Eagles begin three-game homestand by hosting PSU - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Eagles begin three-game homestand by hosting PSU

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

The next two weeks, it will be hard for the Eagles not to have the urge to pack their bags.
After playing 12 of its first 15 games on the road, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team returns home for its first and only back-to-back-to-back homes games of the season in the next two weeks, beginning Thursday (Jan. 4) with a regionally-televised game against a team with 10 victories already this season.
Portland State visits Reese Court Thursday for a game which tips-off at 6:05 p.m. and will be televised live regionally by SWX. On Saturday (Jan. 6) at 2:05 p.m.  Eastern hosts Sacramento State, a team which recorded just its fourth victory of the season when it upset the Vikings 80-75 at home on Dec. 30.
All of EWU's remaining regular season games will be available via http://watchbigsky.com via Pluto TV. In addition, all Eastern games are carried live on 700-AM ESPN and 105.3-FM in the Spokane/Cheney area, with Larry Weir calling the play-by-play. Broadcasts begin a half-hour prior to tipoff and may also be heard via http://www.tunein.com (search for Eastern Washington University). A mobile phone app is also available via tunein radio.
Protecting its home court will be the task this week for the Eagles, who have played just three times at home this season.
"It's a big deal," said Shantay Legans, who will make his home league debut as EWU's head coach on Thursday. "Being home for two weeks will be foreign for the guys – they'll probably be packing their bags thinking we are going to be leaving Wednesday to go back on the road."
The Eagles are 49-9 (84 percent) at Reese Court in the past five seasons since 2013-14. After this week's games, on Jan. 12 Eastern will host an Idaho team picked to win the Big Sky title.
"The goal is to win all of our home games no matter who we play and at any time," said Legans. "We want to win on the road, but splits on the road and winning all your home games is where it's at if you want to win a league championship."
That task begins against a Portland State team ranked 52nd in the RPI prior to losing its league opener at Sac State. The Vikings remain a league-leading 84th in the RPI, and are 10-4 on the season and 0-1 in the league. The Vikings have recorded wins over Cal, Stanford and Utah State, and their three non-conference losses came at the hands of teams (Duke by 18, Butler by 2, Oregon by nine) who are a collective 36-8 on the season (13-1/12-3/11-4 respectively) through Dec. 31.
Utilizing a full-court pressure defense, Portland State leads the Big Sky and NCAA Division I in steals at 12.6 per game, and also leads the league and is second nationally in turnovers forced per game at 19.0. Eastern is averaging a league-low 11.3 turnovers per game to rank 25th nationally.
 "They are a great offensive team, especially when they get the ball out in transition," Legans said of the Vikings. "If we don't turn the ball over more than 10 times and get back on defense, it will make it harder for them to score against us. They are really, really talented with talented players and a good first-year coach. They've been doing a good job and play a style we haven't seen a lot of this year."
Eastern is 6-9, and has won three of its last four after splitting on the road to begin conference play. Eastern fell 88-75 at Northern Colorado on Dec. 29 before rebounding two days later for a decisive 77-64 win at defending Big Sky regular season and tournament champion North Dakota. Prior to that, EWU had resounding 28-point home victories to improve to 3-0 at Reese Court on the season. An 86-58 victory over CSUN (Cal State Northridge) on Dec. 17 snapped a five-game losing skid – all on the road – then EWU beat Providence (formerly Great Falls) 94-66 on Dec. 20. Eastern led from start to finish in both – and by double-digits for 55:50 out of a total of 80 minutes. Eastern led by double digits for the last 27:15 against CSUN and the last 25:15 versus Providence.
The Eagles are coming off a third-straight appearance in a national postseason tournament, and were 22-12 overall a year ago. Eastern finished 13-5 in the Big Sky to finish second behind regular season champion North Dakota, and then the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament.

Game Notes

Eagles Are Coming Off Best Six Shooting Performances of the Season
After making only 39 percent of their shots through nine games this season, Eastern has had its top six shooting performances of the year in the last six games. Eastern has made half of its shots in those six games to climb well above 40 percent for the season at 43.6 percent overall and 35.0 percent from the 3-point stripe. In those six games, Eastern is shooting at a 50.1 percent clip overall and 43.5 percent on 3-pointers (.393/.302 prior to that).
Eastern is also holding opponents to 44.7 shooting overall and 36.6 from the arc this season. As a result, Eastern is ninth in the Big Sky Conference in field goal percentage and seventh in the league defensively. The Eagles are 6-0 when they out-shoot their opponents and 0-9 when they don't.
