In Fight for Second Place, Eastern Falls to Fighting Hawks - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

In Fight for Second Place, Eastern Falls to Fighting Hawks

North Dakota pulled out a 95-86 victory in a battle for second place in the league standings. North Dakota pulled out a 95-86 victory in a battle for second place in the league standings.

by EWU Athletics

If Thursday's (Feb. 9) Big Sky Conference men's basketball game in Grand Forks, N.D., was a television show, it would have been named "Survivor."
Eastern Washington University battled back from a 17-point deficit to take a second-half lead, but North Dakota pulled out a 95-86 victory in a battle for second place in the league standings in a game that featured 52 fouls and 10 players with at least four fouls.
Down by as many as 17 in the first half, Eastern took a 56-55 lead with 15:05 to play. After UND regained control, one more Eagle run helped them pull within four with inside of a minute left before the Fighting Hawks closed out the win six free throws in the final 33 seconds.
Eastern's dynamic duo of senior Jacob Wiley
and junior Bogdan Bliznyuk
combined for 51 points, with 33 and 18 respectively. Wiley also had 10 rebounds, and junior Sir Washington was the third Eagle in double figures with 14. But first-half pressure by the Fighting Hawks resulted in transition baskets and a big early lead, with Quinton Hooker pacing four UND players in double figures with 35 points.
"I liked our effort but I didn't like our execution," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team lost for only the second time in their last seven games. "We got down by 17 and came back to take the lead, but we shouldn't have ever been down by 17 early. We had a defensive game plan in place, but, obviously, teams are saying that Eastern is big and their only chance is to get in a track meet with us. They are coming right at us."
Wiley now has six 30-point performances this season and 12 with at least 21, and he has had at least 27 points in seven of his last nine games. Last week's NCAA Division I Player of the Week has had at least 21 in 10 of EWU's 12 league outings. For the season, he has scored in double figures in all but two of EWU's 25 games and has seven double-doubles.
The Eagles were coming off their epic 130-124 triple-overtime victory over Portland State last Saturday (Feb. 4) at Reese Court in which EWU's Wiley and Bliznyuk both scored a school-record 45 points.
Won-Lost Records . . .  
* The Eagles are now 16-9 in their 34th season as a member of NCAA Division I and 8-4 in the league as they continue their 30th season as a member of the Big Sky. Eastern, which had entered the game with five wins in its last six games, is now 12-1 at home and 4-8 on the road. Eastern's three league losses prior to the UND loss were by a combined 10 points (6, 3, 1).
* North Dakota improved to 9-3 in the league and 14-8 overall after Thursday's battle for sole possession of second place in the league standings. Weber State entered the night with a league-leading 9-1 record. The Fighting Hawks have won five of their last six games.
What It Means . . .
* The game was the only meeting between the two teams in the 2016-17 season, which means North Dakota would have a tiebreaker advantage in the event of a head-to-head tie. Eastern has lost all five of its all-time meetings with UND in Grand Forks. Now, the Eagles hope to salvage a road split in Greeley where they are 3-7 all-time. Eastern was swept on this road trip a year ago -- losing 79-71 to UND and 96-90 to UNC – but rebounded for home victories over both teams, 95-85 and 97-80, respectively. The top five teams secure first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament March 7-11 to Reno, Nevada. There are still six games left to play for the Eagles in the league season.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern continues its 3,000-mile road trip by playing in Greeley, Colo., on Saturday (Feb. 11) in a game that begins at 1 p.m. Pacific time. The will be televised in the local market of UNC on CET-Colorado. Northern Colorado is currently 4-8 in the conference standings and 8-15 overall following its 88-76 home loss Thursday versus Idaho. A 1,000-mile trip home follows for EWU, and the Eagles will play their final three home games at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 17 (Idaho), Feb. 23 (Weber State) and Feb. 25 (Idaho State). Eastern closes out the regular season at Southern Utah (March 2) and Northern Arizona (March 4).
Keys to Game . . .
There were 52 fouls called in the game as both teams had numerous players in foul trouble. Eastern had two players foul out and a trio finish with four, and UND had one disqualified and four players with four. Eastern also had two technical fouls called on its bench, resulting in the first ejection of head coach Jim Hayford in his 526-game collegiate head coaching career with 6:26 to play. "We'll look at the tape, the refs will go to the tape and our bosses will go to the tape, and we'll all learn from it," said Hayford.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley sank 11-of-17 shots from the field and 11-of-15 free throws to finish with 33 points. He also had 10 rebounds, and his seven double figure rebounding performances this season include a season-high 17 versus Portland State on Feb. 4 (eighth-most in school history) and 14 against Montana on Jan. 7. He entered the game ranked sixth nationally in field goal percentage (.649), 11th in NCAA Division I in blocked shots (2.79), 42nd in scoring (19.8), 70th in rebounding (8.6) and 106th in free throw percentage (.831). In league only statistics, he entered leading the league in scoring (27.2), rebounds (9.7), field goal percentage (.688) and blocked shots (2.4).
* Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 18 despite playing just 26 minutes because of foul trouble. He made 9-of-14 shots and had five rebounds. He entered the game ranked 60th nationally in scoring (19.2).
* Senior Felix Von Hofe finished with six points, making a pair of 3-pointers. He entered the game ranked 47th in NCAA Division I with an average of 2.88 3-pointers per game. He remained 13th in career 3-pointers in the Big Sky with a current total of 237, which is 23 from the school record of 260 set by his former Eastern teammate Tyler Harvey from 2013-15.
* Junior Sir Washington came off the bench to finish with 14 points, making a pair of 3-pointers and adding three assists.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern took a 56-55 lead with 15:05 to play on a dunk by Jacob Wiley on an assist by Sir Washington. But the Fighting Hawks scored the next six points and led by no less than four the rest of the way. However, a late run helped Eastern pull within four with 48 seconds to play, but UND made 6-of-6 free throws in the final 33 seconds to close out the win.
Key Stats . . .
* While both teams shot the ball well – 50 percent for Eastern and 53 percent for UND – free throw shooting showed a decisive advantage for the home team. Eastern sank 17-of-22 for 77.3 percent after entering the game making 75.1 percent to lead the league and rank 37th in NCAA Division I. The Fighting Hawks, a 70.0 percent shooting team, made 28-of-35 for 82.4 percent from the charity stripe.

