Montana scores final seven points to stun EWU 65-59 - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Montana scores final seven points to stun EWU 65-59

Courtesy: EWU Athletics Courtesy: EWU Athletics

EWU Athletics

Once again, the Eagles toed the fine line between victory and defeat at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
But it was Montana that was given the opportunity to win the game at the free throw line as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team suffered its first home loss of the season in a 65-59 loss Saturday (Jan. 7) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
After a key defensive play went against the Eagles with 52 seconds to play, the Grizzlies made their last six free throws and EWU missed its last four field goal attempts in a game that featured seven ties and 17 lead changes. Eastern lost for the first time in three Big Sky Conference games and is now 8-1 at home – including five games won by six points or less.
"It was a really good basketball game," Eastern head coach Jim Hayford
said after his team was whistled for seven more fouls and had 16 less free throw attempts than the Grizzlies. "They made big plays in the last minute and we didn't. It's a tough one, a really tough one. We really thought we fought hard and played great defense to make a stop that would have given us the ball up one."
Bogdan Bliznyuk
scored 21 points and had six rebounds and six assists to lead the Eagles, with former Grizzly Jacob Wiley finishing with 10 points and a season-high 14 rebounds. In a game that was statistically even in most respects, the only difference was at the line where Montana made 16-of-24 and EWU sank 7-of-8. In the second half alone, the Grizzlies were sent to the line 20 times (making 15) while EWU had just six charity shots (made all six).
The Eagles have now had their top three defensive performances of the season against NCAA Division I opposition in their last three games, holding Idaho to 62 points and Montana State to 64 in a pair of wins.
Won-Lost Records . . .  
* The Eagles are now 10-6 in their 34th season as a member of NCAA Division I and 2-1 in the league as they begin their 30th season as a member of the Big Sky.  Eastern entered the game with a league-best RPI of 87, and is now 8-1 at home and 2-5 on the road.
* While EWU was holding MSU to nearly 20 points below its season average in an 82-64 win on Thursday (Jan. 5), the Grizzlies blitzed past Idaho 70-57. Coupled with the win over EWU, Montana is now 3-1 in the league and 8-9 overall with its fifth victory in its last six games. The lone loss in that span was Weber State's 84-81 victory on a shot at with one second left in overtime by Wildcat senior guard Jeremy Senglin. The Grizzlies were visiting Cheney for the first time since EWU's NCAA Tournament season in 2014-15 when the Eagles won the Big Sky tournament title with a come-from-behind 69-65 victory on UM's home court.
What It Means . . .
* The loss was a speed bump in Eastern's quest to reverse its fortunes against its first five league foes of the season. A year ago, the Eagles lost to UM and Montana State on the road in their lone meetings against those teams, and later in the season EWU was swept at home against Idaho State and Weber State in the only games EWU played against those squads. Coupled with a 1-2 record versus Idaho, and Eastern was just 1-6 last season versus its first five conference foes of the 2016-17 season. So far, Eastern is 2-1 versus those foes heading into a difficult road trip this week at Idaho State and Weber State.
What's Next . . .
* The Eagles were picked to finish fifth by the media and seventh by the coaches in polls released back in October, while the Grizzlies were selected No. 2 by the media and No. 4 by the coaches. Weber State was picked to repeat as league champions in both polls, and will host the Eagles on Jan. 14 in Ogden, Utah. Two nights earlier on Jan. 12, Eastern plays at Idaho State, which tied EWU by being picked fifth by the media and was two positions ahead of Eastern in fifth by the coaches.
Keys to Game . . .
* With 52 seconds remaining, the Eagles felt they had forced Walter Wright into a traveling call, but instead, Sir Washington was called for a foul and Wright made both free throws to give the Griz a 60-59 lead. A missed 3-pointer by Bogdan Bliznyuk with 33 seconds to play was followed by two more UM free throws, then Felix Von Hofe missed a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining, followed by two more Griz free throws.
Top Performers . . .
* Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk had 21 points, six rebounds and six assists for EWU. It was his ninth performance of the season with at least 20 points, and 16th of his career. He entered ranked in the top 14 in five different statistical categories in the league, ranking fifth in points (19.0 per game), 13th in rebounds (5.8), fourth in assists (4.3), second in free throw percentage (.891) and 14th in field goal percentage (.484). He ranks 66th nationally in scoring and is 32nd in free throw percentage.
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley finished with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting and a season-high 14 rebounds, but didn't have any blocked shots. He entered the game averaging 3.3 blocked shots per game to rank fifth in NCAA Division I. As a team, Eastern entered 21st nationally with an average of 5.6 per game. Wiley was also 22nd nationally in field goal percentage (60.7 percent) and 106th in free throw percentage (83.3 percent).