The Eagles had their season-best shooting performance of the season (best against a NCAA Division I opponent) at 54.0 percent at North Dakota, and made 45.3 percent against Northern Colorado. In its two games prior to that, Eastern made over 50 percent of its shots for the second-straight game, making a season-best 56.7 percent against Providence on Dec. 20. The Eagles sank 62 percent in the second half as they eclipsed the 51.5 percent they had three days earlier versus CSUN. Eastern's 11-of-22 performance from the arc against the Matadors equaled its season-best of 50 percent, while its 51.6 percent shooting afternoon eclipsed the .484 shooting percentage EWU had at Wyoming in its previous outing. That was better than EWU's previous game when they made what was then a season-best 45.6 percent against South Dakota on Dec. 10.
In addition, the Eagles have been the Big Sky's best team in taking care of the ball, leading the league and ranking 25th in NCAA Division I with an average of 11.3 turnovers per game. The Eagles have also been a solid free throw shooting team and are currently third in the league (74.4 percent). Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk is sixth in the league at 84.6 percent. In individual field goal shooting, junior Jesse Hunt is 13th in the league at 50.0 percent, as well as sixth in rebounding at 6.7 per game. Bliznyuk is right behind him in 14th in field goal shooting (49.2 percent) and rebounding (5.9), and is also third in scoring (18.9) and eighth in assists (3.3). True freshman Jack Perry is fifth in 3-point shooting at 46.2 percent (18-of-39) and junior Cody Benzel is seventh at 45.9 percent (18-of-40). Junior Ty Gibson has averaged 2.3 3-pointers per game (34-of-85 total) to rank eighth in the league, and is currently third on the team in scoring at 8.1 per game. One of the team's co-captains, Gibson has scored in double figures in five of the last eight games.
Balanced Minutes and Balanced Scoring is Key During Grueling Stretch
To survive the early-season gauntlet of playing seven games in a 15-day span – and a total of 13 in 41 days (Nov. 10-Dec. 20), Eastern head coach Shantay Legans went to his bench often. And he's continued that in league play while utilizing seven different starting lineups thus far.
For the season, Eastern is averaging 27.4 points per game from its bench (411 total), compared to an average of 19.1 by its opponents (286 total). Nine Eagles are averaging between 15.5 and 33.3 minutes per game, and two others are each averaging at least 9.6. For the season, Bogdan Bliznyuk is averaging 18.9 points per game, but 10 others are averaging between 4.6 and 8.9.
Eastern had 26 bench points in its league opener at Northern Colorado, then 19 at North Dakota. The Eagles played those games without injured starters Mason Peatling and Luka Vulikic – the fourth-straight game for Peatling and the seventh in a row for Vulikic. Legans is hopeful both can return soon.
All 11 players who were available against Providence on Dec. 20 scored to contribute toward EWU's season-best output of 94 points, and each had at least one rebound. Against Cal State Northridge on Dec. 17, five players scored in double figures as the Eagles had their best shooting percentages (.516 overall and .500 from the 3-point stripe), as well as a season-high 22 assists. Five different Eagles had at least three assists, and three Eagles had at least six rebounds. Defensively, Eastern had a season best by allowing just 58 points, surpassing the previous low of 61 on two other occasions – both wins.
The Eagles had a season-low 18 bench points at South Dakota on Dec. 10, but had a season-high 40 versus Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 22. Eastern routed Eastern Kentucky by 21, jumping out to a 19-point lead in the first half and leading 39-16 at intermission. Eastern led by as many as 28 in the second half and no less than 19 in the final minutes in the 83-62 win. That helped give EWU a 39-point turnaround in two games, having lost to Georgia State by 18 points two days earlier on Nov. 20 in its MGM Resorts Main Event opener.
6-foot-6 Point-Forward Bogdan Bliznyuk Now 120 Points from School Record
Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk went over the 1,700-point mark in his career on Dec. 31 at North Dakota and is now just 91 points from ending what could be a short-lived record. And he's a mere eight free throws from another record held by a former 10-year NBA veteran.
In 118 career games (sixth in school history), Bliznyuk is third in school history in career scoring with a current total of 1,712 points – 29 from second and 91 from the school record. Next on the list is Ron Cox (1,741 from 1974-77) and a former teammate, Venky Jois (school-record 1,803 points from 2013-16). Against San Francisco on Dec. 7, Bliznyuk passed Irv Leifer (1,550 from 1942-47), who held the record for 30 years after playing for EWU from 1942-47. He then passed the 1,564 points of his former teammate Tyler Harvey (2013-15). Previously, Bliznyuk passed 10-year NBA veteran Rodney Stuckey (1,438 points from 2006-07) in EWU's first game of the season, and then Dave Hayden (1,461 points from 1970-73) against Washington.
