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Experienced Pilots clip Eagles

Portland owns boards, holds off 2nd-half rally

There is a reason – several, actually – why the University of Portland is expected to challenge West Coast Conference bully Gonzaga for this year’s WCC title.

Eastern Washington got a first-hand look at most of them Saturday afternoon, when the Pilots dropped into Reese Court and dumped the Eagles 64-58 in the season-opening men’s college basketball game for both schools.

Portland’s senior backcourt duo of Nik Raivio and T.J. Campbell combined for 31 points, and junior center Jack Sikma added 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds as the Pilots avenged last year’s 63-58 home loss to Eastern in front of a crowd of 1,522.

“Credit Portland, they’re good,” EWU third-year head coach Kirk Earlywine said. “They’re old and they’re experienced, and I thought that really showed – especially early in the game.”

The Eagles, hoping to improve on last year’s 12-18 finish, were an offensive mess early on, connecting on one of their first nine shots in falling behind 12-2. But senior guard Benny Valentine, last year’s leading scorer who did not start the game, charged off the bench to score Eastern’s next 10 points and make things more intriguing the rest of the way.

Despite making only 4 of 19 field goals and shooting a paltry 21.1 percent in the first half, the Eagles trailed just 25-19 at intermission, thanks to some suffocating half-court defensive pressure. They closed within 39-36 on a pair of free throws by freshman guard Dean Glen with just less than nine minutes left.But Portland used its size and savvy to answer with eight unanswered points that all but decided it.

“They shot lights-out tonight,” Valentine, who scored a game-high 20 points, said of the Pilots, who shot 21 of 42 from the field – including 7 of 13 from 3-point range. “Last year, it was a close game. But the shots they hit tonight, they didn’t hit last year.”

It didn’t help that the Eagles were outrebounded 37-24.

“I told our guys I thought we played OK,” Earlywine said. “But OK is not good enough. We can not get outrebounded by double digits and allow over 50 percent from the 3-point line and win.”

Along with Valentine’s production off the bench, Eastern got 14 points and a team-high six rebounds from senior center Brandon Moore. But all of Moore’s rebounds came on the defensive end of the court, leaving the Eagles with just seven offensive boards and precious few second and third shots.

“I was really disappointed in Brandon on the offensive glass – and in all of our team, for that matter,” Earlywine said. “We missed 32 shots and had only seven offensive rebounds, and that’s not good enough.”

The Eagles continue their difficult early-season schedule Monday, when they travel to take on Washington State in a non-conference game that tips off at 7 p.m. at Friel Court.

“It’s bad that you only get a day and half to prepare for Wazzu,” Valentine said of the short turnaround facing the Eagles. “But it’s good, because you don’t get to think about this loss.”

Portland 64, EWU 58

 Portland (1-0)—Niedermeyer 0-5 0-0 0, Smeulders 1-3 0-0 2, Knutson 3-3 0-0 6, Raivio 4-9 7-11 16, Campbell 4-6 3-4 15, Waterford 0-0 0-0 0, Ito 1-3 0-0 3, Stohl 1-3 1-2 4, Mitrovic 0-1 0-0 0, Sikma 5-6 3-4 13, Hannibal 2-3 1-2 5. Totals 21-42 15-23 64.

E. Washington (0-1)—Gibbs 0-2 2-2 2, Brunell 1-4 0-0 3, Moore 4-8 6-10 14, Dean 3-8 2-2 9, Winford 2-5 1-1 5, Forbes 0-3 2-2 2, Valentine 4-12 9-11 20, Griffin 0-3 0-0 0, Dunn 1-2 1-2 3. Totals 15-47 23-30 58.

Halftime—Portland 25-19. 3-Point Goals—Portland 7-13 (Campbell 4-6, Ito 1-2, Raivio 1-2, Stohl 1-2, Niedermeyer 0-1), E. Washington 5-18 (Valentine 3-6, Brunell 1-2, Dean 1-4, Forbes 0-3, Winford 0-3). Fouled Out—Sikma. Rebounds—Portland 37 (Sikma 14), E. Washington 24 (Moore 6). Assists—Portland 16 (Campbell 4), E. Washington 13 (Dean 5). Total Fouls—Portland 24, E. Washington 21. A—1,522.

Wordcount: 666

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