* Senior Felix Von Hofe sank just 1-of-7 shots from the field and 1-of-5 3-point attempts to finish with three points and a pair of steals. He entered the game ranked 12th in NCAA Division I with an average of 3.47 3-pointers per game, helping EWU rank 58th as a team in makes per game (9.0) and 80th in percentage (37.6).
* Sophomore Jesse Hunt came off the bench to contribute eight points, hitting all three of his shots from the field.  He was coming off a career-high 13 points in 18 minutes against Montana State, having entered that game averaging just 2.2 points per game and scoring seven points in his last five games.
* Junior Sir Washington chipped in seven points on 3-of-4 shooting.
Turning Point . . .
* After a stretch of eight lead changes and three ties early in the second half, Eastern hit a series of huge baskets during a 5-of-5 shooting stretch that gave EWU a 51-45 lead with 8:07 left. Jesse Hunt had a pair of 3-pointers, Sir Washington hit a trey, Jacob Wiley had an emphatic dunk and Bogdan Bliznyuk made a driving layin during EWU's hottest shooting stretch of the game. Eastern led 53-48 with 5:18 to play, but back-to-back 3-pointers turned the tide for the Griz. Eastern took two more leads before Montana made seven of eight free throws in the final 52 seconds.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern's defense was impressive throughout the game, holding Montana to 65 points on 42.3 percent shooting from the field. The Eagles have now had their top three defensive performances of the season against NCAA Division I opposition in their last three games, holding Idaho to 62 points and Montana State to 64 in a pair of wins. But Eastern was limited to 40.4 percent by the Grizzlies, one game after EWU had its best shooting performance of the season against Montana State at 60.4 percent. Eastern's top three scorers for the season – Bogdan Bliznyuk, Jacob Wiley and Felix Von Hofe – combined to make just 13-of-40 shots for 32.5 percent, after entering the game shooting a collective 49.3 percent clip for the season.
Team Highlights . . .
* The Eagles held Montana scoreless for the first 5:13 of the game, holding the Grizzlies to 0-of-5 shooting with three turnovers. Eastern led 7-0, and led for 18:23 of the first half before settling for a 25-23 lead at intermission. Bogdan Bliznyuk scored nine points for the Eagles and Walter Wright scored eight for the Griz, but the remainder of their teams combined for 7-of-20 shooting from the field apiece in the first 20 minutes. Eastern finished the half at 38 percent and Montana was at 39 percent.
Notables . . .
* Eastern's 8-1 record at home thus far has included six games decided by six points or less, but the Montana game was EWU's first loss. Four of them were won by the Eagles in overtime, as EWU has already set a school record with six overtime periods thus far. Until beating the Bobcats with the team's best shooting performance of the season at 60.4 percent, Eastern hadn't played at home since knocking off Morehead State 88-86 in overtime on Dec. 13.
* As a result of their success thus far, the Eagles are the top team in the Big Sky Conference with an RPI of 87 entering the UM game (EWU was a season high 57th on 12/13 in the official NCAA RPI ratings). The next-best Big Sky teams are Portland State (#183), Weber State (#191) and Montana (#199). Entering league play, Eastern joined Portland State at 7-4 as the only other league team above the .500 mark. Plus, the Eagles received 10 votes in the Mid-Major top 25 on Dec. 12 when the Eagles were 7-2.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Coming Down to the Wire in Second Half: "They had a great start in the second half, but we got re-grouped and took the lead back. We made our run, but they answered it, and with a minute to go it was a one-point game. We thought we played some really good defense and forced a travel, but it wasn't and was a foul on us. They made two free throws and we executed and got the look we wanted from our best player, but it didn't go down. We had to foul and they made pressure free throws. Felix then got a great look at a 3-pointer and it didn't good down, and they made pressure free throws again."
On Pivotal Foul Call With 52 Seconds Left: "It was really tough. We called timeout and got our defense set. If we make that stop up one, we get the ball and maybe can make it a two-possession game. As tough as that call was, we had to come back and make a basket and we didn't. Even then, we had to foul and couldn't let them take the shot clock down to two seconds left in the game. We executed and got a great look on our next possession – Felix is shooting the ball over 40 percent and we got a wide-open look from three from our best shooter on the court. We did all those things right, but they made the clutch free throws and that was the difference."
On Needing to Take Advantage More on the Inside: "We needed to get the ball in there to Jake more. Credit their defense, he needs to be able to draw more fouls inside. There were a lot guys down there around him."
On Offense: "We committed some offensive fouls when we were trying to get to the line and get into the bonus. We got to the line only eight times. We were running the offense we wanted to run. We can shoot better – Bogdan and Felix can shoot better than that from three. Jake is shooting over 60 percent and today he was at 30 percent. At the end of the day, credit Montana's defense – we have to make more baskets."

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