With 378 free throws made in his career, Bliznyuk is just four from the record of 386 held by Stuckey, who played a total of 10 years with the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers in the NBA. He's just 40 field goal attempts from the record of 1,286 held for the past 45 years by Hayden. In addition, if Bliznyuk plays 10 more games he will equal the record of 128 set by his former teammate Felix Von Hofe from 2014-17. Bliznyuk is ranked in the top 10 in school history in several other categories, and against Providence on Dec. 20 moved passed Eagle legend and former Big Sky MVP Alvin Snow (2015-17) into seventh in assists (Snow had 318 and Bliznyuk has a current total of 327). He is currently tied with Snow for the sixth-most games played, and against Portland State on Jan. 4 will equal the 199 of Marc Axton (2002-05).
This season, Bliznyuk has made 49.2 percent of his field goals (14th in the Big Sky) and 84.6 percent of his free throws (sixth) to average 18.9 points (third) through 15 games. He is also averaging 5.9 rebounds (ninth) and 3.3 assists (eighth) to rank as the only player in the league to be ranked in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists. He now has nine performances in his 118-game career of at least 30 points, 33 with at least 20 and 81 scoring in double figures, plus had the lone triple-double in school history as a sophomore.
On Jan. 1, Bliznyuk was one of five players in the league named by HoopsHD.com to its mid-season All-Big Sky team. He was selected on Dec. 19 as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week after a 30-point effort in one game and a near triple-double in another. In two games – including an overtime loss at Wyoming and a 28-point NCAA Division I home win, the Big Sky Player of the Year candidate averaged 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He made 50 percent of his shots overall (15-of-30) and from the 3-point arc (4-of-8), and also made 12-of-15 free throws for 80 percent. On Nov. 8, Bliznyuk was selected to the Lou Henson Award preseason Watch List by Colllegeinsider.com. The award is presented annually to the nation's top Division I mid-major player, and the initial watch list featured 51 players from across the country.
Bliznyuk concluded his junior season with 701 points, becoming just the fourth player in school history to hit that mark (Jake Wiley, a senior on the 2017-18 squad, ranks fifth in school history with 694). A senior, Bliznyuk was a second team All-Big Sky Conference selection a year ago, and was the league's Freshman of the Year in 2014-15. He also earned second team All-District 6 honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He is formerly from Lutsk, Ukraine, and graduated from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash., in 2014.
 The Eagles finished the season with five Big Sky Conference records and 14 EWU marks, most broken as the result of EWU's 130-124 triple-overtime victory over Portland State on Feb. 4. Wiley and Bliznyuk set the most intriguing record when both scored a school-record 45 points in that game versus the Vikings.
Led by Bliznyuk, the Eagles in 2017-18 feature a team with size throughout their lineup. They were bolstered by the addition of 7-footer Benas Griciunas, a senior graduate transfer from UNC Charlotte. A 6-foot-6 point-forward, Bliznyuk was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team, and is one of 10 returning players to the Eagle roster. The Eagles return eight letterwinners from last year, including a trio of returning starters -- Bliznyuk, Mason Peatling and Luka Vulikic. The others are Cody Benzel, Grant Gibb, Ty Gibson, Jesse Hunt and Sir Washington, with Jacob Davison and Joshua Thomas returning as a 2016-17 redshirts.
Junior Jesse Hunt Has Made Most of Four Starts
Junior Jesse Hunt has started EWU's last four games, and has registered his career high in each outing. In those four games, he's averaged 15.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, while making 22-of-38 shots overall (57.9 percent), 5-of-8 from the 3-point stripe (62.5 percent) and 13-of-16 from the free throw line (81.3 percent).
Hunt scored a career-high 14 points and had eight rebounds in his first start of the season against CSUN on Dec. 17, then had his second double-double of the season with 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds against Providence three days later. He equaled his career high with 16 points at Northern Colorado on Dec. 29 when he also had a career-high four blocked shots and eight rebounds in a career-high 29 minutes of action. He then played 29 minutes at North Dakota and finished with 16 points and eight boards.
For the season, Hunt is averaging 21.7 minutes, 8.9 points, 6.7 rebounds (sixth in the Big Sky) and has eight blocked shots, while making 50.0 percent of his shots from the field (13th in the league) and 84.6 percent from the free throw line. In his 78-game career (16 as a starter), Hunt has averaged 12.2 minutes, 3.6 points, 2.9 rebounds and has 28 blocks.
