Eagles Stay Perfect at Home, Jois Leads EWU to 74-67 Win - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles Stay Perfect at Home, Jois Leads EWU to 74-67 Win

The Eagles are now 11-10 overall and 5-4 in the league, with a perfect 8-0 mark at home. The Eagles are now 11-10 overall and 5-4 in the league, with a perfect 8-0 mark at home.


When needed, defense and double-doubles can get the job done for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
Senior Venky Jois and sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk both recorded double-doubles, and the Eagles rode their defense in the second half for a 74-67 victory over Sacramento State in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Jan. 30) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern led from start-to-finish for the fifth-straight league game at home, and held the Hornets to 35 percent shooting in the second half. Eastern was just 1-of-19 from the 3-point line, but made 19-of-24 free throws (79 percent) – including eight made charity shots in the last 1:55 to preserve EWU's 8-0 home record. Eastern out-shot the Hornets in the game, 47 percent to 41 percent.
"Every Big Sky Conference win is a great win, and we'll take it," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "What I'm really pleased about is that we won, and I don't know if we would have won this game three or four weeks ago. We were giving too much of our energy, focus and attention off of how we were shooting the ball.
"Today we couldn't have shot (3-pointers) any worse – probably the worst shooting performance I've seen as Eastern's head coach," he continued. "But we knocked enough shots down in the second half and held them to 35 percent in the second half."
Won-Lost Records . . .  
* The Eagles are now 11-10 overall and 5-4 in the league, with a perfect 8-0 mark at home. In league games, EWU is 5-0 at Reese Court and 0-4 on the road.
* The Hornets are now 9-10 overall and 2-6 in the conference after entering league play with the Big Sky's top non-conference record at 7-4. The Hornets won at Idaho 65-63 on Thursday.
What It Means . . .
* Now that the Eagles held service at home, next week's road trip will be extremely important toward EWU's goals of finishing the season with a winning record and, perhaps more importantly, earning one of four first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament March 8-12 in Reno. Eastern is looking for its first road breakthrough of the league season. In eight home games this season, the Eagles have made 56 percent of their shots from the field (44 percent on 3-pointers) while averaging 96.0 points per game, but are just 46 percent from the field on the road (36 percent from the arc) and are averaging 73.4 points.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern returns to the road to begin the second half of the league season on Feb. 4 when the Eagles play at Northern Arizona, followed by a game two nights later at Southern Utah. Eastern soundly defeated both of those foes earlier this season at home, knocking off the Thunderbirds 106-80 and NAU two days later by a 96-73 score.
Keys to Game . . .
* Venky Jois and Bogdan Bliznyuk combined for 18-of-26 shooting (69 percent), while the rest of the team was just 9-of-31 (29 percent). Eastern followed a school-record 20 3-pointers in a 112-83 win over Portland State two games earlier with just one versus the Hornets.
Top Performers . .
* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk made 8-of-11 shots from the field and both of his free throws to finish with his third double-double in the last five games, fourth of the season and sixth of his career. He finished the game with 18 points and 11 rebounds, including 14 points and eight bards in the second half. Just four games earlier versus Northern Arizona in EWU's last home game, the sophomore had EWU's first triple-double in school history.
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom finished with 16 points despite a 3-of-11 shooting night from the floor. He made 10-of-13 free throws and also had a pair of assists. He has now scored in double figures in all 20 of the games he has played this season.
* Senior Venky Jois, who was ranked fourth in NCAA Division I entering the game with a .677 shooting percentage, made 10-of-15 field goals and 4-of-5 free throws to finish with a double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds. He now has six double-doubles this season and 32 in his career.
* Junior Julian Harrell was the fourth Eagle in double figures, finishing with 10 points and two each of rebounds, assists, blocked shots and steals.

