Eastern Earns Another Big Sky Road Win, 81-67 at Southern Utah - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eastern Earns Another Big Sky Road Win, 81-67 at Southern Utah

Senior Venky Jois recorded his eighth double-double of the season and 34th of his career, Senior Venky Jois recorded his eighth double-double of the season and 34th of his career,


Gaining a season-best fourth-straight win wasn't easy for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
But two key second-half 3-pointers by Felix Von Hofe, a career-high 26 points by Bogdan Bliznyuk, 19 points by Austin McBroom and yet another double-double by Venky Jois led the Eagles to an 81-67 Big Sky Conference road win at Southern Utah on Saturday (Feb. 6) at the Centrum in Cedar City, Utah.
Eastern sank 52 percent of its field goal attempts and made 83 percent of its free throws, but the Eagles did the job on defense as well. With the Thunderbirds within striking distance late in the game, Eastern held SUU to just two field goals in an eight-minute stretch and ended up holding Southern Utah to 43 percent shooting in the game.
"Our players really toughed it out and were offensively efficient," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team kept SUU at the 60-point mark for a key 2:21 stretch. "It was good that in both games we just came in, played to our identity, and left with wins and a sweep."
The victory, coupled with EWU's 84-73 triumph two days earlier at Northern Arizona, gave EWU its first two-game road sweep involving Southern Utah or Northern Arizona since 2004 when the Eagles swept past NAU and Sacramento State. Eastern is the only team in the Big Sky right now with a four-game winning streak, and only Eastern, Weber State and Montana have won seven of their last nine.
"We're playing some good basketball right now," added Hayford. "I felt like we played a very complete game (against SUU) – we closed out a game on the road and won by double digits. Southern Utah played really hard and we had to match their energy."
Eastern next plays North Dakota this Thursday (Feb. 11) at Reese Court in a battle of 7-4 teams in the league standings. North Dakota knocked off the Eagles 79-71 in the second league game of the year for both squads.
Won-Lost Records . . .  
* The Eagles are now 13-10 overall and 7-4 in the league, with a 5-10 record on the road and perfect 8-0 mark at home. In league games, EWU is 5-0 at Reese Court and 2-4 on the road.
* The Thunderbirds are now 4-17 overall and 2-8 in the league and have lost five-straight games. Earlier this season in Cheney, Eastern blasted the Thunderbirds 106-80.
What It Means . . .
* A victory set the stage for a huge battle between the two teams currently in third place at 7-4 in the Big Sky this Thursday in Cheney – Eastern Washington versus North Dakota. Earlier Saturday, Idaho fell to Northern Arizona 72-70 to drop the Vandals to 6-5 in the league. Meanwhile, North Dakota handed Weber State its second conference loss with a 78-72 win. North Dakota's win helped both the Eagles and the Fighting Hawks gain ground on Montana and Weber State in the league standings.
What's Next . . .
* The Eagles return to Reese Court to face North Dakota (6:05 p.m. on Feb. 11) and Northern Colorado (2 p.m. on Feb. 13) in rematches league-opening losses for the Eagles. Eastern lost 96-90 at UNC on Dec. 31, then lost two days later at UND by a 79-71 score.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles won for the fifth-straight time when they've made at least 50 percent of their shots, finishing 26-of-50 for 42 percent with nine 3-pointers. The Eagles, ranked 10th in NCAA Division I entering the game with a season accuracy rate of 49.5 percent, are now 9-2 when making at least 50 percent and 10-0 when out-shooting opponents from the field.
Top Performers . .
* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk had a career-high 26 points, besting his previous best of 25 against North Dakota on Jan. 24, 2015. He made 7-of-13 shots from the field and 11-of-12 free throws, and also had seven rebounds and three assists. In his last seven games – starting with the first triple-double in school history on Jan. 16 against Northern Arizona – Bliznyuk has averaged 15.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, with four performances of at least a double-double.
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom, coming off a 28-point performance in EWU's road victory two days earlier at Northern Arizona, made 7-of-14 shots with a trio of 3-pointers to finish with 19 points and two assists.
* Senior Venky Jois recorded his eighth double-double of the season and 34th of his career, including three-straight and six in EWU's 11 league games. Jois made 3-of-7 shots from the field and 5-of-7 free throws to finish with 11 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. He went into the game ranked third in NCAA Division I with a .679 shooting percentage.
* Junior Felix Von Hofe finished with nine points, making all three of his 3-point shot attempts.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern was ahead just 55-53 when Felix Von Hofe hit a key 3-pointer with 9:52 to play to give EWU a five-point advantage. However, that was a precursor to an even bigger turning point late in the game when EWU was clinging to a 68-63 lead. After an EWU miss, Sir Washington got the offensive rebound, setting the stage for an out-of-bounds play with five seconds on the shot clock that resulted in Von Hofe nailing another 3-pointer with 2:21 left. Eastern added six free throws in the last 2:02, as well as baskets by Washington and Austin McBroom in the final minute, to close out the win.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern equaled its second-best free throw percentage of the season at 83.3 percent, making 20-of-24. Bogdan Bliznyuk made 11-of-12 and Venky Jois sank 5-of-7. The Eagles converted 18-of-21 in the second half (86 percent), including their last 10 of the game.
Team Highlights . . .
 * Eastern led for more than 13 minutes of the first half, overcoming an early 10-7 Southern Utah lead with an 11-4 run. Cody Benzel had a pair of 3-pointers in the run, and Austin McBroom also had a triple. Eastern used a 9-0 run later in the half to open its biggest lead of the half at 35-22 on a steal and layup by Bogdan Bliznyuk with 3:21 left. Eastern scored once more on a 3-pointer by Felix Von Hofe and the Eagles led 38-29 at halftime, with Bliznyuk scoring 11 in the first 20 minutes.
Notables . . .
* Senior Venky Jois, only the third player in the 53-year history of the Big Sky Conference to have more than 1,600 points and 900 rebounds in his career, inched closer to the EWU career scoring record. Now with 1,641 points as an Eagle, he is exactly 100 points behind the school record of 1,741 held by Ron Cox (1974-77). Jois' school-record total of 225 blocked shots are 22 from the league record of 247 (Brian Qvale, Montana, 2008-11). Jois also has 931 rebounds in his career to rank third in school history.
* Eastern has now led at halftime in 17 of 22 games this season, and has a 13-4 record in those 17 games.
* The Eagles are now 7-4 all-time against Southern Utah (4-1 in Cheney, 3-3 in Cedar City) with a six-game winning streak. Last season, Eastern played the Thunderbirds just once, winning in Cedar City Utah by a 78-75 score for EWU's fourth-straight win over SUU. Southern Utah would go on to finish 7-11 in the Big Sky and 10-19 overall.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Key Stretch of the Game: "We got the lead, but it was a crucial stretch at 64-60. We had to play defense three-straight times, but they didn't get off 60. I thought those were some key possessions. I also thought that our execution of our baseline out-of-bounds play with five seconds on the shot clock where Felix made the 3-pointer provided very crucial separation. If we don't score there and they go down the other way and score, it's a whole different last two minutes."

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