Newcomers Contributing Significantly, Including Two as Starters
True freshman Jack Perry has started EWU's last six games, and had his first two first double-figure scoring performances with 13 at South Dakota on Nov. 10 and 17 two nights later at Wyoming when he also had a season-high seven assists. On the season he's averaging 5.3 points and 2.5 assists per game while making 50.0 percent from the field and 18-of-39 3-pointers (46.2 percent to rank fifth in the Big Sky).
Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison made the first start of his career at Seattle on Dec. 3 and started seven-straight games. He is now coming off the bench and has averaged 6.5 points on the season. He had a 13-point performance against Utah on Nov. 24 for his third double-figure scoring performance in a four-game span. He came off the bench to score 20 against Georgia State on Nov 20, and had 11 one game earlier versus UNLV. He has made 27-of-33 free throws (81.8 percent).
Honored Academically Within Past Year, Eagles Post 3.43 GPA in Fall Quarter
Despite a road-heavy second half of the quarter for the Eagles, EWU basketball players posted a collective 3.43 grade point average in the fall.  "This is very impressive, especially considering the amount of days we were on the road this quarter," praised Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. "Our guys work hard, and our coaches and administration do a great job of making sure they have all the support they need."
In the offseason, the Eastern men's basketball team was honored with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Team Academic Excellence Award announced last summer. It was the fourth consecutive year EWU has won that award. In addition, a trio of players – including returning senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk – were honored on the NABC Honors Court.
The team award was won by 209 colleges and universities for having a team cumulative grade point average of 3.0 and above for the 2016-17 season. Teams in NCAA Division I, II, II and NAIA Division I and II were eligible. Eastern and Gonzaga were the only NCAA Division I schools in the state of Washington to be honored, and were joined by Central Washington from NCAA Division II and Northwest College from the NAIA. Eastern, Idaho State and Montana were the only Big Sky Conference schools to be recognized.
Players on EWU's 2016-17 team included Academic All-America nominees Ty Gibson and Jesse Hunt, as well as their fellow Big Sky Conference All-Academic selections Jacob Wiley (Big Sky MVP), Bogdan Bliznyuk (second team All-Big Sky), Mason Peatling, Mario Soto and Luka Vulikic. Other members of the squad included Julian Harrell, Felix Von Hofe, Sir Washington, Cody Benzel, Michael Wearne, Grant Gibb and Geremy McKay, with Jacob Davison and Joshua Thomas redshirting.
Besides Bliznyuk, former Eagles Julian Harrell and Mario Soto were selected on the Honors Court. Recipients of the award must be a varsity player, and academically a junior or senior while earning a cumulative grade point average of 3.2 or higher.
Bliznyuk is from Lutsk, Ukraine, and graduated in 2014 from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash. He is a marketing major at Eastern, and currently has a 3.31 grade point average at EWU. A three-time member of the Big Sky All-Academic team, Bliznyuk is one of five returning players who earned that honor in the 2016-17 season. The others are Gibson, who has a near-perfect 3.99 GPA, Hunt (3.62 GPA), Peatling (3.94 GPA) and Vulikic (3.41 GPA).
Four of EWU's Past Opponents End Calendar Year in the Top 92 in RPI
As more and more games are played nationally, the NCAA's RPI (ratings percentage index) rankings are sorting themselves out and Eastern is at No. 182 (69th in strength of schedule) through games of Dec. 31.
Through games of Dec. 31, the top three Big Sky schools are 10-4 Portland State (#84), 11-4 Northern Colorado (#117), 9-6 Montana State (#160), 9-5 Montana (#151), 6-7 Southern Utah (#176), EWU and 9-5 Idaho (#185). Among preseason foes EWU played, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and South Dakota all ended the 2017 calendar year in the top 92 at Nos. 34, 52, 77 and 92, respectively, and UNLV is 113th.
Eastern's last two preseason losses – nail-biters decided by a total of just seven points -- came at a pair of teams ranked in the top 100 in RPI and unbeaten at home at the time. Eastern fell on Dec. 10 by a 75-73 score at 11-3 South Dakota, which had won its previous four home games by an average of 31 points per game. Eastern then fell 93-88 in overtime two nights later to a then Wyoming team (8-3 after playing EWU) which had a winning margin of 10.8 points per game in four home court wins prior to facing EWU.
