Eastern's defensive effort was good enough to win.
But 11 missed free throws and 40 percent shooting by the Eagles helped the University of Washington survive for a 79-69 victory over the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team Sunday (Nov. 12) at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle.
Eastern began a monstrous 10-game road trip with a promising defensive effort, holding Washington to 41 percent shooting. The first half featured 11 lead changes and seven ties, but Washington pulled ahead late in the first half and held-off EWU in the second half.
Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 20 points against the Huskies to move into fifth in school history for career scoring. On pace to set the record of 1,803 points, the 6-foot-6 point-forward now has 1,466 points in 105 career games.
"They played hard and I'm proud of the effort they gave," said first-year EWU head coach Shantay Legans of his team, which plays at Stanford on Tuesday (Nov. 14) in another game versus a Pac-12 foe. "When we go back and our staff looks at it, we'll figure out how we can make our players better. We feel like we let them down a little out there tonight."
Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 1-1 on the season, and were coming off an 82-61 victory over Walla Walla. The Eagles are coming off a third-straight appearance in a national postseason tournament, and were 22-12 overall a year ago. Eastern finished 13-5 in the Big Sky to finish second behind regular season champion North Dakota, and then the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament.
* Now 2-0, Washington also has a first-year head coach in Mike Hopkins, as he inherits a team that was 9-22 a year ago and 2-16 in the Pac-12 Conference. The Huskies opened their season with a 91-87 exhibition opener versus Saint Martin's and former EWU assistant coach Alex Pribble, and edged Belmont 86-92 in their official opener on Nov. 10.
What it Means . . .
* The UW and Stanford games are just the start of a stretch of 36-straight days without a home game – one of just four NCAA Division I teams with such a road stretch this year. Eastern will continue its road trip with four games – three of them played in Las Vegas and the other at Utah -- before returning home on Nov. 25. Then there are four more games before a pair of pre-Christmas home games. The first leg of EWU's road stretch includes 4,432 airline miles, while the other trips in the road stretch will include 6,408 miles. That's a total of 10,840 air miles, not including ground travel.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern continues its road trip Tuesday night at 8 p.m. at Stanford in a game televised by the Pac-12 Networks. Stanford, 6-12 in the Pac-12 and 14-17 overall a year ago, beat Chico State 91-81 in its exhibition game. The Cardinal also play three games in five nights, starting with a 78-62 victory over Cal Poly on Friday. Stanford hosts Pacific on Sunday (Nov. 12) and then the Eagles.
Keys to Game . . .
* Washington junior forward Noah Dickerson scored 28 of Washington's points and had 22 rebounds, making 9-of-16 shots from the field and 10-of-14 from the free throw line. Eastern held the rest of the roster for the Huskies to 51 points and 18 rebounds on 36 percent shooting from the field (15-of-42). Dickerson scored 20 of his points in the first half. The Eagles were whistled for 29 fouls and Washington made 26-of-34 free throws (74 percent), while UW had 23 fouls and EWU converted only 17-of-28 free throws (61 percent). The Eagles made 14-of-15 free throws at home against Walla Walla.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern used a 9-3 run – including a pair of baskets by Luka Vulikic – to take its biggest lead of the game with 6:12 left in the first half. But Washington followed with a 16-4 run to take the lead for good, and then hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lead 40-34 at halftime. The Eagles closed the margin to four on a 3-pointer by Ty Gibson with 9:54 to play, but Washington went on a 10-3 run and led by double digits much of the remainder of the half.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, a candidate for Big Sky Conference Player of the Year honors, scored 20 points to lead the Eagles. He made 6-of-11 shots from the field and 6-of-7 free throws, and also had eight rebounds and three assists.
* Sophomore Luka Vulikic had his second-straight game scoring in double figures, finishing with 10. He had 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists in EWU's opener against Walla Walla.
* Junior Ty Gibson, who along with Bliznyuk is serving as a team co-captain this season, made three of EWU's eight 3-pointers and finished with nine points.
* True freshman Richard Polanco came off the bench to make all three of his shots and finish with eight points. Foul trouble limited him to playing just 12 minutes.
* Seven-foot graduate transfer Benas Griciunas played only 14 minutes because of foul trouble, and finished with eight points and three rebounds before fouling out.
Key Stats . . .
* The Huskies didn't score for a more than five-minute stretch in the second half, but the Eagles couldn't capitalize. Washington missed five-straight field goals in that stretch, but the Eagles missed four shots of their own and didn't make a field goal for 5:06.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern had only 10 turnovers against the Huskies, resulting in Washington having only six points off turnovers and four fast-break points. Last year Eastern was 11-4 when it had 11 or less turnovers.
Notables . . .
* Now with 1,466 points in his Eastern career, Bogdan Bliznyuk moved into fifth in EWU history. He moved past Dave Hayden with 1,461 points (1970-73) after moving past Rodney Stuckey with 1,438 points (2006-07) one game earlier versus Walla Walla. He is on pace to break the record of 1,803 set by his former Eastern teammate Venky Jois (2013-16).
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Huskies: "Washington is a very good team – they are long and athletic, and made shots when they needed to. Dickerson played huge for them, and he made free throws – our plan was to put him on the free throw a little bit. But it wasn't the plan to give him give him 28 points and 22 rebounds – those were video game numbers. A lot of our bigs were in foul trouble early and we relied on a freshman (Polanco) who played huge minutes for us. He ended up going 3-of-3 but he didn't get us any rebounds which were key at the time. He was solid, but we have to be smarter and better the next time we come out."
On Defense: "We played well defensively and our first-shot defense was good. We held down Dickerson too, but he got a lot of putbacks, offensive rebounds and hustle plays. We have to make sure we come back and we're tougher and better. We have to challenge our players and try to play without fouling – that hurt us. Our two starting post players fouled out, and our two backups were in foul trouble. We have to be smart about how we go about it. Stanford's big fella makes free throws, is athletic and he makes shots from the perimeter. So we have to be smarter and tougher, and I have to put them in a better situation."
On Turnovers & Missed Free Throws: "I told our players that if we have 10 or less, we'll win. We had 10 turnovers so I lied to them a little bit. But we left 11 points out there on the free throw line, so maybe it's a different game if we make some more."
On Task Ahead: "We'll get in the gym tomorrow and get some shots up, and we'll get ready to go against Stanford. It will be another great test. They enjoyed their time here in Seattle. They played with a lot of effort and that's all you can ask for from a team. They came out and got after it. Now we just have to sharpen them up a little bit and get them pointed in the right direction. That belongs to the coaching staff and we'll get them there."
Eastern's defensive effort was good enough to win.