On a night the 3-point shot didn't fall as much as usual, the Eagles had other answers.
A trio of Eagles combined for 52 points and came up with key plays down the stretch as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team beat Northern Colorado 67-65 on Saturday (Jan. 27) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Senior Sir Washington sank a pair of free throws with eight seconds left to break a 65-all tie, as UNC missed six of its last eight shots. Washington, who finished with nine points, also came up with the key rebound with 13 seconds remaining on a potential go-ahead attempt by UNC's Andre Spight, who also missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that could have won it.
All-time EWU leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk led the way with 26 points as he moved into the top 10 in Big Sky Conference history. He scored seven points in a 10-0 run midway through the second half that turned a deficit – EWU's last of the game – into a seven-point advantage with 8:11 to play.
Sophomore Mason Peatling had this third-straight double-double, finishing with 17 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and two blocked shots. He also took a key charge with 1:10 with the game knotted at 65.
The game was a battle for at least third place in the conference standings, as the Big Sky Conference schedule reached the halfway point for both schools. Eastern won its sixth Big Sky game in nine tries, while UNC slipped to 5-4.
"Mason had a monster game," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. "He's the reason we won tonight – he kicked everybody's butt on the boards. He tried to outrebound them by himself."
The Eagles sank just 4-of-13 shots from the 3-point stripe, but scored 42 points in the paint – its second-best performance of the season and best against a NCAA Division I foe. The Eagles made only 34.5 percent of their shots in the second half and 43.9 percent in the game, but held UNC to 31 percent after intermission and 37 percent for the game. The 65 points UNC scored equaled EWU's fourth-best performance of the year.
"We missed some of the shots we usually make, but we were right there the whole game," Legans said of the contest that featured 11 ties and six lead changes. "I've been harping on our guys that defense is going to win games at the end, and to hold that team to 65 points is really good."
With his 26 points – giving him 54 in a weekend sweep -- Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk moved into the top 10 in career scoring in the 55-year history of the Big Sky Conference. Bliznyuk now has 1,856 career points in 125 career games, moving past the 1,841 Tom Domako from Montana State had from 1985-88. Next on the list at No. 9 is Nate Holmstadt from Montana State with 1,864 points from 1995-99.
Earlier this season in Greeley, the Bears led from start to finish and opened Big Sky Conference play with an 88-75 victory over EWU on Dec. 29. The Bears led by as many as 16 and never trailed, and out-shot Eastern 55 percent to 45 percent.
Eastern goes back out on the road next week to face Sacramento State on Thursday (Feb. 1) before playing at Portland State on Saturday (Feb. 3). Eastern swept those two schools at home in early January.
Records . . .
* Now 7-1 at home, the Eagles are 11-11 on the season and 6-3 in the Big Sky, and have won eight of their last 11 games. 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.
* The Bears, who knocked off Idaho 80-63 last Thursday on the road, are 14-8 on the season and 5-4 in the Big Sky, and are 3-6 on opponent home courts this season. North Dakota and Northern Colorado battled last Saturday (Jan. 20) in overtime, with the Bears prevailing 94-91. They won it with a half-court buzzer-beater by Andre Spight, who finished with 34 points. Spight entered the EWU game averaging a Big Sky-leading 23.1 points per game during league play thus far, and third overall with a 19.9 average. But he had only 14 points against the Eagles on 3-of-16 shooting from the field.
* Earlier this season, Eastern opened conference play with a road split, falling at Northern Colorado 88-75 before rebounding for a 77-64 victory over UND on New Year's Eve. Bliznyuk scored 23 against the Bears, but Eastern has played the last six games without Jesse Hunt, who had 16 points and eight rebounds in both of those early games.
What it Means . . .
* Eastern's victory, pending results later tonight, puts them in the top three in the league standings with a 6-3 record. Entering tonight, Montana leads the way at 8-0, with Weber State currently second at 5-2. Idaho is 5-3 and Idaho State is 4-3, with Montana State joining UNC at 5-4 after the Bobcats beat Southern Utah 69-66 on Saturday afternoon.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern plays at Sacramento State on Thursday (Feb. 1) in a game that starts at 7:05 p.m. Pacific time. The Eagles then play Saturday (Feb. 3) at Portland State at 1 p.m. Sacramento State won at Portland State 71-61 on Saturday in the most recent action for both schools. The Hornets are now 3-5 in the Big Sky and 6-15 overall, while PSU will enter its game Thursday versus Idaho with a 3-5 league mark and 13-8 record on the season.
* Eastern swept those two schools at home, beating Portland State 81-74 on Jan. 4 and then knocking off Sacramento State 82-67. Bogdan Bliznyuk had his third double-double of the season and 18th in his career with 28 points and 12 rebounds against PSU, sinking 13-of-13 free throws. Interestingly, Bliznyuk was one of three Eagles to score in double figures versus the Vikings, but in the next game versus the Hornets five entirely different players scored at least 10 points.
Keys to Game . . .
* The inside presence of Bogdan Bliznyuk and Mason Peatling led the way for the Eagles on a night in which EWU made only 4-of-13 3-point attempts. Eastern had 42 points in the paint, with Bliznyuk and Peatling combining for 15-of-29 shooting from inside the 3-point stripe.
Turning Point . . .