When the dust settled from EWU's 67-61 win at Stanford on Nov. 14, the next day Eastern ranked sixth nationally in the live-rpi.com rankings (the NCAA had not revealed its rankings by then). Rated so high based on a high strength of schedule, Eastern was just behind Big Sky rival Weber State at No. 5, with Washington holding down the top spot. At one point last year EWU's RPI was 57th on Dec. 13, and during its run to the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15 the Eagles were as high as 50th.
Home Games Cherished in Second-Toughest Preseason in 31 Years
With just three home games in the preseason, the first season at the helm has been road-heavy and a challenging one for Shantay Legans and his first team, with 10 of 13 preseason games away from home. In fact, the only time in 31 seasons as a member of the Big Sky Eastern has had a more road-heavy preseason schedule was in the 1988-89 season when EWU played 11 of 14 games away from home. That team was 1-10 away from home and 3-11 overall heading into conference play (EWU finished 8-22 overall and 5-11 in the league).
Seven of EWU preseason losses were on the home court of their opponents, which finished their pre-conference schedules 69-27 (72 percent) on the season and 50-6 (89 percent) at home. The Eagles recorded a huge win at Stanford (67-61 on Nov. 14) and barely lost at Wyoming (93-88 in overtime on Dec. 17). After 36-straight days without a home game, Eastern returned to Reese Court where the Eagles had won 84 percent of their games (46-9) in the previous four years since the 2013-14 season.
This season is also just the second time in school history EWU has played three Pac-12 Conference opponents in the same year, with 2011-12 the other season and included losses to Oregon, Washington State and UCLA. In the 2017-18 season, Eastern will play eight opponents who played in national postseason tournaments last season, including five in the non-conference portion of EWU's schedule.
Three Pac-12 Conference opponents and a stretch of 36-straight days without a game at home were the task EWU took on. Three other teams in NCAA Division I also have such a streak:
39 – Penn (Nov. 18 vs. PSU-Brandywine; Dec. 27 vs. Delaware State)
39 – Harvard (Nov. 12 vs. UMass; Dec. 21 vs. Boston University)
37 – New Mexico State (Dec. 12 vs. vs. Eastern New Mexico, Jan. 18 vs. Seattle U.)
36 – Eastern Washington (Nov. 10 vs. Walla Walla; Dec. 17 vs. CSU-Northridge)
In all, Eastern has played teams from 10 different conferences this season, with all but two of its games versus NCAA Division I opposition. Seven opponents won at least 20 games a year ago – Georgia State, Utah, San Francisco, South Dakota, Wyoming, North Dakota and Weber State. Utah and South Dakota advanced to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), Georgia State advanced to the College Insider Tournament (CIT) and San Francisco and Wyoming joined EWU in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). The other three postseason opponents came from the Big Sky Conference – North Dakota in the NCAA Tournament and Idaho and Weber State in the CIT.
Eagles End One of Top 3 Road Stretches in 110 Years
Eastern's recently-concluded long road stretch was rare, but not unprecedented in 110 years of basketball at Eastern. The 10 games (2-8 record) without a home game is the second-longest stretch, ranking only behind the 1988-89 team which played 11-straight away from home (1-10) while going from Dec. 3 to Jan. 12 without a home game. That team went 39 days without playing at home and the 1981-82 squad had a stretch of 37 days (5-4 in nine games away from home). This year's team went 36 days – Nov. 10 to Dec. 17 – without playing at home at Reese Court, where the Eagles are 46-9 (84 percent) in the last four-plus years (since the 2013-14 season). Since joining NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, Eastern has had eight month-long stretches without a home game, and prior to that had seven known such streaks.
The Eagles began their road trip against the University of Washington in Seattle on Nov. 12 – two days after playing at home on Nov. 10 versus Walla Walla. The first leg of EWU's road stretch included 4,432 airline miles, while the other trips in the road stretch included 3,449 air miles. That's a total of 7,881 air miles, not including ground travel and a bus trip to and from Seattle for the game versus the Redhawks.
1,000 Broadcast Milestone Reached Dec. 3 by Broadcaster Larry Weir
Long-time Eastern Washington University radio announcer Larry Weir called his 1,000th Eagle men's basketball or football game on Dec. 3 in EWU's game at Seattle. He was the 2015 and 2016 State of Washington Sportscaster of the Year, and was honored at Eastern's home game versus Providence on Dec. 20.
Weir recently concluded his 27th season as the football voice of the Eagles and is in his 25th calling men's basketball for EWU, whose games are broadcast on 700-AM ESPN. Through the Dec. 3 game, Weir had missed just 27 out of 706 men's basketball games, calling a total of 679 to go along with 321 out of a possible 322 football games. Through Dec. 31, his total is at 1,007.