Turning Point . . .
* After Sacramento State used a 14-1 run to cut Eastern's game-high 17-point lead to four with 4:43 to play, Venky Jois took over. The senior had a defensive rebound that led to his dunk with 3:52 left to bump the lead back to eight, then had a blocked shot on the next defensive possession for EWU. The 2:35 Sac State scoreless stretch was enough to give EWU some breathing room, and then EWU iced the victory by making 8-of-10 free throws in the last 1:55. An offensive rebound by Bogdan Bliznyuk with 16 seconds left helped keep the ball out of the hands of the Hornets, who were down by four at the time.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern has now led for 191:08 out of 200 minutes in its five league home games. The Eagles led for 38:25 versus Sacramento State and 39:13 against Portland State on Jan. 28 to continue that recent trend. Versus PSU, EWU opened a double-digit lead it never relinquished at 16-4 just 3:40 into the game, and led by 20 or more for the last 26:21 of the game and 27:13 total. In its previous 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. Proving just how difficult it is to win on the road, Eastern led Montana on Jan. 23 for just 3:29 and two nights earlier led MSU for just 5:23.
* The Eagles out-rebounded Sac State 39-33, and had a 50-32 advantage in points in the paint.
Team Highlights . . .
 * The Eagles led the entire first half, and opened its biggest lead at 27-15 on a steal and dunk by Venky Jois, who had 16 points and five rebounds in the first half. Sac State used an 8-0 run to cut the lead to two, and trailed at halftime just 37-31. Eastern was 0-of-11 from the 3-point stripe in the first half, while the Hornets made 4-of-8. The Hornets out-shot EWU 50 percent to 47 percent in the opening half.
* Eastern also started well in the second half, with Bogdan Bliznyuk scoring six points and Felix Von Hofe making EWU's only 3-pointer of the game in a 9-0 run. That gave EWU a 46-34 lead at the 16:40 mark, and then EWU used an 8-2 run later in the half to open its largest bulge of the game at 17 points by a 61-44 score. Bliznyuk score four in that run.
Notables . . .
* Eastern has now led at halftime in 15 of 21 games this season, and has an 11-4 record in those 15 games.
* The Eagles split in the regular season with Sacramento State a year ago, but then roared past the Hornets 91-83 in the Big Sky Conference Tournament during EWU's 3-0 run that yielded the school its second NCAA berth. The Eagles finished 26-9 a year ago and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and Sac State was 21-12 and played in the CollegeInsider Tournament.
* Since Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season, the Eagles are now 30-14 versus Sacramento State, and the two schools did not play against each other prior to that. The Eagles have won 23 of their last 33 games against the Hornets, and have a 19-3 record versus Sacramento State in Cheney, are 10-11 in Sacramento and 1-0 on a neutral court. That neutral site game came in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament last year in Missoula, when the Eagles won 91-83. Felix Von Hofe came off the bench to score a career-high 23 points with seven 3-pointers made, helping EWU lead by as many as 26 in the second half. At one point, the Eagles made 16-of-17 shots from the field, including seven of its last eight in the first half and their first nine of the second half. Earlier in the season, Eastern won 64-61 at home and lost 90-77 in Sacramento.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Venky Jois down the stretch & Bogdan Bliznyuk in the second half: "We shot the ball well at the free throw line, and then we had a senior who said he would not let the team lose. He just put his head down and said, 'here is what winning is, follow me guys.' That's what you want in a leader. Bogdan had an outstanding second half and we ran a lot of offense through him. At the end of the day, we'll take the win – it's good. We have to figure it out on the road, so our theme this week is 'reverse the curse.' We're going to go win on the road next week."
On missed free throws and Bliznyuk's rebound: "At least we kept it to a two-possession game. But it extended the game. Austin is a great free throw shooter so I was shocked he missed those. Bogdan stepped up and made a winning play."
On Hornets: "Sacramento State played really hard, and deserves credit for playing us better than anybody has here at home. But I know when we watch video our guys are going to say, 'I should have made that.'"
On Task on the Road Ahead: "You just hope winning carries over. We have a really good veteran starting lineup, and Sir is playing really well as our sixth man. And we're 5-2 since Julian came back. Another way to look at our season is that once we were made whole, what is our record? We'll, we're 5-2, and now we have our next chance to go win. Montana State played really well, and we played really well at Montana. Maybe we can get on a roll now that our team is whole – that's what I'm believing in. I also believe we also have five really good freshmen on our bench, and they are going to come in and make winning contributions. That is going to be the difference maker that carries us over the top."

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