Big Sky Road Struggles Continue, EWU Falls to Montana St - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Big Sky Road Struggles Continue, EWU Falls to Montana St

Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk led three Eagles in double figures with 22 points, notching his second-straight double-double with 13 rebounds. Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk led three Eagles in double figures with 22 points, notching his second-straight double-double with 13 rebounds.

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Reese Court has never looked so good.
 
After making 50 percent or better from the field in its last three games at home, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team was out-scored at the 3-point line by 12 points and fell to the Bobcats 85-71 Thursday (Jan. 21) in a Big Sky Conference game at Worthington Arena in Bozeman, Mont.
 
Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk led three Eagles in double figures with 22 points, notching his second-straight double-double with 13 rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists. He was coming off a performance of 11 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for EWU's first triple-double in school history last Saturday against Northern Arizona.
 
The Bobcats sank 11-of-22 3-points shots in the game, compared to 7-of-25 for the Eagles. The Bobcats closed the game out at the free throw line, making 11-of-14 in the last 2:36 to extend a five-point lead with 10:26 remaining to as much as 16 in the final minutes.
 
"We were still in a good position in the second half, and fought through a lot of that," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford of his team's performance, which also included 14 turnovers and 11 free throw misses. "But it was just too much to overcome."
 
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for EWU, which is still looking for its first road breakthrough of the conference season. EWU is perfect at home this year at 6-0 and 3-9 on the road.
 
Won-Lost Records . . .  
 
* Eastern entered the MSU game rejuvenated, having won three-straight at home after losing its league openers – both on the road – to open the league season. The Eagles are now 9-9 overall and 3-3 in the league, having took care of business in wire-to-wire home victories over Idaho (74-60 on Jan. 9), Southern Utah (106-80 on Jan. 14) and Northern Arizona (96-73 on Jan. 16).
 
* Montana State entered the game in a tie for ninth in the league standings, but improved to 3-4 in the league and 8-11 overall. The Bobcats have defeated Northern Arizona on the road (74-72 in overtime) and Sacramento State at home (71-64), but had lost their last three games entering their game versus EWU.
 
 
What It Means . . .
 
* After battling back into the top four in the league with a three-game winning streak, Eastern is still looking for its first road breakthrough of the season and now sits in the middle of the pack in the Big Sky Conference race. The top four finishers receive first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament March 9-12 in Reno, Nevada.
 
What's Next . . .
 
* The Eagles play Montana on Saturday (Jan. 23) in a Big Sky Conference game that begins at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time. The Grizzlies are now 11-7 overall and 6-1 in the league after falling 63-58 at home to Idaho on Thursday. Montana, the preseason favorite by the media to win the league title, won its first six league games, including four on the road. Eastern was 4-0 last season at Dahlberg Arena, including a pair of victories over Montana and two other wins en route to the Big Sky Conference Tournament title.
 
Keys to Game . . .
 
* Four of Eastern's five starters combined to make just 3-of-18 shots in the first half, and 14-of-40 in the game (35 percent). From the 3-point line, three starters combined for a 3-of-19 performance (15 percent). The result was a 42-percent shooting night for the Eagles, who had shot 50 percent or better in each of their previous three games. MSU, meanwhile, converted 30-of-66 shots for 46 percent, including 11-of-22 3-point attempts. Eastern is now 7-0 this season when it has a better field goal percentage than its opponent, and 2-9 when it has been out-shot.
 
Top Performers . .
 
* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk, coming off the first triple-double in school history, had 15 of EWU's 30 points at halftime. He finished with a team-high 22, coming just three from his career high of 25. He made 6-of-11 shots from the field, including 3-of-4 3-point attempts, and made 7-of-9 free throws. He also had 13 rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists.
 
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom scored 19 points, with 5-of-8 shooting on 2-point shots and 6-of-8 from the free throw line. However, he was just 1-of-8 from the 3-point arc.
 
* Senior Venky Jois finished with 11 points and six rebounds, but was held to 4-of-8 shooting from the field and made 3-of-10 free throws. He also had three blocked shots, giving him 218 in his career to rank just 29 behind the league record.
 