Weir first began calling games in the 1991-92 season, and the only football game he missed in that span was a 2005 playoff game at Northern Iowa when he was broadcasting Eastern's basketball games in Alaska. Weir is in his 25th season calling men's basketball action for the Eagles (from 1991-2009 and again from 2012-present). Weir's tenure has included calling games coached by seven men's basketball coaches and five in football. The 2017-18 season marks his first year working with EWU coaches Aaron Best in football and Shantay Legans in basketball.
Now in Cheney, Next Basketball Coaches Show is Jan. 3
Featuring a new location, the next Eastern Washington University basketball coaches show will take place Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. Pacific time and will be broadcast live on 700-AM ESPN.
The public is invited to attend the live shows, which are now taking place at Barrelhouse Pub and Pizza in Cheney, Wash., just a few blocks from the EWU campus. They begin at 6 p.m., and feature head men's basketball coach Shantay Legans, host Larry Weir and other special guests, including women's head coach Wendy Schuller. Shows will also take place Tuesday, Jan. 9, then move to Mondays starting on Jan. 15.
Barrelhouse is located at 122 College Ave. in downtown Cheney, and is owned by Mike Lyons. The restaurant features specialty pizzas, calzones and other appetizers, as well as a large variety of draft beer and a full bar. It also has a large assortment of televisions tuned to each day's top sporting events.

Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .

On Being at Home For Two-Straight Weeks: "It will be great to be home for two weeks. It's really important to get a little bit of rest and have some of our nagging injuries looked at. Playing at home is a great thing. We have great fans and their support is amazing. We've only had three games at home, but we've had terrific crowds. We're looking to build upon that -- if we can keep winning the fans will come watch. We want to fill Reese Court up as much as possible. We have a great bunch of guys and they love playing at home. We'll be shooting at our own baskets and they get to sleep in their own beds."
 On Winning in Grand Forks: "It is great to win here. It was our last conference game here, so the seniors and new players were excited to play this game. Our guys have figured out their roles and are a really excited bunch. They are happy we are ringing in the new year with a win. It was great seeing our team come out and play the way they played."
On Player Performances at UND: "Our guys played terrific. Gee, can you say anything else about Bogdan?.  He played a great game today. He took the ball and just played. After that, other guys followed his lead and made plays. Cody Benzel had four steals and five rebounds after we inserted him into the lineup. He didn't shoot the ball well, but he played great defense. Jesse Hunt had another big game and Sir had his best game of his senior season. Sir came in and stepped up. He played great defense, made his free throws when they counted and he made some shots at the rim. That was a big step for him in the right direction."
On 16 Turnovers at UND: "This was a bad turnover game for us but we still won by double digits – that says a lot about our team. We made free throws and made them when they counted."
On Jesse Hunt: "He'll be an all-league player if he keeps doing this. He's playing great and he's guarding guys who are bigger than him. He's tough and he gets a lot of that from his father, who played at Portland and was a tough player. Jesse is following right in those footsteps and is a tough kid. He plays that way and shows his emotions on his sleeve -- I love that. He does a great job and he stops the other team's best post player."
On North Dakota Pressure: "Our offense kind of slowed down in the second half at times. North Dakota pressured us, and instead of attacking the pressure we tried to slow it down and hold it. We just have to keep going and make plays. We are going to learn from that, because we have a big one Thursday against a team (Portland State) that presses for the whole 40 minutes. This was a good experience for us to go against that today."
On Keys to UND Win: "Our transition defense and getting back were important, and holding Geno Crandall to 13 points and forcing him to have six turnovers. We turned them over 21 times going against an all-league guard. That was a really good job by our defense. We picked up the pressure a little bit too and learned a little bit after our first game against Northern Colorado. We feel like we can use a little bit of our length, size and smarts to force turnovers. We had 15 steals as a team and that's pretty good. We didn't get out and pressure too much, but we turned it up when we needed to."
On UNC Loss: "We had a slow start but I give Northern Colorado all the credit – they played well. They came out defensively and tried to force our guys out off some passes. We missed come chippies early inside and scoring only four points in the first few minutes of the game kind of hurt. But when you score 75 points in a game, that was good enough to win. We just had to play better defense and we didn't do that."
On League Race: "It's going to be like that every year – we have some good teams and good players in the league. Portland State is doing well and has a good record. Northern Colorado has some good players. But I think we are going to surprise people."
