Bliznyuk reaches 2,000 points in Eagles' win at ISU - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

Bliznyuk reaches 2,000 points in Eagles' win at ISU

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By EWU Athletics

Eagle coach Shantay Legans has said it all year – pick your poison.
Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk went over the 2,000-point mark in his career and finished with a game-high 17, but three other Eagles scored in double figures as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team beat Idaho State 74-69 in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Feb. 24) in Pocatello, Idaho.
True freshman Jack Perry made five 3-pointers and finished with 16 points, redshirt freshman Jacob Davison scored 11 and junior Cody Benzel had 12 in the second half to help Eastern hold onto fourth place in the league standings. Eastern led by 13 at halftime and 15 early in the second half, but Idaho State came back to take a 69-68 lead with 2:01 left. But a 3-pointer by Bliznyuk and a trio of free throws down the stretch by Davison and Perry helped EWU secure it first road sweep in two years.
"I keep saying it, but it's a team effort," said Legans. "I'm excited about the outcome of this game, the way we are playing and the way our freshmen are stepping up. Our players did a great job and played great under the circumstances of being on the road in an environment where it's tough to win."
Saturday's game was the lone Eagles-Bengals meeting this season, which, had ISU won, would have been crucial in the event of a head-to-head tie in the league standings. Eastern is now three games clear of ISU, but is still just one game ahead of Northern Colorado with two games left to play.
As a residual effect of a current four-game winning streak, Eastern is just a game away from second-place Idaho and Weber State, both at 12-4. The top four teams in the league standings receive first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Eastern's all-time leading scorer, Bliznyuk now has 2,013 points in his illustrious career to become only the fifth player in the 55-year history of the league to hit the 2,000-point mark. The record currently is at 2,102, with at least three games left to play for the Big Sky Player of the Year candidate. He didn't shoot any free throws, so his streak of 65-straight, just eight from record, remains intact heading into Thursday's (March 1) home game versus Southern Utah.
Now 5-4 on the season in league road games and 6-11 overall on opponent home courts, the Eagles completed their first road sweep in two years. Eastern had split its last seven two-game league road trips prior to beating ISU on the heels of knocking off Weber State two games earlier. The Eagles swept the Southern Utah and Northern Arizona road trip in February of 2016, and one trip earlier that season was swept by the Montana schools.
The Eagles were coming off a 75-70 victory at Weber State to snap 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.
Records . . . 
* The Eagles are 16-13 on the season and 11-5 in the Big Sky, and have won 13 of their last 18 games after a 3-8 start. The Eagles are 6-11 on opponent home courts this season, finishing 5-4 on the road in the league season.
* With five players averaging in double figures, Idaho State now owns an 8-8 conference record and 13-14 overall mark.
What it Means . . . 
* Through Saturday's action in the Big Sky, Montana remains on top at 14-2, followed by Weber State and Idaho at 12-4. Idaho has a tiebreaker advantage over Eastern with a season sweep, but EWU has a tiebreaker advantage over Weber State. The Eagles are fourth in the league standings at 11-5, but also own a tiebreaker advantage over 10-6 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 Montana, a team EWU beat in their lone meeting. 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 returns home to play its final two regular season games of the season versus Southern Utah on Thursday at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time and Saturday versus Northern Arizona at 2:05 p.m. The Lumberjack game is Senior Day at EWU, and the Eagles will honor Bogdan Bliznyuk, Sir Washington and Benas Griciunas in pre-game ceremonies. Earlier this season, Eastern beat NAU on the road 81-76, then lost two days later 66-62 in overtime at SUU. The Thunderbirds held EWU to its second-lowest point total in conference play this season and third fewest overall.
Keys to Game . . . 
* Idaho State made 16 3-pointers two days earlier in an 86-83 win over Idaho, but EWU held the Bengals to 2-of-7 shooting from the 3-point arc in opening a 13-point lead at halftime. The Bengals sank 8-of-12 in the second half, but the Eagles still finished with 11 treys compared to 10 for ISU. True freshman Jack Perry led the way with a career high five, and junior Cody Benzel sank all four of his in the second half. But none were bigger than the 11th -- a 3-pointer by Bogdan Bliznyuk with 1:31 to play that gave Eastern the lead for good.
Turning Point . . . 
