What they accomplished Tuesday, the Eagles continued Friday (Nov. 17) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team opened a six-point lead in the first half, but foul trouble and big runs by UNLV led to a 91-76 defeat for EWU at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Eagles made 13 of their first 22 shots, but a stretch of nine-straight misses helped turn a six-point lead into a six-point deficit at halftime. A pair of 6-0 runs in the second half helped open a 13-point lead for the Rebels, who led by as many as 25 and no less than 11 after that.
Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk led the Eagles with 16 points, and redshirt freshman Jacob Davison chipped in a career-high 11. Eastern made only 38 percent of its shots and 21 percent of its 3-point field goals, one game after making 11-of-25 treys in a 67-61 upset at Stanford.
"Playing these games early show us what we need to work on," said first-year head coach Shantay Legans. "You can do some good things, but other teams find what you aren't good at and find ways to expose you. There are things we have to get better at, and that's why I love this schedule and this team. They are already getting better game-to-game, and they are so smart they know what they need to do."
Four Rebels scored in double figures, including a 17-point, eight-rebound effort by 7-foot NBA prospect Brandon McCoy in just 25 minutes of action. UNLV sank 54.4 percent of its shots in the game, including 56.7 percent in the second half. Eastern had just eight turnovers against the pressure of the Runnin' Rebels.
"It's a fun team to coach, and I was pleased with the way they played the last three minutes of the game when we put the young guys in," added Legans. "They all played their hearts out and got up and down the floor. Jacob Davison played with a lot of passion and fire. We can leave this game on that – if players play like that at the end of the game that's a terrific sign for us."
The UNLV game was part of the "undercard" schedule for the MGM Resorts Main Event, which will take place Nov. 20-22 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Eagles will play Georgia State next Monday (Nov. 20) at 1:30 p.m. as part of the fourth-annual tournament at T-Mobile Arena.
Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 2-2 on the season, and were coming off a 67-61 victory over Stanford in EWU's first win over a Pac-12 Conference opponent for the first time since 2002. 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.
* UNLV is now 3-0, including 98-63 win Wednesday (Nov. 15) versus Prairie View A&M. The Rebels beat Florida A&M 108-66 on Nov. 11, with 7-foot, 250-pound freshman Brandon McCoy finishing with 25 points and 18 rebounds. He had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes against Prairie View.
What it Means . . .
* The Eagles came down to earth slightly after their epic 67-61 victory at Stanford three days earlier, but still fought tooth and nail against one of the Mountain West Conference's premier teams.
What's Next . . .
* The Eagles will play Georgia State and either Prairie View or Eastern Kentucky as part of the fourth-annual MGM Resorts Main Event on Nov. 20-22 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ole Miss, Rice, UNLV and Utah comprise the Heavyweight Bracket with Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Washington, Georgia State and Prairie View A&M competing in the Middleweight Bracket. The Main Event tips off on Monday, Nov. 20 with Eastern Kentucky playing Prairie View A&M at 11 a.m. Pacific time, followed by Eastern Washington taking on Georgia State at 1:30 p.m. Monday evening's Heavyweight Bracket features UNLV-Rice at 7 p.m. and Utah-Ole Miss at 9:30 p.m. Two days later on Wednesday, Nov. 22, Eastern will play in either the championship game of the middleweight bracket at 1:30 p.m., or the consolation at 11 a.m. The heavyweight bracket consolation game is 7 p.m. on ESPNU, and the championship game follows at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2. Tickets are now on sale via www.t-mobilearena.com. The T-Mobile Arena is a new 20,000-seat venue located on the Las Vegas strip, and opened April 6, 2016. Eastern will also play at Utah on Nov. 24 as part of the "undercard games schedule" of the MGM Resorts Main Event.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern's Bogdan Bliznyuk, Jesse Hunt and Richard Polanco all picked up three fouls in the first half of action. Those three players combined for 15 points and four rebounds in the first half, but played just a collective 20 minutes.
