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Eagles let one slip away

Vikings rally from 14-point deficit

Eastern Washington University has been forced to deal with its share of disappointing defeats this winter.

But perhaps none has been as morale-sapping as the one the Eagles suffered on Saturday night, when they frittered away a 14-point second-half lead and lost to Big Sky Conference rival Portland State 85-77 in front of a livelier-than-normal Reese Court crowd of 2,003.

“Any loss is hard to take,” senior center Brandon Moore said after contributing 15 points and nine rebounds to another losing cause, “especially when you’ve got control of the game on your home court.”

Just how the Eagles (6-16, 2-7 Big Sky) respond to this one – their fifth in a row – will be interesting, considering their second-half collapse and the fact that their chances of qualifying for the six-team field in the Big Sky tournament are officially on life support again.

Eastern seemed on the verge of putting away the Vikings (9-12, 4-5) early in the second half after boosting their six-point halftime lead to 59-45 on a putback by Moore with 151/2 minutes remaining. But PSU’s decision to switch to a zone defense – coupled with an obvious drop in the Eagles’ energy level – resulted in a methodical 27-10 Vikings run that spanned almost nine minutes and changed the game.

Portland State, behind the inside power of senior forward Jamie Jones, made 10 of 15 field goals during that decisive surge, while Eastern managed to convert 3 of 12.

The Eagles, after falling behind 72-69 on a deep 3-pointer by Melvin Jones that capped PSU’s big run, regained a brief 74-73 lead on a three-point play by Benny Valentine with 4:38 remaining. But the Vikings capitalized on several late Eastern turnovers and a couple of opportunistic, clock-beating putbacks by Julius Thomas to close with a 12-3 burst that made the final score a bit deceiving.

“We stopped playing aggressive – on both ends of the floor,” EWU coach Kirk Earlywine said in explaining his team’s second-half swoon. “We didn’t keep doing the things that got us that 14-point lead.

“Sometimes, when you’ve got a bunch of young guys, they’ve got to learn how to finish a game, and that’s where we’re at right now. We’re having a hard time doing the right things for the whole 40 minutes.”

It didn’t help that freshman guard Glen Dean, perhaps the best of those young guys Earlywine mentioned, was on the bench with three fouls during most of PSU’s comeback. Or that the Eagles didn’t react well to the Vikings’ zone.

“When we have seen zone this year, we’ve done a really good job of attacking it,” Earlywine said. “But tonight, for some reason, we got very passive. And then we compounded that by making turnovers there at the end.”

Kevin Winford, a redshirt freshman guard, led a balanced Eastern scoring attack with 16 points. Moore and freshman guard Jeffrey Forbes added 15 each, while Valentine had 13.

PSU’s Jamie Jones led all scorers with 26 points, most of which came on simple pick-and-rolls.

“It had a lot to do with the on-ball screens they were setting,” Moore said.

Portland St. 85, E. Washington 77

Portland St. (9-12, 4-5)- J.Thomas 6-10 2-3 14, J.Jones 12-19 2-3 26, M.Jones 5-9 1-1 15, Waters 3-13 8-10 15, Guede 1-2 0-0 3, P.Thomas 0-1 0-0 0, Brandon 2-5 1-2 7, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Harriel 2-4 1-1 5. Totals 31-63 15-20 85.

E. Washington (6-16, 2-7)- Dunn 3-7 0-0 6, Moore 6-10 3-4 15, Dean 3-5 4-4 10, Forbes 5-15 3-3 15, Winford 6-13 0-0 16, Valentine 4-9 3-3 13, Gibbs 1-1 0-0 2, Gibson 0-1 0-0 0, Griffin 0-0 0-0 0, Brunell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-62 13-14 77.

Halftime—E. Washington 46-40. 3-Point Goals—Portland St. 8-15 (M.Jones 4-5, Brandon 2-4, Guede 1-1, Waters 1-5), E. Washington 8-22 (Winford 4-9, Valentine 2-4, Forbes 2-6, Dean 0-1, Brunell 0-1, Dunn 0-1). Fouled Out—Guede. Rebounds—Portland St. 39 (J.Thomas 10), E. Washington 29 (Dunn 11). Assists—Portland St. 17 (J.Thomas, Waters 6), E. Washington 16 (Dean 10). Total Fouls—Portland St. 15, E. Washington 19. A—2,003.

Wordcount: 684

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