It fought to the bitter end with a late 18-3 run to knot the score at 70, but Eastern Washington couldn’t overcome turnovers Tuesday (Nov. 14) at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev.
The Eagles had 22 turnovers -- including several key miscues early in each half and two late in the game -- as EWU lost 82-79 to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in a non-conference men’s basketball game.
The Eagles held the Runnin’ Rebels nearly seven minutes without a field goal during EWU’s comeback from a 15-point deficit with 7 1/2 minutes to play. Eastern fell to 0-2 with the loss while UNLV improved to 2-0 in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
“It’s tough,” said Eagle head coach Mike Burns of the three-point loss. “We didn’t come down here for a moral victory. To come that close and not get it done obviously hurts.”
“But I’m extraordinarily proud of our team,” he added. “We got down by 15 in the second half and they could have mailed it in and quit, but they didn’t. They battled back and put themselves in a position to win the game. It was a very, very good job by our team of dealing with adversity and getting back in the ballgame.”
The Eagles return to open their home schedule on Saturday, Nov. 18 against Lewis-Clark State followed by a home game versus Evergreen State on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Tipoff against L-C State is 7:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., while the Evergreen State game begins at approximately 8:15 p.m. following Eastern’s women’s game versus Washington.
Eastern had 14 first-half turnovers and eight in the second half as the Eagles allowed UNLV to score 25 total points off those miscues.
“They are so athletic -- they won’t let you catch the ball and they do a good job of getting in passing lanes,” said Burns. “You have to make plays and our guys did that down the stretch.”
Five days earlier, Eastern had 15 first-half turnovers against Gonzaga and fell behind 55-36 at halftime. The Eagles had only five turnovers in the second half and eventually lost 90-75 as GU scored 22 points off EWU turnovers. So far this season, Eastern has had 42 turnovers while forcing just 26.
“I thought we did a better job in the second half of taking care of the ball,” Burns added of Tuesday’s game “If we can take care of the basketball and turn those turnover numbers around, we will win a lot of basketball games.”
Eastern’s Rodney Stuckey led the Eagles in scoring for the 29th-straight game despite playing just seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. He finished with 25 points, scoring 20 of those in the second half as he finished the game making 7-of-20 shots from the field and 9-of-9 free throws.
Matt Penoncello added 13 points and seven rebounds for EWU. Neal Zumwalt came off the bench to score eight points on perfect 3-of-3 shooting from the field.
Wendell White led UNLV with 16 points, scoring all of those in the first half. Four other UNLV players scored in double figures.
The Eagles made 44 percent of their field goal attempts while UNLV made 45 percent. Eastern out-rebounded UNLV 44-34.
“It’s one thing to get stops, but you have to rebound the basketball,” said Burns. “For us to out-rebound them by 10 was huge.”
Eastern had six turnovers in the first four minutes and fell behind 12-3. Eventually the Eagles cut the lead to 27-23, but seven-straight UNLV points opened a double-digit lead. The Runnin’ Rebels led 42-33 at halftime.
The Eagles had two more turnovers in the first 1 1/2 minutes of the second half but still managed to pull within 50-43 with 15:16 to play. But two more EWU turnovers helped UNLV score six-straight points and take its biggest lead of the night at 15, 60-45 with 11:35 remaining.
The Rebels led 67-52 with 7:31 to play, but Eastern controlled its turnover problems and went on an 18-3 run to knot the game at 70 with 2:44 left on a three-pointer by true freshman Michael Taylor. Eastern held UNLV without a field goal for 6:50 during that stretch.
But two Rebel free throws, an untimely Eagle turnover, and a three-point play by Wink Adams with 1:49 to play regained a five-point lead for UNLV. Another EWU turnover with 1:02 left and the Eagles trailing by five, led a parade to the free throw line by the Runnin’ Rebels as they made five of their last eight to barely close out the win.
Last year, UNLV finished 17-13 overall and 10-6 in the Mountain West Conference to place fourth.