With his team leading by a point and freshman standout Glen Dean preparing to shoot the second of two free throws with only 2.5 seconds left in the game, Kirk Earlywine took micro managing to a new level Sunday afternoon.
After using the majority of his final timeout to make sure his players knew what was expected of them, Eastern Washington University’s third-year head coach broke from the team huddle early and made a hurried swing past the official scorer’s bench to hand out some late-game instruction there, as well.
“He (Dean) is going to miss on purpose,” he told the clock operator, “so get ready to start that clock.”
Dean, as instructed, went out and purposely clanked the second of his two free throws. The game clock started right on cue, leaving the University of Montana with only enough time to chase down the rebound and launch an ill-aimed desperation shot from well beyond half court.
And the young, but resilient, Eagles ended up treating a Reese Court crowd of 2,147 – the largest of the year – to a riveting 69-68 upset win over the Big Sky Conference rival Grizzlies.
“I just wanted to make sure I had all the bases covered,” Earlywine said, when asked about the late-game pass he made past the scorer’s bench.
His explanation was accompanied by a broad smile that made no attempt to mask the satisfaction and relief he was feeling after watching his Eagles (8-18 overall, 4-8 in the Big Sky) win their second straight close game at home to break a six-game losing streak to Montana (18-8, 9-5) and bolster their still-meager hopes of qualifying for the six-team BSC Tournament.
“This was just one helluva win,” Earlywine added, after watching his freshman guard duo of Dean and Jeffrey Forbes combine for 41 points in avenging an earlier 79-66 road loss to the Grizzlies, who came in riding a five-game winning streak, “because it was big for us on such a variety of fronts.”
Along with moving Eastern past Idaho State into seventh place in the BSC standings and just a half-game behind sixth-place Northern Arizona, it also helped build on the late-season momentum generated by Friday night’s 74-69 win over visiting Montana State.
“And it’s big from a confidence standpoint for our young guys, on top of that,” Earlywine said. “The more times you’re in those situations, the more comfortable you become in those situations. We made plays down the stretch on Friday night that were winning plays, and we made plays down the stretch tonight that were winning plays.”
None, however, was bigger than the one made by Dean in the final seconds when – with the scored tied at 68 – he dribbled away most of the remaining time on the game clock before making an aggressive drive to the basket and drawing a fifth foul on Montana’s senior standout guard Anthony Johnson, who left with a game-high 28 points and just under 3 seconds remaining.
Dean, who finished with a team-high 23 points and seven assists, calmly made the first of his two free throws and then, following back-to-back timeouts called by Grizzlies coach Wayne Tinkle and Earlywine, intentionally missed the second.
Montana’s Derek Selvig grabbed the rebound and made a quick outlet pass to teammate Will Cherry, whose long heave fell short and well to the right of the basket as time ran out.
“I just wanted to make sure we got the last shot, pretty much,” said Dean, who made 7 of 9 field-goal tries – including 4 of 5 from 3-point range – and 5 of 8 free throws. “I wanted to wait in out and try to either get to the hoop or get to the (foul) line, and I got to the line.”
The Eagles, in winning two straight for only the second time this season, shot 50 percent (23 of 46) from the field and drained a season high 12 of 19 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, where Dean and Forbes – who finished with 18 points and five rebounds – were a combined 9 for 14.
Eastern led 36-28 at intermission in a game that saw eight ties and 16 lead changes. But the Eagles let the Grizzlies loose on a 9-0 run to start the second half and eventually had to battle back from a 54-46 deficit.
“Our young guys just continue to grow up and get better,” Earlywine said. “The first thing you have to do to win close games like this is to not make the mistakes that cause you to lose. And then once you do that, you’ve got to make the winning plays, and the last two games we’ve been able to make those kinds of play down the stretch that have allowed us to win.”
The Eagles now embark on their final regular-season road trip to face Northern Colorado on Thursday and Northern Arizona on Saturday.
“It’s hard to deal in hypotheticals and say what would have happened and what our psyche and mind-set would have been if we would have lost,” Earlywine said. “But I know it will be much easier heading into two tough road games next week, given that we’ve won these last two.”
EWU 69, Montana 68
Montana (18-8, 9-5)- Banny 2-4 1-2 5, Qvale 3-8 2-5 8, Staudacher 0-4 0-0 0, Cherry 2-6 1-2 5, Johnson 11-16 2-2 28, Young 0-0 0-0 0, Taylor 4-5 0-0 11, Stockton 0-2 0-0 0, Selvig 2-7 2-2 7, Ward 1-1 2-2 4, McGillis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 10-15 68.
E. Washinton (8-18, 4-8)- Dunn 5-9 1-4 13, Moore 0-5 2-2 2, Dean 7-9 5-8 23, Forbes 6-13 1-2 18, Winford 2-6 0-0 5, Valentine 0-1 0-0 0, Griffin 3-3 2-3 8, Brunell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-46 11-19 69.
Halftime—E. Washington 36-28. 3-Point Goals—Montana 8-20 (Johnson 4-7, Taylor 3-3, Selvig 1-4, McGillis 0-1, Cherry 0-1, Staudacher 0-4), E. Washington 12-19 (Forbes 5-7, Dean 4-5, Dunn 2-4, Winford 1-3). Fouled Out—Johnson. Rebounds—Montana 32 (Qvale, Selvig 7), E. Washington 28 (Griffin, Moore 6). Assists—Montana 7 (Cherry, Johnson, Selvig 2), E. Washington 9 (Dean 7). Total Fouls—Montana 21, E. Washington 18. A—2,147.
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