* The first 30 minutes of the game featured nine ties and six lead changes, with EWU finally getting the upper hand with a 10-0 run that opened a 58-51 lead with 8:11 to play. Bogdan Bliznyuk scored eight of the points, with Cody Benzel providing a 3-pointer as well. Bliznyuk had scored 19 points in the first half, but was scoreless in the second half to that point.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk made 11of-20 shots from the field to finish with 26 points, five rebounds and a pair of assists. He now has 11 performances this season of at least 20 points, and 37 in his 125-game career. He made all three of his free throws, and has made 40 consecutive free throws dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31.
* Senior Sir Washington had nine points, six rebounds and three assists.
* Sophomore Mason Peatling had his third-straight double-double with 17 points and 15 rebounds. He had his seventh double figure scoring performance of the season as he made 6-of-11 shots from the field and had two blocked shots.
Key Stats . . .
* The Eagles were only out-rebounded 39-36, after having been out-rebounded in the previous meeting 37-29. Eastern also had just six turnovers, and out-shot the Bears 44 percent to 37 percent. For the season, Eastern is now 10-1 when they out-shoot their opponents and 1-10 when they don't. The Eagles were coming off a 52.8 performance against North Dakota on Jan. 25 when Bogdan Bliznyuk made 12-of-15 shots on his way to a 28-point night. Eastern has made at least half of its shots in five of its last 11 games, and is 5-0 this season when it hits that mark.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk moved into the top 10 in career scoring in the 55-year history of the Big Sky Conference. Bliznyuk now has 1,856 career points in 125 career games, moving past the 1,841 Tom Domako from Montana State had from 1985-88. Next on the list at No. 9 is Nate Holmstadt from Montana State with 1,864 points from 1995-99. Bliznyuk broke the previous school record of 1,803 points set by Venky Jois from 2013-16 on Jan. 25 in a 95-71 victory at home versus North Dakota. His 3-pointer barely a minute into the game gave him the record and EWU a 7-2 lead. Eastern head coach Shantay Legans called a timeout so his accomplishment could be acknowledged, then the Eagles used the energy to open a 30-8 lead while making 12 of their first 15 shots. Bliznyuk moved up four spots against UND to 11th in the 55-year history of the Big Sky, with Jois previously ranking No. 14 on the Big Sky list. Bliznyuk also passed the 1,810 points by Jim Potter from Idaho State from 1992-95, the 1,819 by Donn Holston from Idaho State from 1984-87 and the 1,827 by Michael Ray Richardson from Montana from 1984-87.
Notables . . .
* The Eagles are 12-11 all-time versus UNC (8-3 in Cheney, 4-8 in Greeley), with the first meeting taking place on Dec. 20, 1971, when Eastern beat the Bears 76-68 in Greeley, Colo. Since then, all of the meetings have been with EWU as a member of NCAA Division I (since 1983-84), starting in the 2006-07 season when the Bears became a Big Sky Conference member. Eastern won the lone meeting last year 70-44 in Greeley and picked up a 97-80 home victory the year before in the last meeting in Cheney on Feb. 13, 2016.
* Earlier this season in Greeley, a late rally came up short as EWU opened Big Sky Conference play with an 88-75 loss at Northern Colorado on Dec. 29. Although the Bears led from start to finish, a 9-3 Eagle run late in the game cut the lead to seven. But the Bears regained a double-digit lead and snapped EWU's two-game winning streak overall and a two-game victory streak in the series versus UNC. Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 23 to lead the Eagles, and junior Jesse Hunt equaled his career high with his second-straight 16-point performance. Hunt also had eight rebounds and a career-high four blocked shots while playing a career-high 29 minutes. The Bears led by as many as 16 and never trailed, and out-shot Eastern 55 percent to 45 percent.
* Both coaching staffs wore sneakers as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer "Suits and Sneakers Week" which runs from Jan. 22-28. Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Week is a nationwide event when basketball coaches across the country unite for a common cause – saving lives from cancer! Coaches and their staff across the nation wear sneakers with their suits during games to raise awareness and help save lives from cancer by raising funds and encouraging people to educate themselves about cancer prevention, screening, and early detection.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Crowd and Win: "It was a great game and fun game to be involved in. We had a great crowd – it was exciting to have everybody at the game. Our crowds are getting better and better, and I think a lot of that has to do with how we are playing. Our guys fed off that tonight. It was a really exciting game."
On Pick-and-Roll Game: "It helps when you have a guy who is unstoppable, and you can put him off in the corner and he doesn't mind going there. We got some rolls to the basket. If they are going to deny, our ball-screen offense is really good. Sir had a terrific game of getting him the ball, and Jack did a pretty good job of hitting him on the rolls. We are getting better at understanding (how to play) when we have a shooter in the corner – when we start hitting our threes we are a hard team to beat."
On Peatling Taking a Charge With 1:10 Left: "That was a huge charge. He was right there protecting the rim. It changes the way people go to the basket. Sometimes Bogdan doesn't go as hard to the basket when guys are falling down and getting the calls. As we take some charges ourselves and get better at that, teams are not going to drive as hard. Mason did a great job of getting that charge."
On Northern Colorado: "We did well against their point guard (Spight) – he was 3-of-16 and it's really good to hold him to that. He's really good and that's a really good, well-coached team. You have to give them a lot of credit for battling back every time. That last shot looked like it was in."
On Battle Every Game in Big Sky: "Every game is important, and every single game we play is going to be like this. It comes down to certain possessions, offensive rebounds and blocking out. Every game we'll feel that way the rest of the way."
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