Eagles snap Weber State's winning streak, 75-70 - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Eagles snap Weber State's winning streak, 75-70

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

An early surge and late surge – plus plenty of points by senior Bogdan Bliznyuk – made for another happy Thursday for the Eagles.
Bliznyuk did his part with 27 points, including a pair of game-clinching free throws with five seconds left, as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team picked up a key, 75-70 road win over Weber State Thursday (Feb. 22) in Ogden, Utah.
Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison had a big game with 17 points, and Mason Peatling added 15 for the Eagles, who are now 6-30 all-time in Ogden. Eastern made all eight of its free throw attempts in the last 1:57 to close out the win after a pair of 9-0 runs overcame an eight-point deficit. In a seven-minute stretch, EWU held Weber State to 1-of-12 shooting from the field.
"Our guys fought through everything tonight," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. "They followed the game plan to a T and we had some exceptional step-ups by our freshmen. But everybody contributed when they got on the floor, and that's exactly what you need to beat teams like this."
The win snapped a nine-game winning streak for the Wildcats, a week after snapping league-leading Montana's 13-game streak with a 74-65 win at Reese Court on Feb. 15. Weber State is now 19-8 overall and 12-3 in the league.
Eastern's all-time leading scorer, Bliznyuk now has 1,996 points in his illustrious career to inch closer to 2,000 in his career. Only four players in league history have hit the 2,000-point mark, with the record currently at 2,102. He made his only two free throws of the game to extend his streak to 65-straight, just eight from record.
Eastern is clinging to fourth place in the league standings, a position which would give the Eagles the last of four first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern is 15-13 overall and 10-5 in the conference, and has won 12 of its last 17 games.
Weber State has won 30 of the 36 meetings against EWU in Ogden, Utah, but Eastern has now recorded recent wins there in 2011, 2015 and now in 2018. The Eagles have won four of the last seven games they've played overall against the conference power.
"It was a huge game for our team and a huge game for our program," added Legans. "It always comes back to the preseason, and that crazy road schedule we had early. They bought in and believed in it, and it made them tougher for games like this."
Records . . .
* The Eagles are 15-13 on the season and 10-5 in the Big Sky, and have won 12 of their last 17 games. The Eagles are 5-11 on opponent home courts this season, and had lost their previous two after winning three of four road contests.
* Weber State is 19-8 overall and 12-3 in the conference, now a full game from idle Montana at 13-2. Weber State is 12-2 at home, and its previous lone conference setbacks were to Idaho State (62-60 at home on Dec. 30) and North Dakota (89-79 on the road on Jan. 13).
What it Means . . .
* Through Thursday's action in the Big Sky, Montana remains on top at 13-2, followed by Weber State at 12-3. Idaho (11-4) is one game ahead of Eastern (10-5) and has a tiebreaker advantage with a season sweep. The Eagles are fourth in the league standings, but own a tiebreaker advantage over 9-6 Northern Colorado. Eastern has already split with Northern Colorado, so a tie in the league standings would, at this point at least, favor the Eagles because the Bears were swept by UM. Next is 8-7 Idaho State, and the Bengals would like to knock off the Eagles to secure a tiebreaker advantage in case of a head-to-head tie. Portland State is 7-8 and idle Montana State is currently 6-9. The Big Sky Conference Tournament takes place March 6-10 in Reno, Nevada. The top four teams receive first-round byes and won't have to play until March 8 in the quarterfinals.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern plays Saturday (Feb. 24) at Idaho State in EWU's final regular season road game of the year. Idaho State beat Idaho 86-83 Thursday and now own an 8-7 conference record and 13-13 overall mark. Saturday's game is the lone Eagles-Bengals meeting this season, which could be crucial in the event of a head-to-head tie in the league standings. Eastern is two games clear of ISU right now, but that would change in a hurry if the home team wins out during the EWU/UI/WSU/ISU series of games.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles entered with a sparkling 82.1 percent accuracy mark from the free throw line in conference games to lead the league, and overall rank 22nd in NCAA Division I at 76.9 percent. They continued their torrid pace against the Wildcats, making 15-of-18 (83.3 percent). Eastern made 8-of-8 in the final 1:57 after making 8-of-9 one game earlier in the last 1:58 of a victory over Montana State.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern trailed by eight in the second half when Bogdan Bliznyuk scored all nine points in a 9-0 run. After the Wildcats hit a 3-pointer to regain the lead, Eastern followed with another 9-0 run to lead 56-49 with 7:43 to play. Bliznyuk's basket gave Eastern the lead for good at the 9:02 mark, as Weber State made just 1-of-12 field goals in a 7:06 span. The Eagles closed out the victory by making all eight of its free throws in the final 1:57.
* The Eagles made six of its first 10 shots while Weber State missed its first five, and EWU took early 8-0 and 14-3 leads. But that reversed late in the half when Weber closed with a 14-6 run. The Eagles made just two of its last 11 shots, while Weber State made its last three and trailed only 32-31 at intermission.
