EWU gets by Montana on the road 72-60 - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

EWU gets by Montana on the road 72-60

EWU Athletics

Success has been plentiful recently in Missoula for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk had a double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds, and a pair of true freshmen chipped in 23 points to lead Eastern to a 72-60 victory over Montana Thursday (Jan. 26) in a Big Sky Conference game at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.
The victory was Eastern's third in the last four meetings against the Griz in Missoula. Overall, including EWU's three-game sweep there to capture the 2015 Big Sky Conference Tournament title, EWU has won five of its last six games at Dahlberg.
"It was a fantastic win," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "We try so hard to win in Missoula, and I know in Eagle Nation whenever we beat the Griz it means a little more. We had some Eagle fans here behind the bench representing all of them. It was just fun having people make the drive over and send them home with a win. It was a great night to be an Eagle."
Bliznyuk made 11-of-16 shots from the field to finish with his highest-scoring game since netting 34 against Morehead State on Dec. 13. True freshman Mason Peatling had a career-high 13 points, and fellow first-year player Luka Vulikic had 10. Reigning two-time Big Sky Conference Player of the Week Jacob Wiley was the fourth Eagle in double figures with 10.
"They did a good job early in not allowing Jake Wiley to beat them," said Hayford. "Mason hit those early 3-pointers and Bogdan was playing at a really high level. Bogdan took care of it down the stretch and made sure nothing crazy was going to happen. That's how you leave Missoula with a 12-point win."
Eastern improved to 6-2 to stay within striking distance of Big Sky leaders Weber State (6-1) and North Dakota (7-2). The Eagles are now 3-1 both at home and on the road in the league.
Thanks to a 15-point performance in the first half by Bliznyuk and a half-ending 9-4 run, Eastern took the lead for good and led by as many as 16 in the second half. Eastern had a 15-6 advantage in points off turnovers in the game and made 50 percent of its shots, and closed out the win by making nine free throws and four field goals in the final 6:44.
The game was one of two early rematches against both Montana and Montana State within a month of each other. Eastern beat the Bobcats 82-64 in Cheney on Jan. 5, then two days later suffered its first and only loss at Reese Court by a 65-59 score versus the Grizzlies. The Eagles play at MSU on Saturday (Jan. 28).
Montana, which has its first three-game conference losing streak in 13 years, played the game without its two leading scorers.
Won-Lost Records . . .  
* The Eagles are now 14-7 in their 34th season as a member of NCAA Division I and 6-2 in the league as they continue their 30th season as a member of the Big Sky.  Eastern is now 10-1 at home and 4-6 on the road.
* Montana is 5-4 in the conference and 10-12 overall, and has its first three-game conference losing streak in 13 years. Montana was coming off a pair of road losses last weekend, falling 88-79 at Portland State and then losing 92-83 at Sacramento State. The Grizzlies played the EWU game without their top two scorers – Ahmaad Rorie (17.6 points per game) and Walter Wright (11.0).
What It Means . . .
* When the dust cleared on Thursday, a half-game game separates 6-2 Eastern from first-place Weber State (6-1) and second-place North Dakota (7-2). The Eagles were able to distance themselves from Montana (5-4), with Portland State (4-3), Montana State (5-4) and Idaho (4-4) close behind. The top five teams secure first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament March 7-11 to Reno, Nevada. There are still 12 games left to play for the Eagles in the league season as the NAU game marked the one-third point in the season for the Eagles.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern plays another rematch on Saturday (Jan. 28), taking on Montana State in Bozeman. Eastern beat the Bobcats 82-64 in Cheney on Jan. 5, then two days later suffered its first and only loss at Reese Court by a 65-59 score versus the Grizzlies. The Bobcats swept Sac State (74-65) and Portland State (71-65) last week, then the Bobcats edged Idaho 94-91 in double-overtime on Thursday. For the season, MSU is 10-12 overall and 5-4 in the conference with a four-game winning streak.
* Following this week's games, Eastern returns home to Reese Court to host Sacramento State on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time, then host Portland State on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 1:05 p.m. in a game televised by SWX.
Keys to Game . . .
* With Jacob Wiley in foul trouble and Felix Von Hofe struggling from the field, Bogdan Bliznyuk was Eastern's go-to player. He went into the game making just 36 percent from the field, 19 percent from the 3-point stripe and 64 percent from the free throw line in league play. He was just 9-of-23 the first time EWU played Montana. But he was virtually unstoppable this time, making 11-of-16 from the field.
Top Performers . . . 
* Nearly getting the fifth 30-point game of his career (all this season), junior Bogdan Bliznyuk led the way with 28 points for the Eagles. He had his 11th 20-point performance of the season and 18th of his career, making 11-of-16 shots from the field with a pair of 3-pointers. It was his third double-double of the season and 12th in his career – his first since EWU's game against Seattle on Dec. 4. He also made 4-of-5 free throws and added 10 rebounds and three assists. He entered the game ranked 81st nationally in scoring (18.2).