* The Eagles made exactly 50 percent of their shots – the sixth time in their last seven games they've hit that mark – but the game's choppiness and UND's transition game were too much to overcome. Eastern entered the game ranked 46th nationally in shooting at 47.5 percent, including a league-leading 51.1 percent in Big Sky games only.
Team Highlights . . .

* Both teams had significant runs in the first half, but North Dakota's was just a little bit better as the Fighting Hawks took a 53-45 halftime lead. North Dakota used pressure and a trio of 3-pointers to go on a 15-0 run that helped them open a 34-17 lead. Eastern, however, used a 12-2 run to cut the lead to as few as three late in the half.
Notables . . .

* Thursday's loss was only the second time this season EWU has lost when scoring at least 73 points or making at least half its shots. Eastern is now 13-2 when scoring 73 or more points and 10-2 when they make at least 50 percent.

* Recently, the Eagles have been impressive rebounding the basketball, and out-rebounded UND 35-27. Despite falling to 8-2 when they out-rebound opponents, the Eagles have had advantages in seven of the last 10 games. In its first 15 games, Eastern had a rebounding advantage just three times.
More Comments from Head Coach
Jim Hayford
. . .
On Playing Well Enough Offensively to Win: "Our offensive numbers tonight against a really good North Dakota team were good enough to win on the road. But if you're not getting back and stopping them, the other team is going to have a really high shooting percentage. When we do get back and stop them, we do pretty well because we are long, are a good rebounding team and we stick to our scouting report. But that first part was all about hustle and we knew it was coming at us, we needed to get back. We didn't do it when we were at our freshest, we did it when we were inspired in the second half. Credit North Dakota, they got their transition game going and that was the difference tonight."
On Wiley and Bliznyuk Combining for 31 of 62 Shots: "It's the plan every night. And our shooting was 50 percent from the 3-point line, and we're choosy from there. That's our plan every night. For that to happen, we need to come at teams and see what they can do about it. We need a little slower game and we have to figure it out. Northern Colorado is going to come at us fast."

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