Top Performers . . .
* Eastern all-time leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk made 11-of-21 shots to finish with 27 points, seven rebounds and a pair of assists. It was his 14th game of the season of 20 points or more (40th of his career), and the 25th double-figure scoring performance of the season and 92nd in 131 career games. He made both of his free throws and has now made 65 consecutive dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31.
* Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison had his sixth game of the season scoring in double figures with 17, making 5-of-10 shots from the floor and all six of his free throws.
* Sophomore Mason Peatling hit 6-of-9 shots from the field and had five rebounds. It was the 1th game of his career and ninth this season of scoring in double figures.
* True freshman Jack Perry had a career-high eight rebounds to go along with seven points and three assists.
* Senior Benas Griciunas chipped in eight points on 3-of-5 shooting and four rebounds.
Key Stats . . .
* For the third-straight game, Eastern won the rebounding battle, just the ninth, 10th and 11th times this season EWU has had an advantage on the boards. Eastern is 9-2 in those 11 games, having a 33-29 advantage over the Wildcats after besting Montana State 47-39 and Montana 30-27 last week.
* The Eagles also had a third-straight 50-percent shooting night to improve to 9-0 this season when they hit that mark. Eastern made 65 percent in the second half versus Weber State to finish at 50.9 percent for the game. The Eagles made 56.3 percent against Montana on Feb. 15 and exactly 50 percent one game later versus Montana State. Eastern has had all nine of its 50-percent shooting nights in the last 17 games. Included was a season-best 57.1 percent performance against Sacramento State on Feb. 1 when Bogdan Bliznyuk made 15-of-18 shots on his way to a 40-point night. For the season, Eastern is now 14-2 when they out-shoot their opponents and 1-11 when they don't.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk now has 1,996 career points in 131 career games, ranking him all alone in fifth in league history. He is now just four from the coveted 2,000-point mark, and only four players in the 55-year history of the league have hit the 2,000-point mark. Next on the list is Larry Krystokowiak from Montana with 2,017 points from 1982-85 and Bruce Collins from Weber State with 2,019 from 1976-80. Weber State's Jeremy Senglin scored 2,078 from 2013-17 and the record is 2,102 set by Orlando Lightfoot from Idaho in three seasons from 1991-94.
Notables . . .
* Bogdan Bliznyuk has made 65 consecutive free throws dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31. There is no known record for EWU and the Big Sky, but the record is 73 set by Gary Buchanan from Villanova over a 21-game stretch in the 2000-01 season. The career record of 85 came between Feb. 15, 2001, and Jan. 18, 2003, by Darnell Archey from Butler during a 57-game stretch.
* Eastern's 75-70 victory over 12-2 Weber State and a 74-65 win over previously 13-0 Montana could provide a significant tiebreaker advantage at the end of the year. If teams are tied in the league standings and have split their season series, the next tiebreaker would be against teams in descending order of finish in the league. Therefore, a win over the Griz and Wildcats in the only meetings between the two schools this season is as good as a two-game sweep for the Eagles. Likewise for a 84-79 win over Montana State, especially in the event of a head-to-head tie between the Eagles and Bobcats in the final regular season standings. A similar scenario sets up Saturday as EWU plays its only game this season versus Idaho State, which is 8-7 in the league – two games behind 10-5 EWU.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Victory:  "We are getting there toughness-wise. But the crazy thing is we can still get better. Our pillars – family, trust and commitment – are things we always stick to. And every single game I tell them that energy, effort and communication is the key to being in any game. It doesn't matter who you are playing, if you bring those three things we'll be in every game. Tonight we brought it for 40 minutes. Weber State was a little fired up by having Damian Lillard at the game cheering them on."
On Bliznyuk: "It's Bogdan's show. He takes what the defenses give him and doesn't force shots. Weber State did a great job of not letting us shoot threes, but you have to pick your poison with us. We have 50-percent shooters out there, and we came in here and shot 65 percent in the second half. That's a huge number on the road against this team. If you have a superstar willing to make the extra pass instead of trying to get to 2,000 and break the Big Sky scoring record, he knows the game is going to come to him. His teammates have so much trust in him and get him the ball when he's open. He's doing a great job of facilitating, and he got guys open shots tonight. He is exactly what a player and student should be. He's unbelievable. He's great."
On Rebounding: "Jack getting eight rebounds and us outrebounding them was huge against a team with so much size. We did a good job, our players battled and our guards rebounded. It was a huge game for these our team and they stepped up to the plate tonight. Jacob missed some free throws early this season, but he's been getting to the gym before everybody else and was 6-of-6 tonight. That was huge as well."
On Defense: "Our goal was to keep them under 70 points. They are 0-7 when they don't score over 70 and we kept them right there."

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