Record-breaking performance from Bliznyuk lifts Eagles past Port - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

Record-breaking performance from Bliznyuk lifts Eagles past Portland State 81-74

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

It was another record-breaking night for senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, but it was toughness that saved the day at Reese Court.
Bliznyuk scored 28 points and broke the school record for career free throws as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team edged Portland State 81-74 Thursday (Jan. 4) Cheney, Wash.
Eastern used a 16-0 to build a double-digit cushion midway through the second half versus a team with 10 victories already this season. But 40 minutes of full-court pressure by the Vikings caught up with the Eagles, who needed a 3-pointer by true freshman Jack Perry with 15 ticks of the clock left to seal it for the Eagles.
"Portland State does a really good job of pressuring," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans after his team's 20 turnovers led to 24 Viking points. "We've been practicing against seven guys all week and we were prepared for it. I think our schedule had us ready for this game. We've played against some really good players and against a lot of great teams and we built toughness."
Eastern won the game with a dominating 49 percent to 37 percent advantage in field goal percentage, and out-shot the Vikings 8-3 from the 3-point line. Until Eastern took a 13-point lead with 9:20 to play following a 16-0 run, the game featured 10 ties and 14 lead changes – both season highs for the Eagles.
"I'm proud of the way we played defense tonight. We held them to 36 percent and 15 percent from three. We put them on the line a little bit too much, but our guys came out and played really, really tough and hard tonight."
Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, who scored a school-record 45 points in EWU's 130-124 triple-overtime victory against PSU at Reese Court a year ago, sank 13-of-13 free throws and finished with a double-double of 28 points and 12 rebounds. He surpassed the school record for career free throws made set by 10-year NBA veteran Rodney Stuckey from 2006-07. Bliznyuk now has 391 and Stuckey had 386.
Bliznyuk now has 1,740 career points, one behind Ron Cox (2005-18) for second on the school's scoring list and 63 behind the record of 1,803 set by Venky Jois (2013-16).
The two teams will play again in Portland on Feb. 3. Eastern's next game is at home on Saturday (Jan. 6) at 2:05 p.m. against a Sacramento State squad which handed PSU an 80-75 loss in the league opener for both teams.
Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 7-9 on the season and 2-1 in the Big Sky, and have now won four of their last five games. Eastern split on the road to begin conference play, falling 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. Unbeaten at home this season at 4-0, the Eagles are 50-9 (85 percent) at Reese Court in the past five seasons since 2013-14.
* Portland State ranked 52nd in the RPI prior to losing its league opener at Sac State, and are now 10-5 on the season and 0-2 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 were a collective 36-8 on the season (13-1/12-3/11-4 respectively) through Dec. 31.
What it Means . . .
* After playing 12 of its first 15 games on the road, Eastern returned home for its first and only back-to-back-to-back homes games of the season in the next two weeks. Eastern hosts Sacramento State Saturday (Jan. 6), then on Jan. 12 will host an Idaho team picked to win the Big Sky title. In the NCAA RPI rankings through games of Jan. 3, Portland State was the top-ranked team in the league at 88th, while EWU was 181st with the 116th toughest strength of schedule in the nation. Sac State was rated 272nd in the RPI and Idaho, EWU's opponent on Jan. 12 in Cheney, was one notch ahead of EWU at 180th.
What's Next . . .
* 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. The Hornets lost 69-68 to Idaho Thursday to move to 4-11 overall and 1-1 in the league.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles had a dominating performance in field goal shooting, making 49.0 percent overall and 38.1 percent from the 3-point line (8-of-21). The Vikings, meanwhile, sank just 36.8 percent overall and made only 3-of-20 treys for 15 percent.  After making only 39 percent of their shots through nine games this season, Eastern has had its top seven shooting performances of the year in the last seven games. Eastern has made nearly half of its shots in those seven games, and the Eagles are 7-0 when they out-shoot their opponents and 0-9 when they don't.
Turning Point . . .
