This archived article was written by: Scott Froehlich
USU Eastern’s Eagles have had a rough go of it in conference play and over the span of games from January 17-19, the Eagles went on a three-game-road-losing streak. In those three road games, the team lost by an average of 15 points and struggled to consistently play as a team.
After the disappointing road trip, the Eagles hoped to have a reversal of fortune as they returned home to Price.
First up for USUE was a matchup against the Snow College Badgers. The Badgers, who beat the Eagles 67-48 nearly two weeks ago, entered the BDAC with a 4-1 record in their past five games.
Neither team had a particularly good start to the game and the relatively non-eventful first quarter ended with the Badgers leading 22-15.
USUE started the second quarter by going on a 7-0 run and were the better team, playing well both offensively and defensively. Despite getting into foul trouble early on, the Eagles fended off the Badgers by benefitting from Snow’s missed free-throws. After their early run, USUE led for most of the quarter and ended the half with a 32-28 lead.
In the third stanza, the Badgers came out flying and went on a 10-2 run to put them on top 38-34. The teams played a tightly contested quarter and kept the game very close. Both teams traded baskets and the Eagles ended the third leading 50-48.
The final quarter of the game was equally heated, as both teams went back and forth and the teams didn’t give an inch and risk falling far behind. There was little room for error and every basket proved to be bigger than the last.
If the fourth quarter could be described as heated, the final two minutes were the boiling point.
USUE had a four-point lead at the two minute mark and looked poised to hold off the Badgers and secure a victory. During a defensive rebound, Eagles’ center Maile Richardson was fouled, which put the team into the bonus and to the free throw line. Richardson made one of the two shots and extended the lead to five with 1:47 left in the game.
After Richardson made her second free throw the Badgers were fouled again on their next possession. Snow’s Madison Mooring hit two shots, making the score 62-59 in favor of USUE. The Eagles turned the ball over on their next play and once again fouled a Badgers player and sent them back to the free throw line. Snow split the free throws, missing the first and making the second, further putting the pressure on the Eagles.
Kaitlin Toluono padded USUE’s lead by making a layup and increasing the score to 64-60. But Snow didn’t go away and responded with their own shot conversion, dwindling the Eagles’ lead down to two.
In the following possession, the Eagles took the ball down the court and set up Madison Loftus for a three-point opportunity. Although she missed, Toluono gathered up the rebound and was fouled in the process. With the clock down to 18 seconds, Toluono went to the free-throw line with a chance to put the game away by making it a two-score lead for the Eagles. However, Toluono only made one of her foul shots and kept Snow within striking distance.
On the ensuing play, the Badgers got the ball down the court and made a jump shot to make it 65-64 in favor of USUE. The Eagles turned over the ball on the inbound and Snow took over and got down in the paint. The Badgers’ Madison Mooring again saw herself with a critical scoring chance but missed her shot. Snow rebounded, and Toluono rushed over to tie up the Badgers’ player, creating a jump ball.
During the tie-up it had appeared that time expired and USUE won. As the Eagles’ players on the court congratulated each other on their way to the bench, they were called back by the referees. After a lengthy huddle, the officials determined that the jump ball took place with five-tenths of a second left with Snow retaining possession.
This controversial call gave the Badgers a slim chance to win the game in the dying moments.
With possession underneath their own hoop, Snow’s inbounding player weighed her options and found her teammate Siki Suguturaga open. She passed her the ball and Suguturaga lobbed up a shot and made it as the buzzer sounded and Snow won 66-65.
Despite the loss, the Eagles had shown resiliency and made the Badgers earn every point. Toluono scored a season-high 20 points and played well overall. In comparison to their prior matchup, the Eagles showed that they could match Snow’s intensity all game long.
Up next on the schedule was a date with the Southern Idaho Golden Eagles, and USUE again looked to redeem themselves from a 77-45 deficit in an earlier meeting. However, this game would end up being just as disappointing as the tilt against Snow.
The Eagles played catch up throughout most of the game against CSI and had problems with missing shots and giving up points off turnovers. CSI not only took advantage of turnovers, they dominated their own end and scored 24 points in the paint.
For as much of an uphill struggle the game had been for USUE, their performance in the fourth quarter breathed new life into the team.
Trailing by 13 points heading into the final frame, the Eagles seemed certain to continue their struggles and likely lose by a wide margin. The first half of the fourth reflected this notion and the Eagles at one point fell behind by 19 points.
The Eagles went on a 13-0 run to get within six points of CSI. With time running out, USUE would need to play smart with the ball and manage their time as best as they could.
Since USUE was down by two possessions CSI could hold the ball and eat up time, so it all but forced the Eagles to foul. Unfortunately, the Golden Eagles ended up making five of their six free throws in the final minute. Although USUE responded and kept CSI on their heels, the final two free throws CSI made put the game out of reach and won 67-60.
Losing both of their home games dropped USUE to 1-7 and extended their losing streak to six games.
There are always silver linings to every dark cloud, and the two losses saw some positive outcomes. Not only did Toluono score a season-high 20 points against Snow, her teammate Madison Loftus scored 27 points, including three of her seven three-pointers.
Toluono said, “It’s never easy to lose, both games were a tough loss. If I were to choose [a loss that was toughest] I would say Snow, because the controversial call at the end lost us the game.”
How do the players move on from heartbreaking defeats?
“The coaches always point out positives and let us know that we are improving which is a good sign. If we eliminate…the other teams points off turnovers and mental lapses we will pull out wins,” said Toluono.
USUE starts a two-game road trip on Feb. 2 when they face the Salt Lake CC Bruins in Taylorsville. Then they travel to Colorado where they’ll face the Colorado Northwestern Spartans on Feb. 4.They are at home the next week where they face Snow for a grudge match on Feb. 7.