had 12 shots within 3 feet that we missed. We had a size and strength advantage, but when you can’t score the ball in the paint, that negates whatever advantage we had. … Hopefully, Christmas will bring us back our shooting eye. When you follow up 28 (percent) shooting (against Chicago State) with 38 percent (against JSU), it’s pretty tough.”

Jackson St. 72, EWU 67

 E. Washington (4-9)—Dean 6-11 3-4 17, Forbes 1-4 0-0 3, Gibbs 2-6 1-2 5, Brunell 1-3 2-2 4, Dunn 1-5 0-1 2, Valentine 6-14 0-0 17, Griffin 1-3 1-1 3, Winford 0-1 0-0 0, Demissie 2-5 7-10 11, Moore 1-3 3-4 5. Totals 21-55 17-24 67.

Jackson St. (1-10)—Melvin 1-5 12-13 14, Hanson 6-13 5-5 19, Blake 1-3 2-4 4, Dixon 3-10 3-3 9, Johnson 5-9 4-4 14, Burk 1-1 4-7 6, C.Williams 0-0 0-0 0, P.Williams 1-2 0-0 2, Jefferson 0-0 0-0 0, Gregory 2-2 0-2 4. Totals 20-45 30-38 72. Halftime—Jackson St. 28-26. 3-Point Goals—EWU 8-20 (Valentine 5-12, Dean 2-5, Forbes 1-2, Demissie 0-1), Jackson St. 2-9 (Hanson 2-4, P.Williams 0-1, Dixon 0-2, Johnson 0-2). Fouled Out—Dean, Dixon. Rebounds—EWU 32 (Gibbs, Griffin 6), Jackson St. 34 (Dixon 9). Assists—EWU 5 (Valentine 2), Jackson St. 7 (Johnson 2). Total Fouls—EWU 29, Jackson St. 21. Technical—Brunell. A—NA.

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