* The Eagles opened an early 9-2 lead, including a pair of baskets by Bogdan Bliznyuk in the first 3:08 of the game that put him at exactly 2,000 points for his career. Later, Benas Griciunas and Jacob Davison led EWU on a 9-0 run to open a double-digit lead, which ballooned to 38-25 at intermission. Eastern opened its biggest lead of the game at 15 early in the second half, then ISU used runs of 8-0, 5-0, 7-0 and 6-0 to take its first lead of the game with 2:01 left. But the Bengals, who sank 67 percent of their shots in the second half and 54 percent in the game, missed their final three shots of the game. A 3-pointer by Bliznyuk with 1:31 left gave EWU the lead for good, then EWU sealed the victory with two free throws by Davison with 19 seconds remaining and one by Perry with 12 ticks left.
Top Performers . . . 
* Eastern all-time leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk made 8-of-14 shots from the field and finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. It was his 26th double-figure scoring performance of the season and 93rd in 132 career games. He didn't shoot any free throws, so he has still made 65 consecutive dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31.
* Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison had his seventh game of the season scoring in double figures with 11, coming just two days after scoring 17 in a win over Weber State.
* True freshman Jack Perry came two points from his career high, scoring 15 on 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. It was his sixth double figure scoring performance of the season, and came on the heels of grabbing a career-high eight rebounds in the win over Weber State.
* Junior Cody Benzel sank 4-of-7 3-pointers, all in the second half, to finish with 12 points. It was his eighth performance of the season and 16th of his career scoring in double figures.
* Seniors Benas Griciunas and Sir Washington each chipped in six points, with Gricinuas also finishing with five rebounds and a blocked shot.
Key Stats . . . 
* For the fourth-straight game, Eastern won the rebounding battle, giving them a dozen times this season EWU has had an advantage on the boards. Eastern is 10-2 in those 12 games, and allowed ISU to finish with just one offensive rebounds while winning the overall battle 32-26. Eastern had a 33-29 advantage one game earlier against Weber State after besting Montana State 47-39 and Montana 30-27 last week.
* The Eagles had just six turnovers against Idaho State, enabling the Eagles to have a 62-48 advantage in field goal attempts. Eastern entered the game allowing only 11.6 per game to rank 51st in NCAA Division I. Prior to the start of league play, the Eagles were averaging just 11.0 per game to lead the league, but had performances of 16, 20 and 17 in their first seven league games.
Other Team Highlights . . . 
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk now has 2,013 career points in 132 career games, ranking him fifth in league history and becomgin just the fifth player in the 55-year history of the league to 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. Interestingly, Eastern women's player Delaney Hodgins became just the fourth player in the 29-year history of women's basketball in the Big Sky to hit 2,000 points when she scored 30 versus Weber State on Feb. 22. She now has 2,022.
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 NCAA Division I 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 previously 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, wins over the Griz and Wildcats in the only meetings between the two schools this season are as good as a two-game sweep for the Eagles. Eastern also won its lone meetings over Montana State (84-79) and Idaho State (74-69), but neither of those teams can now catch the Eagles in the league standings so those tiebreaker advantages become a moot point.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . . 
On Tournament Feel of ISU Win: "That was another tournament-type of game. We got up and they battled all the way back in it. We had to make some tough plays at the end of the game to win it, and that's exactly how you need to play at the Big Sky Tournament. You have to make big plays at the right time."
On What Victory & Sweep Means: "It's huge for us. We're on a pretty good streak, and it's our first road sweep of the season and in the last couple of years. That means a lot. We are going into that last weekend battling for the fourth or third spot, and we are battling for a bye. It's everything to get that bye. Our team is playing hard and they understand what we are playing for. We can't have the kind of lapses we had in the second half, or else we are going to get stung. We almost got beat, but we felt we had the better team. Idaho State came out on senior night and played great."
On ISU's Second Half Performance: "It was probably one of our worst defensive performances in the second half this year. But we got shots, stops and rebounds when we needed them. We held them to one offensive rebound the entire game, and I give a lot of credit to our guards and big men for going in there and battling on the boards."

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