Turning Point . . .
 
* Consecutive 3-pointers by Bogdan Bliznyuk, Felix Von Hofe and Julian Harrell fueled an 11-0 Eastern run in the second half to cut a 12-point Bobcat lead to one. But the Bobcats responded with an 11-3 run to regain a nine-point advantage with 9:55 left, and led by no less than seven the rest of the way.
 
Key Stats . . .
 
* Proving how difficult it is to win on the road, the Eagles led MSU for just 5:23 and made only 42 percent of their shots from the field, including just 7-of-25 3-point attempts (28 percent). In its three-game homestand, EWU led 113:30 out of a total of 120 possible minutes, sank 57 percent of their shots (99-of-174) and had an average winning margin of 21.0 points per game. Eastern averaged 92 points per game while allowing an average of 71.
 
Team Highlights . . .
 
* Eastern used an early 10-0 run to open a 16-10 lead in the first half, during which the Eagles held MSU scoreless for 3:11. But the Bobcats were scorching hot after that, making 8-of-15 3-pointers and leading 38-30 at halftime. Bogdan Bliznyuk had 15 of EWU's 30 points, but Marcus Colbert topped that with 17. It was just the fifth time all season EWU has trailed at halftime. EWU is 9-4 when it's led or been tied at halftime this season, and 0-5 when it's trailed.
 
Notables . . .
 
* The loss snapped a five-game winning streak against the Bobcats, including a pair in Bozeman. Eastern has still won seven of the last nine meetings against MSU, and had swept the Bobcats in each of the last two seasons, with a 92-68 home win last season coming after a 61-51 road win earlier in the year. Eastern hadn't lost to the Bobcats since falling 70-68 in Bozeman on Jan. 5, 2013. Eastern has won 18 of the last 32 after winning just once in the previous 13 games (not counting two MSU forfeits).
 
* Since Eastern became a member of the Big Sky Conference in the 1987-88 season, the Eagles have played the Bobcats and Grizzlies in Cheney. But because of the new 12-team schedule format adopted last year, this is the rare year where the Eagles won't face their two long-time rivals at Reese Court. Eastern has hosted the Grizzlies at Reese Court every year since the 1986-87 season and the Bobcats since 1982-83.
 
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
 
On Bobcats: "First we need to congratulate Montana State.  They had their backs against the wall and were backed into a corner. They were a dangerous opponent, having just lost three straight. They were in a similar position that we were in when we came home from the North Dakota game – we didn't want to get behind more than 0-2. We probably didn't do a good enough job of having our team understand the readiness we needed to have because of the great punch we were going to get from Montana State. And they did – in the first half, Marcus Colbert was amazing. If I told you he was shooting 21 percent from three in his last six games, you would have said, 'no way.' He looked like the best shooter in America in the first half. He has a lot of character and is a great young man. He willed them, like a senior should, to get them turned around. My first thought is to give a lot of credit to Montana State."
 
On Shooting Differences: "We played pretty good defensively – we held them to 45 percent, which is good for us right now and we are headed in the right direction. They had a great shooting night and we didn't. We had a high turnover total too – 14 is a big number for us. But credit their defense – I thought they had a lot of tenacity. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. Tonight Montana State was really good, and we shot the ball poorly from the field and the line. That's why you end up losing on the road like we did."
 
On 3-Point Shooting: "Felix and Austin were 2-of-15 from three. If you are going to win on the road, and your two elite shooters – and they have proven they are – are 2-of-15, that makes you play perfect in other places. But we really struggled at the line – Venky had a tough night. They just fouled him before he shot the ball and he had a tough free throw night -- now you have to be really perfect to be able to do it."
 
On Montana Game: "We have to re-group -- we have an even tougher assignment on Saturday. It's a long season and we have to keep focusing on development so we learn from each of these lessons. We have to keep getting better so we're the best team in the conference in March. But I want us to be the best team in the conference on Thursdays and Saturday. We have some things to work on."

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