* Outside of an 8-0 Portland State run early in the game and a 7-0 Eastern run later in the half, the first 27 minutes were as close as they come. Eastern trailed at halftime 40-38, and the game featured 10 ties and 14 lead changes until EWU took the lead for good 12:40 left on a pair of free throws by Bogdan Bliznyuk. That was during a 16-0 scoring run for the Eagles in which they held PSU scoreless for nearly four minutes. Bliznyuk scored six points in the run and Sir Washington had five, with a 3-pointer by Ty Gibson capping the run. Gibson's 3-pointer with 9:20 left gave EWU a 13-point advantage, but EWU had seven turnovers and just one field goal until true freshman Jack Perry nailed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to play to give EWU a five-point advantage. Two free throws by Bliznyuk with two ticks on the clock sealed the win.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk made 7-of-13 field goal attempts and all 13 of his free throws to finish with 28 points. He now has eight performances this season of at least 20 points, and 34 in his 119-game career. He also had 12 rebounds for his third double-double of the season and 18th of his career, with EWU winning 15 of those 18 games.
* Junior Jesse Hunt scored in double figures for the fifth-straight game, finishing with 11 on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. He had four rebounds but played only 16 minutes before fouling out.
* Senior Sir Washington came off the bench to contribute seven points and three rebounds in 29 minutes.
* Junior Ty Gibson hit three of EWU's eight 3-pointers in the game to finish with 10 points.
* True freshman Richard Polanco played just 11 minutes off the bench, but scored nine points. Another true freshman, Jack Perry, contributed seven points, four rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes as a starter.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern had its second-most turnovers of the season with 20, leading to 24 PSU points off turnovers. The Vikings utilized a full-court pressure defense the entire game, and finished with 10 steals after entering the game leading the Big Sky and NCAA Division I in steals at 12.6 per game. The Vikings also led the league and is second nationally in turnovers forced per game at 19.0. Eastern entered the game averaging a league-low 11.3 turnovers per game to rank 24th nationally.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk is now just 63 points from ending what could be a short-lived record. In 119 career games (fifth in school history), Bliznyuk has a current total of 1,740 points – one from second and 63 from the school record. Next on the list is Ron Cox (1,741 from 1974-77) and former teammate Venky Jois (school-record 1,803 points from 2013-16). In addition, if Bliznyuk plays nine more games he will equal the record of 128 set by his former teammate Felix Von Hofe from 2014-17. With 13 free throws versus Portland State on Jan. 4, he surpassed the career record of 386 held by 10-year NBA veteran Rodney Stuckey (2006-07). Now with 391 free throws, Bliznyuk played in his 119th game against PSU, tying him with Marc Axton (2002-05), who attended Thursday's game.
Notables . . .
* Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 22-22 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 15-8 in Cheney and 7-13 against PSU in Portland (0-1 on neutral courts) since then. The Vikings have a 25-23 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 epic, record-breaking three-overtime victory by the Eagles, Jacob Wiley and Bogdan Bliznyuk each equaled the school record with 45 points with a 130-124 victory over Portland State Feb. 4, 2017, at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The 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.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Contributions of Senior Sir Washington: "Since we've been in league play Sir has stepped up and played huge. He's playing like a senior. He's had some ups and downs, but since we've started league play he's played his butt off. He's done a great job the last three games – he's defending and he's getting big rebounds. He's taken some pressure off Jack (Perry) at the point and even played at the four today. He's playing undersized but he's tough. When you have a senior who is a great leader, we count on him. He did a great job tonight. He didn't turn the ball over and he played a big 29 minutes. He was our X factor tonight – he played great defense on some of Portland State's good players."
On 16-0 Run: "We were getting stops defensively. We were doing a good job getting back in transition and tried to make them play half-court. If you can try to build a wall and play help defense, it's key. When you are able to put stretches together like that it really helps. They made a comeback at the end that made it close, and the game kind of got out of hand. Fortunately Jack hit the big three and our guys played smart at the end."
On Vikings: "Portland State has great players and are well-coached. They do a good job of speeding you up. They caused 20 turnovers, and that's big for us because we are one of the better teams in the league in not turning it over."
On Battling the Pressure: "We haven't played a team like that this year. Teams have pressured us, but this team is 40 minutes of straight pressure. They speed you up and don't allow you to get into your sets. We didn't have too many sets we could run tonight – it's really tough to try to make plays. I know they are going to be at the top of the league at the end of the season because they are well-coached and the style of play is unusual. We play them again and they are a really good ballclub, so we have to make sure we're prepared the next time we play them."

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