Northern Arizona 91 - Eastern Washington 80
Stephen Sir continued his hot shooting as he and his Northern Arizona teammates made 64 percent of their shots in the second half to pull away from Eastern Washington 91-80 Thursday (Jan. 18) in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Sir made 7-of-10 three-pointers en route to finishing with a game-high 25 points. Eastern’s Rodney Stuckey had 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but made only 10-of-21 shots overall. He missed all four of his three-point attempts and five free throws.
Eastern fell to 3-4 in the Big Sky and 9-10 overall as EWU dropped its second league home game in three tries. Northern Arizona, the preseason pick by coaches to win the league title, improved to 5-2 in the Big Sky and 10-8 overall.
"Tonight's loss stings very bad,” said Eagle head coach Mike Burns. “You don't get these games back. You can rationalize splitting games on the road, but you can't rationalize splitting games at home."
Northern Arizona finished 12-of-20 from three-point range, as Sir has now made 26 of his last 34 treys. Eastern was just 2-of-14 from the three-point stripe. The Eagles also made only 8-of-22 free throws, including just 4-of-9 by Stuckey, the Big Sky’s leader entering the game at 86.3 percent.
With Sir scoring 14 points after halftime -- with four three-pointers -- NAU opened up a seven-point lead less than five minutes into the second half. Eastern cut the margin to one at the 11:01 mark, but NAU used an 8-0 run to take command and led by as many as 13.
Less than two weeks ago on Jan. 6, the Eagles lost at Northern Arizona 109-101. Eastern allowed NAU to make 61 percent of its shots as Tyrone Bazy (32) and Sir (22) combined for 54 points. Sir was this week’s Big Sky co-Player of the Week.
“We just made a couple of mental errors and they got things going,” said Burns. “Sir has been on fire the last three weeks. And when we go 2-of-14 from three and they go 12-of-20, combined with our poor free throw shooting, it is too much to overcome."
Eastern managed to out-rebound the Lumberjacks 34-30 and had 14 turnovers to NAU’s 10. Eastern actually shot better than NAU, making 56.5 percent for its fourth-best shooting percentage of the season. The Lumberjacks finished at 54.1 percent.
"Tonight at times our effort was very good -- our guys were flying to the ball and doing some good things,” said Burns. “We out-rebounded NAU and those are effort things.”
Paul Butorac added 16 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots for the Eagles as he made 7-of-10 shots from the field. Kellen Williams chipped in 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Ryan McCurdy made 8-of-10 shots and finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Bazy came off the bench to finish with 19 points and five assists, and Josh Wilson had a career-high 14 assists.
The first half featured nine ties and three lead changes as NAU led 40-38 at intermission. Eastern, thanks to 58 percent shooting in the first half, led by as many as six.
"Some things that stand out to me after this game are that Stephen Sir was 7-10 and two of those specifically were wide open shots in the second half that stung,” said Burns. “You combine that with going 8-of-22 at the free throw line and missing the first shots in the one-and-one bonus opportunities in a home game, you are not going to win. Those extra 14 points we could have capitalized on at the foul line would have helped significantly tonight."
"Our free throws haven't had as big of a negative impact in games as they were tonight,” he added. “At Portland State we shot much better at the line (22-of-28). If we could have done that tonight it would have helped significantly."
"NAU did a good job of getting the ball to Ryan McCurdy deep in the post, and when he gets down there he usually scores, Tyrone Bazy was 2-of-2 from three and he is a 23 percent three-point shooter. We were more worried about his penetration than we were about his three-point shooting. We knew Sir and (Nathan) Geiser could shoot the ball well. We let them get their feet set and they were able to make those shots."
Eastern returns to action Saturday (Jan. 20) when it hosts Northern Colorado. Two weeks ago on Jan. 4 in Greeley, Colo., Eastern edged the Bears 88-87 as Stuckey scored 25 points and had 10 assists.
Northern Colorado is 1-6 in the Big Sky and 3-16 overall after falling at Portland State 86-70 on Thursday. Eastern defeated the same PSU team 88-70 in Portland last Saturday (Jan. 13).
"These conference games are starting to become must wins,” said Burns. “We have to come back Saturday night against a Northern Colorado team that is far better than their record indicates -- an example being that UNC beat NAU last Thursday."
"We need to take better care of the basketball against UNC than we did tonight. We need to come out with better defensive intensity, and, obviously, we need to make our free throws."