It is certainly good to be at home.
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team led by double digits for the last 27 minutes of the game and handily defeated CSUN (Cal State Northridge) 86-58 Sunday (Dec. 17) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Five Eagles scored in double figures for the Eagles, led by the near triple-double of senior Bogdan Bliznyuk. He finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists as the Matadors never led. Eastern improved to 4-8 on the season by taking command early, and eventually led by double digits the last 27:15 of the game.
"We had to try to do what teams do to us when we are on the road," said first-year head coach Shantay Legans, whose team had its second-best scoring output and its best defensive performance of the year. "We came out and jumped on them right away. We followed the scouting report exactly and the players did everything we asked. It's a player's game and we came out and made plays."
Junior Jesse Hunt added a career-high 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his first start of the season and 13th in his 75-game career. Eastern played shorthanded without injured starters Luka Vulikic and Mason Peatling, who Legans hopes to have back in time for league play.
"Bogdan and Jesse are emotional and two of our leaders," said Legans. "When you are able to see that and see how it works, it's great to watch and sit back as a coach."
It was EWU's first home game in over a month, having not played at Reese Court since defeating Walla Walla on Nov. 10. In just three days, on Wednesday, Dec. 20, Eastern wraps-up its non-conference schedule by hosting Providence (formerly Great Falls) at 6:05 p.m.
Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 4-8 on the season and snapped a five-game losing streak – all on the road. Eastern's last victory came on Nov. 24 by an 83-62 score against Eastern Kentucky in the MGM Resorts Main Event in Las Vegas.
* The Eagles were taking on a CSUN program ranked 351st out of 351 teams in NCAA Division I in the RPI, while Eastern entered the game ranked 183rd. The Matadors are now 1-9 (0-9 versus NCAA Division I competition).
What it Means . . .
* 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. The Eagles are now 2-0 at home this year. Seven of EWU losses this season have been on the home court of their opponents, which were 50-21 (70 percent) on the season and 35-4 (90 percent) at home through games of Dec. 12. Sir Washington, a senior who has played a big part in that home record in recent years, played in his 100th career game on Sunday.
What's Next . . .
* The Eagles will host the University of Providence from Great Falls, Mont., on Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 6:05 p.m. before starting league play on the road on Dec. 29. Providence, a member of the NAIA and the Frontier Conference, was defeated handily last year by Eastern by a 103-76 score. The Argos are 7-5 on the season following an 85-74 loss to Montana State-Billings on Dec. 8 in their last game prior to visiting Cheney. The game versus the Eagles will be an exhibition for Providence, which has already lost to Utah State (98-54) and California (81-52) in two other exhibitions.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern used balance throughout its lineup and in all statistical categories to record the lopsided win. The Eagles had its second-most points of the season and its 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.
Turning Point . . .
* CSUN never trailed and the game was tied for just 1:47. The Eagles led for 38:13, and jumped out to a quick 17-8 lead after a 7-0 run. The Eagles later went on a 16-4 run and took a double-digit lead it would never relinquish. The Eagles led at halftime 39-22, then poured it on in the second half with runs of 5-0, 5-0, 7-0 and 4-0 to open its biggest lead of the game at 75-47 with 5:27 remaining.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, the only player in school history to have recorded a triple-double, came three assists shy of matching that. He sank 6-of-12 field goals and all three of his free throws to finish with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. He also had a pair of steals and a blocked shot. It was his second double-double and 17th of his career, with EWU sporting a 14-3 record in those games.
* Junior Jesse Hunt sank 6-of-8 shots to finish with a career-high 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
* Junior Ty Gibson made 3-of-8 3-point attempts and all three of his free throws to finish with 12 points.
* Senior graduate transfer Benas Griciunas played 14 minutes and responded with 10 points, three rebounds and three blocked shots on 4-of-7 shooting from the field.
* True freshman Richard Polanco was the fifth Eagle in double figures, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds and a block in 14 minutes.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern out-shot CSUN 52 percent to 36 percent, including an 11-3 advantage in 3-pointers made. Eastern's 11-of-22 performance from the arc 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 last outing. The Eagles have now had their top three shooting performances of the season in their last three outings. Eastern is now 4-0 when it has a better shooting performance than its opponent and 0-8 when it doesn't.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk is now just 167 points from ending what could be a short-lived record. In 115 career games (15th in school history), Bliznyuk has a current total of 1,636 points – 105 from second and 167 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 13 more games he will equal the record of 128 set by his former teammate Felix Von Hofe from 2014-17.
Notables . . .
* Eastern is now 11-9 all-time against Cal State Northridge after snapping a three-game losing streak. The Eagles are 6-3 at home, 4-5 on the road and 1-1 at neutral sites against the former Big Sky Conference member (1996-97 season to 2000-2001). The most recent meeting came on Nov. 12, 2012, and the Eagles fell on the road 96-79, and the previous year suffered a 68-59 home loss. The two teams met twice in the Big Sky Conference Tournament, with Eastern losing 104-98 in overtime in the quarterfinals in 1998 in Flagstaff, Ariz., and then losing to the Matadors 73-58 in the title game in 2001 in Northridge, Calif. The two teams have met four times since Cal State Northridge left the league.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Shooting Against CSUN: "We were glad to be back home, and the shooting percentages looked like it too. Getting guys back in the gym whenever they would like to and work on their own is huge for us. They always want to be in the gym and work on their game, so being on the road is hard. You only get your hour, hour and a half, and then you have to worry about everybody on the court. Now they are back home shooting and feeling good. They've rested well, and it showed today against a team that does a lot of different things on defense."
On Opening Quick Lead: "I like that we came and just jumped on the opponent. We didn't wait too long – we played like we wanted to play and they didn't dictate how we played. Playing against some of the teams we did early in the season helped us realize what it takes to win go win some of those games. We were a couple of points here and points there from winning some of them. As our guys understand their roles and what we need to do, they'll understand that when you jump on opponents early in each half it will break their will. It think that is what we did today."
On Eagles Filling in for Injured Players: "Mason is fine and Luka is going to be okay. It's just precautionary until Big Sky begins. We understand what the bigger picture is. We had guys step up and play well. Richard had a good game – he shot the ball well and played inside-out a little bit. Benas got on track with 4-of-7 shooting, made both his free throws and had three blocks – that's huge for us. It's good to have other guys stepping up and that's what happened."
On Hunt: "Jesse didn't just provide energy. He's a really good player and did a lot of great things today. Offensively he had three assists and moved the ball well, and he's a great rebounder."