Bliznyuk scores 40 as Eagles beat Sacramento State, 74-54 - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

Bliznyuk scores 40 as Eagles beat Sacramento State, 74-54

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

There was no Big Sky Conference Player of the Week jinx for Bogdan Bliznyuk.
The leading scorer in EWU history poured in a season-high 40 points as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team opened a three-game road stretch with a 74-54 victory over Sacramento State in a Big Sky Conference game at The Nest in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday (Feb. 1).
The reigning league player of the week, his performance equaled the seventh-most all-time at EWU, and was just five from the school record 45 he shares with two other players. Bliznyuk sank 15-of-18 shots from the field, all four of his 3-pointers, all six of his free throws and added seven rebounds and five assists. He has now sank 40 free throws in a row as he moved into ninth in league history with 1,896 points.
Pretty impressive for a player held to a season-low two points and five shots the last time the teams played less than a month ago. As Eastern radio announcer Larry Weir commented on his broadcast, Bliznyuk went from Clark Kent on Jan. 6 in EWU's seven-point win over the Hornets to Superman on Thursday.
"They played two completely different game plans against him," explained head coach Shantay Legans, whose team out-shot the Hornets 57 percent to 41 percent and had their best defensive performance of the season in allowing only 54 points. "At our place they double and triple teamed Bogdan, and today they played him man-to-man the whole game. He's one of the best players to ever play in the conference, and if they are going to play him man-to-man I'm going to let him shoot a thousand shots. I don't mind it at all, and his teammates don't mind it all because he also passes the ball."
Bliznyuk scored 12 of EWU's points in opening the game on a 20-4 run, and he had as many points in the first half as the Hornets did as a team. Eastern led by as many as 19 in the first half, 16 at halftime by a 40-24 score and no less than seven in the second half. Eastern took its biggest lead of the night at 23 with 3:17 to play.
The win helped Eastern improve to 7-3 in the conference season and a game above .500 overall at 12-11. More importantly Eastern has a trio of Big Sky road breakthroughs on their resume in five conference road games thus far.
Eastern continues on the road to play at Portland State on Saturday (Feb. 3) at 1 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern will be attempting its first road sweep in two years, having split its last six two-game league road trips.
"That's a win for everybody back home," added Legans. "I couldn't be happier as a coach."
Saturday's game is taking place at Lewis & Clark College while the 3,000-seat Viking Pavilion, a $50 million renovation of the 50-year-old Peter W. Stott Center, is being built on the PSU campus.
The Eagles defeated the Vikings 81-74 on Jan. 4 in Cheney.
Records . . . 
* Now 7-1 at home, the Eagles are 12-11 on the season and 7-3 in the Big Sky, and have won nine of their last 12 games.
* The Hornets are now 3-6 in the Big Sky and 6-16 overall. Sacramento State won at Portland State 71-61 on Saturday in the most recent action for both schools prior to Thursday.
What it Means . . . 
* Eastern is third in the league standings at 7-3, with Montana leading the way at 10-0 and Weber State second at 7-2. Idaho was 6-3 heading into tonight's game at Portland State. Idaho State is now 5-4, while Montana State and Northern Colorado are both at 5-5. Eastern finds itself over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
What's Next . . . 
* Eastern continues on the road to play at Portland State on Saturday (Feb. 3) at 1 p.m. Pacific time.  The Vikings are now 3-5 in the league and 13-8 overall heading into its game against Idaho on Thursday.
* The EWU-PSU game is taking place at Lewis & Clark College while the 3,000-seat Viking Pavilion, a $50 million renovation of the 50-year-old Peter W. Stott Center, is being built on the PSU campus. Eastern's next game after that is Jan. 12 at Idaho at approximately 7:30 p.m. following the EWU-UI women's game that begins at 5 p.m.
* Eastern doesn't play at home again until Montana visits on Feb. 15. The Eagles are now 53-10 (84 percent) at Reese Court in the past five seasons since 2013-14. However, the Eagles saw their 12-game home court winning streak snapped against Idaho on Jan. 12, having not lost at home since falling to Montana on Jan. 7, 2017.
Keys to Game . . . 
* Another red-hot start at for the Eagles resulted in Bogdan Bliznyuk matching Sacramento State's point total in the first half. The senior scored 12 of EWU's first 20 points as the Eagles made eight of their first nine shots and took a 20-4 lead. The Hornets sank just one of their first nine shots, and EWU went on to take a 40-24 lead at halftime. Bliznyuk sank 10-of-12 shots and all four of his 3-pointers to finish with 24 points in the first half.
Turning Point . . . 
* The Hornets whittled Eastern's 16-point halftime lead to seven in the second half, but 3-pointers by Sir Washington and Jacob Davison helped EWU regain a double-digit lead at the 10:41 mark, and another triple by Davison at the 8:56 mark put the Eagles up by 14. Later, a 9-0 Eastern run gave the Eagles their biggest lead of the night at 23 by a 72-49 score with 3:17 left.
Top Performers . . . 
* Eastern all-time leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 40 points to equal the seventh-most all-time at EWU, and was just five from the school record 45 he shares with two other players. Bliznyuk sank 15-of-18 shots from the field, all four of his 3-pointers, all six of his free throws and added seven rebounds and five assists. He had his third performance of the season and 10th in his career of at least 30 points, and now has 12 performances and 38 in his 126-game career of at least 20. He has now made 46 consecutive free throws dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31.