Turning Point . . .
* The Eagles led much of the first half, and their early hot shooting led to a 29-23 lead with 7:05 left on a basket by Jacob Davison. Eastern made 47 percent of its shots in the first half, with Benas Griciunas scoring eight. Eastern had a five-point lead with 5:21 left on a pair of free throws by Bogdan Bliznyuk, but the Rebels outscored Eastern 17-6 the rest of the half to lead 45-39 at intermission.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, a candidate for Big Sky Conference Player of the Year honors, made 5-of-15 shots from the field and all six of his free throws to finish with 16 points in just 20 minutes of action.
* Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison had entered the game with no points in his first two games as an Eagle, but scored 11 on 3-of-7 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
* Sophomore Luka Vulikic chipped in nine points on 4-of-8 shooting.
* Seven-foot graduate transfer Benas Griciunas had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds, making 4-of-12 shots from the field.
* Las Vegas native Sir Washington also scored eight points.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern had just eight turnovers against the pressure defense of UNLV, which had 15 itself. However, the Runnin' Rebels still lived up to their name, finishing with 13 fast-break points compared to three for EWU. The Eagles made only 3-of-14 3-point shots for 21 percent, compared to 6-of-12 for UNLV, which also out-rebounded EWU 44-33.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Las Vegas native Sir Washington played 22 minutes for the Eagles and finished with eight points and three rebounds. Washington graduated in 2013 from Clark High School, where as a senior he led his team to a 29-3 record overall and 10-0 mark in the I-A Southern Sunset League standings. He was the MVP of the league as he helped the school go on a 22-game winning streak. The Chargers lost 59-57 to Desert Pines in the championship game of the NIAA Division I-A Tournament after beating Elko 45-40 in the semifinals. Washington averaged 14.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game, while making 43 percent of his shots from the floor (25-of-101 3-pointers) and 59 percent of his free throws.
Notables . . .
* The Eagles are in the midst 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.
* UNLV features true freshman phenom Brandon McCoy, at 7-feet tall and 250 pounds. In his first two games as a collegian he had 40 points, 29 rebounds, three blocked shots and made 58 percent of his shots from the field – all in just 44 minutes of action. A consensus five-star recruit, he was rated by ESPN as the nation's sixth-best prospect at one point during his senior year. He was a McDonald's High School All-American and scored 13 points and had seven rebounds in the McDonald's High School All-American game. He averaged 28.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game as a senior at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego, Calif., then played on the 2017 USA Basketball Men's U19 World Cup Team in Egypt.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Shooting: "We missed some shots, but at the same time I didn't prepare them the right way offensively. The guys gave everything they had. We have to do a better job of getting them prepared to win."
On Turning Point: "We had a couple of breakdowns defensively, and they made adjustments at halftime. We have to be better in our next game when we come out after halftime and make our own adjustments. There are a lot of things we left out there – simple plays we could have made. We missed some open threes and I think that rattled us a little bit. You can't blame a player for wanting to make plays and get his team back into the game, but I need to do a better job of making sure they stick to what we want to do. We knew they were going to make runs – they are a big-time team. But I need to do a better job of keeping them composed."
On UNLV: "They are a good team – they are well-coached and do a good job, and they are in the right positions offensively. The message to our team was to make sure we block out and are in the right positions. I feel that we did that. We didn't have a double-digit rebounder, but we had multiple guys with rebounds. That was good for us."
On Just Eight Turnovers: "They pressured us, but we did a really good job of protecting the ball. Other teams are averaging 20-plus turnovers against them. You can take positives away from games, and that was one of our positives. Our guys are a bunch of smart players and don't turn the ball over."
On Upcoming Game: "Georgia State may be the best team we're playing early – they are really, really good. They have a lot of athletes, a lot of transfers and probably have a NBA prospect at point guard. We have our hands full and it will be different challenge because they are perimeter based. We'll see what our perimeter defense will be like – tonight we gave up some blow-bys and drives."
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