On Preseason Schedule: "We've had a great, hard schedule – we had five non-conference wins and a difficult strength of schedule. We're playing against some really, really good competition. And we've had some young guys play with some other players injured. For us to be picked seventh, our team put that on our shoulders and said we aren't going to be seventh. We are going to be better than that."
On Captains: "Bogdan and Ty are our captains and they keep our team level-headed – not too high and not too low. They keep us steady, and it makes it easy to coach with them on our team."
On Jack Perry: "We're lucky to have him. He does a lot of things right and his father is a good coach back in Australia. Jack comes battle-tested and it's great having him. He is confident every time he's on the court and he understands exactly what is going on. It's like having another coach out there, and he's doing everything the right way. We have a lot of different options we can go with."
On Bliznyuk's Abilities: "Bogdan has been the personification of what we want our EWU program to look like. He is the perfect student-athlete and deserves all the accolades he receives. He shows that hard work and determination pays off. We talked about it before the season started that he was going to be double-teamed and he has to make sure he's making the pass. He's making the pass and that's exactly what we're looking for. He's doing a great job of leading our players, getting them in the huddle and talking to make sure we are doing everything the right way. He's a great captain."
On Academic Honors: "This is just a testament that we are more than just a talented basketball team. It also shows that academics are the highest priority for our student-athletes at Eastern Washington. I am proud of our players for finishing the year strong in the classroom, and setting an example for the incoming student-athletes."

Series Notes

 * Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 33-14 versus Sacramento State, and the two schools did not play against each other prior to that. The Eagles have won 26 of their last 36 games against the Hornets, and have a 20-3 record versus Sacramento State in Cheney, are 11-11 in Sacramento and 2-0 on a neutral court. Last year, Eastern played the Hornets just once in the regular season and beat the Hornets 77-72 in Cheney before winning its sixth-straight game in the series by knocking off Sac State 89-70 in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Reno. In the 2015-16 season, Eastern swept the Hornets with a 74-67 win in Cheney and a 93-88 victory in Sacramento. The other neutral site game came in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament in 2015 in Missoula, when the Eagles won 91-83 on their way to the school's second-ever league tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance. Felix Von Hofe came off the bench to score 23 points with seven 3-pointers made, helping EWU lead by as many as 26 in the second half. At one point, the Eagles made 16-of-17 shots from the field, including seven of its last eight in the first half and their first nine of the second half.
 * Last year in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament, six Eagles scored at least eight points and Eastern rolled to an 89-70 victory over Sacramento State March 9 at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nev. The Eagles held the Hornets without a field goal for a stretch of 7:45 in the first half and 10:08 in the second half, on their way to a 55 percent to 42 percent advantage in shooting from the field. Runs of 12-1 and 9-0 were the catalyst in helping EWU improve its season record to 22-10 with 11 victories in their last 14 games. Jacob Wiley scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and had 10 rebounds, with Bogdan Bliznyuk adding 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals. Four other players also scored at least eight, including 11 by Sir Washington, nine each by Cody Benzel and Felix Von Hofe, and eight by Mason Peatling. Matching Sac State's physicality, Eastern was whistled for 30 fouls and sent Sac State to the line 36 times, but no Eagle fouled out. After the Hornets cut Eastern's 13-point halftime lead to six on a pair of occasions early in the second half, Eastern used a 9-0 run to regain command. Washington had a driving layin and a 3-pointer to start the run, then baskets by Benzel and Peatling gave EWU a 55-40 advantage. Later, 3-pointers by Benzel and Bliznyuk opened a 64-45 Eagle lead during a stretch in which Sac State missed eight-straight shots and went without a field goal for 10:08.
* In last year's meeting in the regular season, Eagle Jacob Wiley equaled the eighth-most points in school history at the time en route to a double-double with 38 points and 12 rebounds as Eastern beat Sacramento State 77-72 Feb. 2 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The Eagles used runs of 8-0 and 6-0 in the second half to take the lead for good, and helped move the Eagles into a second-place tie in the league standings. The Hornets started a front line of 6-foot-11, 6-8 and 6-7, and brought a 6-8 player off the bench. But Wiley was still able to make 14-of-23 from the field and 10-of-13 free throws, and also had four blocked shots and three assists. Cody Benzel hit a 3-pointer in both of EWU's runs, which helped the Eagles open a 10-point lead with 5:51 to play. Felix Von Hofe chipped in nine points and six rebounds, but it was his defense late in the game that also caught the eye of Hayford. Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk was the only other Eagle scoring in double figures, finishing with 11 to go along with a team-high six assists, four rebounds and three steals.
* Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 21-22 versus the Vikings. All of the meetings have come since the 1996-97 school year when PSU joined the Big Sky Conference, and Eastern is 14-8 in Cheney and 7-13 against PSU in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) since then. The Vikings have a 25-22 edge in the overall series. There was just one game played between the two teams last year, but there were enough points for two game's worth as EWU won in triple-overtime 130-124. Eastern split its meetings against PSU in 2015-16, winning in Cheney (112-83) and losing in Portland (107-91).
* In last year's lone meeting, Jacob Wiley and Bogdan Bliznyuk each equaled the school record with 45 points with an 130-124 victory over Portland State Feb. 4 at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The epic, three-overtime victory featured Big Sky and school records for points for Eastern, as well as a record for combined points. The three extra periods increased EWU's season total to 10, five more than the previous school record. Four players scored in double figures, with Felix Von Hofe scoring 14 and Cody Benzel finishing with 12. But EWU's dynamic combined for 90 of EWU's 130 points, 32 of the team's 44 field goals, and 26 of EWU's 34 free throws. Wiley finished with a double-double with 45 points and 17 rebounds, and Bliznyuk nearly had a triple-double with 45 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Wiley made 18-of-23 shots from the floor and 9-of-12 from the line, and Bliznyuk sank 14-of-29 field goals and 17-of-20 free throws. The game had lots of twists and turns, starting when EWU led 39-26 at halftime and by as many as 16 in the second half. But the Vikings scored 60 in the next 20 minutes, making 14-of-17 shots at one point in the second half en route to a blistering 65 percent for the half to knot the game at 86 heading into overtime. But in the third overtime, Eastern scored the first five points on a three-point play by Wiley and a basket by Bliznyuk to take the lead for good. Bliznyuk made eight free throws in the last 1:15 to help build a 10-point lead and ice the game for the Eagles.

Recent Game Recaps

Big 12-0 Surge by Bliznyuk Helps Eastern Past North Dakota 77-64
Twelve unanswered points by Big Sky Conference player of the year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk in the second half helped the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team record a 77-64 road victory over North Dakota on Dec. 31 for EWU's first-ever victory in Grand Forks, N.D. The win snapped a seven-game road losing streak for the Eagles, and extended a five-game losing skid overall for the Fighting Hawks, the defending Big Sky regular season and league champions. The Eagles improved to 1-1 in the league, while North Dakota – which will move to the Summit Conference next season -- slipped to 0-2. Eastern held UND without a field goal for nearly eight minutes in a pivotal juncture in the second half that helped the Eagles take an 18-point advantage with 3:21 to play. Bliznyuk scored 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the free throw line in a game of runs. He made all six of his shots in the first half when EWU opened a 42-28 halftime lead thanks to runs of 7-0, 7-0, 7-1 and 12-0. He single-handedly turned a three-point lead into a 15-point bulge with his 12-0 scoring spurt late in the second half. Junior Jesse Hunt scored 16 points for the third consecutive game, and senior Sir Washington had his first double figure scoring game of the season with 12. Junior Cody Benzel chipped in five points and career highs with five rebounds and four steals. The Eagles out-shot the Fighting Hawks 54 percent to 43 percent, and had season-highs with 21 turnovers forced, 15 steals and 28 points off turnovers.
Late Rally Comes Up Short as Big Sky Schedule Opens for EWU With 88-75 Loss
A late rally came up short as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team opened Big Sky Conference play with an 88-75 loss at Northern Colorado on Dec. 29 in Greeley, Colo. Although the Bears led from start to finish, a 9-3 Eagle run late in the game cut the lead to seven. But the Bears regained a double-digit lead and snapped EWU's two-game winning streak overall and a two-game victory streak in the series versus UNC. Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 23 to lead the Eagles, and junior Jesse Hunt equaled his career high with his second-straight 16-point performance. Hunt also had eight rebounds and a career-high four blocked shots while playing a career-high 29 minutes. The Bears led by as many as 16 and never trailed, and out-shot Eastern 55 percent to 45 percent. Although EWU has now had its five-best shooting performances in its last five outings, it was the best shooting performance against Eastern this season and the third-most points the Eagles have surrendered. The Eagles and Bears had three common opponents in the preseason, and EWU was 0-3 versus those foes while UNC was 2-1. Northern Colorado is now 4-1 at home this season and is 10-4 overall, while the Eagles fell to 1-8 on opponent home courts and are 5-9 on the season. The two teams will play again in Cheney on Jan. 27.

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