Defensive woes doom Eags on road at Portland State

Portland State got hot, and was able to cool off EWU's hottest player.
 
Despite a late run that pared a 15-point lead down to seven, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team suffered a 94-81 loss to Portland State Saturday (Feb. 3) in Portland, Ore. The game took 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 trailed from start to finish, but had a 10-2 run to pull within seven with 5:14 left. The Vikings then scored the next six points to end EWU's comeback hopes before sealing the win at the free throw line.
 
Portland State scored the most points the Eagles have allowed all season – just one game after EWU had its best defensive performance of the year in a 74-54 win at Sacramento State. Eastern allowed 44 points in the paint to be scored by PSU.
 
"I haven't said it too many times this season that our energy wasn't where it needed to be," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. "We didn't play the way we should have been playing. It's tough. We just didn't execute what we wanted to do."
 
The loss dropped Eastern to 7-4 in the league season and evened Eastern's record at 12-12 on the year. Portland State snapped a three-game losing streak in improving to 14-9 overall and 4-6 in the conference.
 
Eastern all-time leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk, who had scored 94 points in his last three outings, was held to 13 points and 11 total shots, but did have team highs of nine rebounds and six assists. The Eagles made 48.5 percent of their shots, but allowed a season high of 57.6 percent.
 
Junior Cody Benzel had 21 points with seven 3-pointers, and senior Sir Washington had 12 points and a pair of treys as the Eagles made 11-of-34 3-point attempts. EWU 7-footer Benas Griciunas sank all five of his shots and finished with 10 points.
 
Records . . . 
 
* The Eagles are 12-12 on the season and 7-4 in the Big Sky, and have still won nine of their last 13 games.
 
* The Vikings are 4-6 in the league and 14-9 overall, and were coming off a 97-88 home loss to Idaho on Thursday that was the third-straight loss for PSU.
 
What it Means . . . 
 
* Eastern is at 7-4 in the Big Sky Conference, and is trying to maintain a top four position in order to secure a first-round bye in the league tournament in March. The Eagles were coming off a resounding 74-54 victory at Sacramento State on Feb. 1, and entered action Saturday tied with Idaho at third in the standings at 7-3. Heading into Saturday's action, Montana was 10-0 and Weber State second at 7-2, followed by Idaho (7-3), Idaho State (5-4), Montana State (5-5) and Northern Colorado (5-5).


What's Next . . . 
 
* Eastern's next game is Friday, Feb. 9 at Idaho at approximately 7:30 p.m. following the EWU-UI women's game that begins at 5 p.m. Earlier this season, the Eagles suffered their lone home loss of the season in a 58-51 setback to the Vandals.
 
* 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 . . . 
 
* Eastern has enjoyed double-digit advantages in shooting in four Big Sky games this year, and an overall advantage in seven of its last nine. But Portland State turned the tables on the Eagles, sinking 57.6 percent compared to 48.5 percent for EWU. It was the best shooting percentage against the Eagles this season, besting the 55.2 percent Northern Colorado made against the Eagles in the league opener on Dec. 29. Portland State freshman Holland Woods made all 10 of his shots from the field to finish with a career-high 29 points. Eastern, which had made at least half of its shots in six of its last 12 games, was coming off 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 11-1 when they out-shoot their opponents and 1-11 when they don't.
 
Turning Point . . . 
 
* The Vikings jumped out to a 25-11 lead early in the game, and then scored 11 of the first 14 points in the second half. The Eagles trailed by just seven at halftime, but the Vikings led by as many as 15 in the second half. The closest EWU could come after that was seven with 5:14 to play. An offensive rebound basket with 4:45 to play started a game-deciding 6-0 run by the Vikings. That field goal was the first of seven-straight field goals PSU made in the final 4:45, and the Vikings drained six free throws in the final two minutes.
 
Top Performers . . . 
 
* Eastern all-time leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk made 5-of-11 shots from the field and all three of his free throws to finish with 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists. It was his 21st double-figure scoring performance of the season, and his 89th in 127 career games. He has now made 49 consecutive free throws dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31.
* Junior Cody Benzel sank 7-of-13 3-pointers and finished with 21 points, his second 20-point performance of the season and career. It was also his fifth scoring performance of the year of at least 10 points and 13th of his career.
* Senior Sir Washington scored all 12 of his points in the first half, and also had four rebounds and three assists. He was averaging 8.8 points per league game for the Eagles, and had his fifth double-figure scoring performance of the year (20th of his career).
* Senior graduate transfer Benas Griciunas had his fourth double figure scoring performance of the season by making all five of his shots and finishing with 10 points. He had scored only six points total in the five games he played since having a career-high 16 against Sacramento State on Jan. 6.
 
Key Stats . . . 
 
* Eastern handled Portland State's pressure defense quite well, with just 10 turnovers leading to only 12 points for the Vikings. The Eagles were averaging just 11.6 turnovers per game to rank 40th in Division I, but did have its second-most turnovers with 20 in an 81-74 victory over the Vikings on Jan. 4. The Eagles gave up season highs of 18 offensive rebounds and 18 points off turnovers in that previous meeting. The Vikings entered the rematch leading NCAA Division I in steals (11.0 per game), turnover margin (+7.5 per game) and fouls (23.3 per game), while ranking second in turnovers forced (20.14, just .04 behind the national leader). As a result of their defensive pressure, the Vikings average 88.0 points per game to rank fourth nationally.
 
Other Team Highlights . . . 

 
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk now has 1,909 career points in 127 career games, and he is just 18 points from ranking eighth in league history. With 40 points against Sacramento State on Feb. 1, he moved up to ninth in league history as he passed 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 eight games left this season and he maintains his average of 20.0 points per game, Bliznyuk would finish third in league history with 2,069 points. If Bliznyuk matches his 23.6 average in league games, he would finish with 2,089 and finish 13 behind the record of 2,102.  Earlier this season he broke the previous school record of 1,803 set by Venky Jois (2013-16). Bliznyuk is just the third player since 2000 to crack the Big Sky's top 10, joining Weber State's Jeremy Senglin (2013-17) and Damian Lillard (2008-12). Senglin scored 2,078 points to rank only behind the record 2,102 Orlando Lightfoot from Idaho scored in three seasons from 1991-94. Lillard is No. 6 with 1,934 points.


Notables . . . 
 
* Now 3-3 on the season in league road games, EWU has now split its last seven two-game league road trips. 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.
 
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . . 
 
On Holland Woods & PSU: "Woods played great and handled the pressure. He's a freshman who is going to be good down the road – he is right now. So we have to make sure we do a better job the next time because we might see them again in the conference tournament. We gave up 44 points in the paint -- we call it 'home' and we didn't protect home."
 
On EWU's Energy: "Sometimes that happens, but I didn't like the energy of our guys today. It's not a light switch – you can't turn it on and off. We just can't come in and play that way, especially teams like this. Once they got going they hit some tough shots. In these types of games and teams like this you have to get on them early, and we didn't. We let them dictate the game early and that led to the loss."
 
On Giving Up Late Offensive Rebound to Spark 6-0 PSU Run: "We talked to our team about 50-50 balls and we have to get those. We have to do better on the defensive boards and not give those up. We battled back and came within seven points, but we lost the momentum and couldn't get a defensive rebound when we need one. It's tough to take a loss like that and get another split. We feel like we are right there with that team."
 
On Defense Versus Bliznyuk: "They did a good job of denying Bogdan the ball everywhere. They followed their game plan and did what their coach wanted them to do."

© 2018 KREM-TV


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