This archived article was written by: Jeremy Jones
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. That’s how the men’s basketball season has gone so far during conference play.
The Eagles opened conference play in Salt Lake against Salt Lake Community College on November 14. The Eagles didn’t really come out on fire, only shooting 32 percent from the field in the first half, but it was good enough for a seven-point halftime lead.
Coach Bryan Zollinger said the key to the first game against SLCC was their defense. The Eagles held the Bruins to a dismal 24 percent from the field in the first half.
SLCC improved their shooting in the second half a little bit, but the Eagles came out on fire, hitting on almost 54 percent of their shots. With their continued high-pressure defense and hot shooting, CEU rolled to a 72-58 win.
Leonta Matthews and Tyrone Shephard lead the Eagles offensively with 14 points each and Casey Iverson chipped in 12. Matthews also coralled eight rebounds.
The Eagles and the Bruins matched up evenly the very next night, again in Salt Lake. On Saturday, the Bruins came out shooting much better, hitting 56 percent of their shots in the first half.
The Eagles were held to only 36 percent shooting, but shot twice as many free throws in the first half to keep it close. SLCC took a 39-35 lead into halftime. But the Eagles showed a lot of heart in the second half. At one point, the Bruins took a double-digit lead, but the Eagles fought back. By holding SLCC to only 27 percent from the floor, including hitting only 1-7 three-point shots, and shooting 50 percent themselves, the Eagles worked their way back into the game and pulled out a 75-72 victory.
Tyrone Shephard had a breakout game offensively, scoring 26 points including going 10-10 from the free throw line. Steve Williams was the only other Eagle in double figures with 12.
After their trip to Salt Lake, the Eagles came home for two games against Snow College. The Badgers won their first two region games as well, so these two games were to determine who would take control of first place in the conference early in the season.
The first game, which was played on Friday, November 21 was close the entire game. Neither team was able to take much of a lead at any point in the game. The Eagles hurt themselves in the first half by committing 10 turnovers.
The second half continued much like the first half had. Both teams played hard and neither team could gain the upper hand.
As the game wound down, the Eagles were able to score and take a slim one-point lead. Snow came down the court to try and take the lead back, but was unsuccessful and the Eagle’s point guard Casey Iverson grabbed the rebound.
The Badgers were forced to commit a foul, but it was only the team’s sixth foul, so the Eagles had to in-bound the ball one more time.
Snow tightened their defense on the in-bound play and forced the Eagles into a bad pass. The Badgers stole the ball, ran the length of the court, and scored a layup with a second left on the clock, taking back the lead for good. The game ended with Snow on top 60-59.
Emotions ran high for Saturday’s game after the previous night’s barn-burner. Again, the two teams played each other very closely and the game remained tight the whole way.
But again, the Badgers were able to win the close one. With clutch free throw shooting down the stretch, Snow came away with, again, a one point win, 67-66. While the calls late in the game were questionable, the big difference in the game came at the free throw line. CEU went only 7-12 from the line while Snow went 17-23.
Guard Slade Bigelow scored 17 points and connected on five three-point shots to lead the way for the Badgers.
The Eagles had a balanced scoring attack lead by Steve Williams who added 12 points. Chris Anderson and Casey Iverson each had 10. Anderson and Leonta Matthews grabbed six rebounds each as well in the losing effort.
In response to these two tough losses, Jeremy Atwater said, “It’s hard. We have to be strong and come back together. It’s something that we have to put behind us and move on. It’s real hard, though.”
The Eagle’s next opponent was a tough one to come back on. CEU had to travel to St. George and play against Dixie State College, who was on a 74-game winning streak at home dating back to the 2000 season when they lost to Utah Valley State College, a D-1 college now.
During Friday night’s game, the Rebels started out slowly, shooting only 35 percent from the field and managed only 20 points in the first half. The Eagles capitalized and jumped out to a 10-point lead at halftime, 30-20.
But Dixie wasn’t done yet. They came out aggresive in the second half, while, according to Coach Zollinger, the Eagles played tentitavely with the lead. Dixie out rebounded CEU 37-31, including grabbing 10-offensive rebounds.
Similar to the game against Snow, a late turnover sealed the Eagle’s fate. The Rebels were able to score a layup off the turnover and took a four-point lead.
A late three-point attempt by the Eagles came off and Dixie was able to keep their home winning streak alive, pulling out a 64-60 win.
Atwater again proved to be a bright spot for the Eagles by scoring 16 points and grabbing five boards.
Coach Zollinger described the next night’s game as a mirror image of the last game, but with the roles reversed. On Saturday night, it was the the Rebels that came out strong to start and the Eagles were on their heels.
CEU fought back towards the end of the first half, though, and the Eagles took a 34-28 lead into halftime. The second half stayed close, but this time, the Eagles proved they were the ones to pull out the close one.
With only 30 seconds left in a 73-73 ballgame, the Eagles had the ball and held for the last shot.
Once the clock wound down to about ten seconds left, the Eagles started their play. The ball was swung around and a shot went up. It clanged off the rim hard, but Eagle guard Jared Quayle, at only six-feet tall, grabbed the rebound and put up a shot with only one second left. His shot hit all net and proved to be the game winner.
Dixie’s home winning streak was over as was the Eagle’s three-game losing streak.
When asked to describe the final play, Quayle said, “I didn’t even see who took the shot. I just went down by the basket in case he missed. When I looked up, the ball just kind of fell to me. So I grabbed it and put back up.”
Zollinger wasn’t surprised at all that Quayle was the one that got the rebound and scored.
“He’s our best rebounder. Even though he’s only six feet, he has great instincts for the ball. He’s always around the ball. We see it everyday in practice that he has a nose for the ball.”
Quayle went on to say, “It was a great feeling to win that one since it hadn’t happened in so long. Everyone was really excited. We should’ve won the first game, though.”
So, after it was all said and done, the Eagles came away with a 3-3 record in conference play.
Of the team’s remaining schedule, the majority of the games will be at home.
Coach Zollinger feels confident about how his team is playing and about their chances in the future. He said, “All three of our losses have been by a total of six points. We’ve also played against the so-called conference favorites in SLCC, Snow and Dixie, so I feel very positive about how our team is playing.”