* True freshman Mason Peatling hit a trio of 3-point shots in the first half, then added four points in the second half to finish with 13. He finished 5-of-7 from the floor and added three rebounds in 26 minutes before fouling out. It was the fourth double figure scoring performance of his young career as he eclipsed his previous career high of 12 set on Jan. 12 at Idaho State.
* True freshman Luka Vulikic made 5-of-7  shots to finish with 10 points, just two from his career high of 12 set on two occasions this season. He also had six rebounds and a pair of steals.
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley scored 10 points, but played just 25 minutes before fouling out with 5:44 to play. The former Grizzly made 3-of-5 shots from the field and all four of his free throws, and had four rebounds and a pair of stealsHe entered the game ranked sixth in NCAA Division I in blocked shots (3.0), 11th nationally in field goal percentage (.629) and 55th in free throw percentage (.859).
* Senior Felix Von Hofe was scoreless, missing all seven shots he attempted, including all five of his 3-point attempts. He entered the game ranked 27th in NCAA Division I with an average of 3.10 3-pointers per game. He remains 14th in career 3-pointers in the Big Sky with a current total of 228, which is 32 from the school record of 260 set by his former Eastern teammate Tyler Harvey from 2013-15.
Turning Point . . .
* Montana scored the first five points of the second half, but Eastern responded with a 6-0 run on baskets by Luka Vulikic and Bogdan Bliznyuk, plus two free throws by Jacob Wiley, to take its biggest lead of the night at nine. Later, a 3-pointer by Bliznyuk gave EWU a 52-40 lead with 10:55 to play.
Key Stats . . .
* The Eagles out-rebounded the Griz 36-27 for only Eastern's sixth rebounding advantage of the season in 21 games. The Eagles are now 6-0 in those games. Eastern had a commanding 20-9 advantage in the second half, and out-rebounded the Griz 30-13 after Montana took an early 14-6 advantage on the boards.
* Eastern held Montana to 60 points, 43 percent from the field and 29 percent from the 3-point stripe (4-of-14) to continue EWU's impressive performances during league play. After seven conference games, Eastern had the Big Sky's best scoring defense (68.0) and the best defensive 3-point shooting percentage (.331). Eastern is also second defensively in shooting percentage overall (.404, with Idaho leading at .401) while leading the league in scoring margin (+8.6) and field goal percentage (.506). The defense for the Eagles includes the top six performances this season versus NCAA Division I foes of 62, 64, 65, 62, 68 and 60 points allowed in games versus Idaho, MSU, Montana, Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Montana, respectively.
Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern closed the first half strong, using runs of 7-0 and 9-4 in the final five minutes to take a 35-27 halftime edge. Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 15 points in the first half, which featured six ties and five lead changes. The Grizzlies led by as many as six, then EWU took an eight-point lead at halftime. Montana made only 38 percent from the field in the first half, including just 1-of-5 3-pointers, and went the final three minutes without a field goal.
Notables . . .
* Eastern is now 21-50 against the Grizzlies since 1983-84, including a 10-27 record in Missoula, 11-21 in Cheney and 0-2 on neutral courts versus the Grizzlies, who lead the overall series 67-42. Until winning 75-69 on Feb. 4, 2015, the Eagles had lost their last 12 meetings in Missoula, dating back to a 71-52 Eagle win on Feb. 7, 2004. The Grizzlies returned the favor by handing Eastern a 77-76 home loss on Feb. 28, 2015. The Eagles would also beat the Grizzlies on their home floor in the 2015 Big Sky Conference Championship game, giving the Eagles a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Eastern has lost 21 of the last 29 meetings, including all three meetings in the 2011-12 season and two more in 2012-13.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Performance Versus Griz: "The second half we just owned the boards with a plus 11. We answered their runs, we put together stops and we executed well. We were able to do what we wanted to do to dictate the game, which is hard to do on the road. They were shorthanded without two players. But we had great preparation all week with what they were going to do. And we're a really good free throw shooting team, and we got to the line like we felt we should be able to."
On Contributions of Freshmen: "They were really important with our foul trouble early, and Luka gave us big minutes. Mason making those three threes when they were taking away Jake were really big. I'll take those nine points over a 4-for-4 by Jake inside. Give Mason credit for making those. It says something about those two players for coming into a setting like this and scoring 23 points. They didn't flinch – this was just basketball to them."
On Defense: "We're really buying into that identity and I'm really proud of our guys."
On Montana State and Montana: "In all honestly, Montana State is playing better than Montana right now. Montana will get it back together and their ship will be righted. We may have to play Montana again in Reno. Montana State right now is playing really, really well. They've figured some things out and have improved defensively. They look like a different team watching their January video than their December video. They are getting players to buy-in and of course they are going to play better at home. They have a player who is really hard to guard. We have to figure how to dictate the game and play to our strength and use our size and guard well."

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