* Redshirt freshman had Jacob Davison had his best scoring game in more than two months in finishing with 12. He made 5-of-7 shots with a pair of 3-pointers to finish with his fourth double-figure scoring performance of the year and first in league play. It was his most since scoring 15 at Utah on Nov. 24.
* Sophomore Mason Peatling had eight points and seven rebounds after entering the game with three-straight double-doubles.
Key Stats . . . 
* Eastern had a season-best 57.1 percent shooting night, making 10-of-21 3-pointers (47.6 percent) and 18-of-28 (64.3 percent) inside the stripe. EWU has made at least half of its shots in six of its last 12 games, and is 6-0 this season when it hits that mark. Defensively, Eastern had its best performance of the season in holding Sac State to 54 points on 41.1 percent shooting from the field. The Hornets made only 2-of-15 3-pointers, EWU's second-best defensive effort of the season behind the 2-of-16 performance by Stanford in EWU's 67-61 victory there on Nov. 14. For the season, Eastern is now 11-1 when they out-shoot their opponents and 1-10 when they don't.
* The Eagles made all eight of their free throws after entering the game leading the league and ranked 28th in NCAA Division I (76.4 percent, as well as tops in league games only at 82.8 percent). Senior Bogdan Bliznyukmade all six of his and entered ranked second in the league and 28th nationally at 89.1 percent, including 44-of-45 (97.8 percent) in league games only to lead the Big Sky. He's now made his last 46 free throws in a row.
Other Team Highlights . . . 
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk now has 1,896 career points in 126 career games, moving into the No. 9 position on the all-time Big Sky Conference list that was previously held by Montana State's Nate Holmstadt with 1,864 points from 1995-99. Ranking No. 8 is Steve Conner from Boise State with 1,927 from 1974-78. If the Eagles play just the minimum of nine games left this season and he maintains his average of 20.3 points per game, Bliznyuk would finish tied for second in league history with 2,078 points (the record is 2,102). On Jan. 25, he broke the previous school record of 1,803 set by Venky Jois (2013-16).
Notables . . . 
* Eastern swept the Hornets and Vikings at home earlier this season, beating Portland State 81-74 on Jan. 4 and then knocking off Sacramento State 82-67. Bogdan Bliznyuk had his third double-double of the season and 18th in his career with 28 points and 12 rebounds against PSU, sinking 13-of-13 free throws. Interestingly, Bliznyuk was one of three Eagles to score in double figures versus the Vikings, but in the next game versus the Hornets five entirely different players scored at least 10 points.
* Now riding an eight-game winning streak versus Sac State, the Eagles are now 35-14 all-time versus Sacramento State. The Eagles have won 28 of their last 38 games against the Hornets, and have a 21-3 record versus Sacramento State in Cheney, are 12-11 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.
* Earlier this season in Cheney, Cody Benzel led five Eagles in double figures with career highs of 25 points and seven 3-pointers as the Eagles remained unbeaten at home with an 82-67 victory against Sacramento State on Jan. 6 at Reese Court. Besides Benzel, Benas Griciunas had a career-high 16 points, Jack Perry had 14, Mason Peatling contributed 12 and Sir Washington chipped in 10. Those five players had entered with scoring averages of between 4.5 and 5.3 per game, and had just a collective nine double-figure scoring performances in EWU's first 16 games. Eastern's top three scorers – including injured forward Jesse Hunt – combined for just two points in the game, as Big Sky Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk was double and triple teamed by the Hornets. He finished with just two points, but he contributed nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals. Eastern had a double-digit advantage in field goal percentage. Eastern sank 55 percent – including a blistering 62 percent in the second half when the Eagles made 8-of-14 3-pointers – while Sac State finished at 44 percent. Benzel got hot in the second half and netted 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers in runs of 8-0 and 6-0 to give EWU a 21-point lead. The Eagles had used runs of 10-0 and 9-0 in the first half to help open a 12-point lead at halftime. The Hornets led just three times in the first half for a total of 57 seconds.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . . 
On Defense: "Defense has been our calling card – that's been the most important thing to me. Our offense may not travel, but defense always does. That's the thing we preach about the most – communication, energy and effort. If you have those things, every single game defensively you have a chance. And if you also have the best player on the court, you have a chance to win a lot of close ballgames."
On Bliznyuk: "He made a lot of great assists too, and would have had more if guys would have made their shots. It was pretty good to see him out there playing the way he was playing. He did a great job tonight."
 On Defense: "We challenged our guards early in the week in our preparation. It seemed like their guards kicked our butts the last time we played, and we needed them to dig down. We followed the scout and followed the game plan. We missed on a few possessions here and there where we didn't do what we wanted to do, but the energy and the effort was there. So when something did break down there were other guys there to help. We played together as a unit and as one."

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