Coyotes come from behind to beat Western Washington 71-65

LAS VEGAS _ The Cal State San Bernardino men’s basketball team has not been invited back to the Great Western Shootout in Las Vegas. The fact the Coyotes keep beating up on the host teams might have something to do with it.

The No. 10 Coyotes turned in another strong performance Wednesday night, upending Western Washington 71-65 at the Centennial Hills Center behind the play of tournament Most Valuable Player Michael Earl. That came one night after they routed the other host team Central Washington 83-60.

“They said there was some sort of miscommunication. They didn’t think we wanted to come back,” said Oliver, who will be looking to start his own event to be held the same event next year.

Not only have the Coyotes beaten both teams in successive years. They also beat Western Washington in its season opener in another tournament in Seattle in early Novemeber. The Coyotes (9-1) have handed the Vikings (7-2) both losses.

But both teams played better basketball in the most recent meeting. The Vikings came out quicker and were up by 13 at 32-19 with 8:33 to go. It was Fontana native Ira Graham igniting the charge with 16 of his 22 in the opening half.

“We seem to have some lapses and tonight we started with one,” Earl said. “They came out pretty amped up and we weren’t. We didn’t come out with the same energy we had. But we thought if we could stay close we would get them once we settled down and started playing our
game.”

The Coyotes battled back and only trailed by three at the half, 37-34.

It was nip and tuck the rest of the way with each team’s biggest lead of the half being three points. The game was knotted five times, the last at 65 with 1:51 to go after two free throws by Lance Ortiz.

Cal State went up for good moments later on a driving layup by Marlon Pierce with 1:27 to go. On the ensuing possession Graham took the ball and dribbled baseline but was called for stepping on the end line with 1:01 left.

“I really thought I was pushed out,” said Graham, who made the six-player all-tournament team. “But that’s not an excuse. That’s how basketball goes. We just made some mistakes dwn the stretch that hurt us.”

The Coyotes capitalized with Ortiz working time off the clock, then going baseline for a layup that gave Cal State a 69-65 edge with 24 seconds remaining.

Western Washington’s Harold McAllister set up for a 3-pointer on the next Vikings possession but his shot was batted away by Jason Gilzene with 13 seconds left. Ortiz knocked down a couple of free throws to put the game away.

Oliver appreciated coming out on top against a quality team in a tightly-contestd game. He also liked the way his team bounced back after being dealt a loss by NAIA Azusa Pacific on Friday.

“It was the wakeup call we needed,” he said. “I felt like we were regressing, not progressing and getting too complacent. Sometimes I think this team thinks it’s going to be too easy and that’s a mentality a team should never have or comes back to bit you in the butt.”

Earl tallied a team-high 16 points with six blocks. Pierce had 10, with eight rebounds, four steals and three assists to earn an all-tournament spot. Scoring was balanced after that with Reggie Brown and Renardo Bass and Ortiz chipping in with eight apiece. livcer used 11 players and 10 figured in the scoring.

Western shot 49 percent (25-for-51) while Cal State was slightly worse at 45.5 (25-for-55). It made up for that by going 18-for-22 from the free-throw line. The Coyotes were outrebounded 35-27 but forced 19 turnovers while making only nine.

“We really don’t have one person that has to be our go-to player. We have a lot of options,” Earl said. “That is good for us because no one has to have that pressure. We’re confident in each other.”

Oliver said he believed that Cal Poly Pomona was invited back to the CCAA vs. GNAC event with Cal State Stanislaus, traditionally a middle tier team, replacing the Coyotes.