Eastern edges out Idaho in a 3rd place showdown, 77-67 - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eastern edges out Idaho in a 3rd place showdown, 77-67

Courtesy: EWU Athletics Courtesy: EWU Athletics

By EWU Athletics

It was a great balance of offense and defense, and usually when junior Bogdan Bliznyuk gets a double-double, the Eagles win.
Using runs of 14-0 and 11-0 to establish leads, Eastern Washington University out-shot Idaho 53-37 percent Friday (Feb. 17) to win 77-67 in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. A season-best crowd of 2,821 turned out for the league showdown for third place in the league standings and watch the Eagles improve to 12-1 at home.
Four Eagles scored in double figures, and the victory – EWU's 18th overall to equal last year's win total -- gives Eastern sole possession of third at 10-4 with four games left to play. The win completed a season sweep of UI, and EWU has now defeated the Vandals in five of the six league games played since Idaho re-joined the Big Sky in the 2014-15 season.
Bliznyuk finished with a game-high 25 points to go along with 13 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season and 14th of his career. Eastern has now won nine-straight games when he's had a double-double, and a record of 12-2 when he achieves that feat.
Although Eastern leading scorer Jacob Wiley was held to just seven shots from the field and nine points, the Eagles sank eight 3-pointers. Sir Washington made three to finish with 17 points, and Felix Von Hofe and Ty Gibson each had a pair to finish with 10 points apiece.
"Our point-forward gets a double-double and handled their pressure really well," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, whose team also out-rebounded Idaho 37-32. "Different players stepped up – Sir had some really good minutes in the second half where he made some winning plays. We had some foul trouble in the first half, and Jesse Hunt gave us some solid minutes off the bench. We shot 53 percent from the field and 47 percent from three, so we executed our offense well. We out-rebounded a good rebounding team, and we came away with a hard-earned 10-point win."
Friday's showdown was the lone game of the week for both schools prior to taking on league-leading Weber State and Idaho State at home next week. Just two weekends of action remain in the regular season league race prior to the 11-team conference tournament.
Eastern and Idaho meet for the eighth time since the Vandals re-joined the league in the 2014-15 season. Eastern has won six of those previous eight meetings, including a 1-1 record in the league tourney.
Won-Lost Records . . .  
* The Eagles are now 18-9 in their 34th season as a member of NCAA Division I and 10-4 in the league as they continue their 30th season as a member of the Big Sky. Eastern, which has won seven of its last nine games, is now 13-1 at home and 5-8 on the road. Eastern's four league losses have been by a combined 19 points (6, 3, 1. 9).
* After a 1-3 start to begin the conference season – including a 69-62 home loss to the Eagles – Idaho had won seven of eight until falling at North Dakota on Feb. 11. Idaho is at 8-6 in the conference and 13-12 overall.
* The Vandals and Eagles have had nearly identical league seasons to date. In fact, the lone setbacks since Jan. 14 for both Eastern and Idaho were at Montana State and North Dakota, and EWU and UI also lost at home to Weber State and Montana. Thus, the only difference in their records was EWU's two victories over Idaho, including a win in Moscow thanks to a defense that had 10 blocked shots and held UI to 31 percent shooting, plus a combined 45 points by Jacob Wiley and Felix Von Hofe.
What It Means . . .
* Both the Eagles and Vandals will be among the favorites to win the Big Sky Conference Tournament title, with the top five teams securing first-round byes March 7-11 in Reno, Nevada. In the current standings, league-leading Weber State (11-2) hosts second-place North Dakota (11-3) on Saturday in a showdown for first place, while EWU (10-4) and Idaho (8-6) remain within striking distance. Montana and Montana State are next (8-6), with Sacramento State (7-6) close behind. After playing at Weber State on Feb. 23, Eastern's final three games are against teams who are a collective 9-30 league record.
What's Next . . .
* There are still four games left to play for the Eagles in the league season, but they seem poised for a first-round bye. Eastern plays its final two home games at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., on Feb. 23 (Weber State) and Feb. 25 (Idaho State), then closes out the regular season at Southern Utah (March 2) and Northern Arizona (March 4).
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles were consistent from the field, missing no more than five-straight shots, while UI had stretches of nine and seven without a make. Those Vandal droughts included stretches of 6:27 in the first half and 4:44 in the second half without scoring. Eastern and Idaho entered the game with the best defensive field goal percentages in the league after 13 conference games, with Idaho at .416 and Eastern right behind at .428. While EWU had two of the Big Sky's top eight scorers in Wiley (20.4, fifth) and Bogdan Bliznyuk (18.8, eighth), the Vandals feature Victor Sanders (21.1, third). In league games only, Wiley led at 27.2 with Sanders right behind at 24.4. Wiley finished with just nine, while Bliznyuk had a game-high 25 and Sanders finished with 24.
Top Performers . . .
* Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 8-of-11 from the line. He also had 13 rebounds and four assists. He entered the game ranked 68th nationally in scoring (18.8).
* Junior Sir Washington came off the bench to score 17 points, the second-best performance in his career only behind the 21 he scored earlier this season versus San Francisco. He made 4-of-7 shots from the field and 6-of-8 free throws.
* Senior Felix Von Hofe finished with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field, 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 239, which is 21 from the school record of 260 set by his former Eastern teammate Tyler Harvey from 2013-15.
* Sophomore Ty Gibson made just his fourth career start and second this season, and had 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting. He was coming off a career-high 21 points in EWU's win at Northern Colorado. Gibson entered the Idaho game with the second-best three-point field goal percentage in the Big Sky at 54.8 percent, and made 2-of-4 versus the Vandals.
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley was held to nine points, his lowest total since Nov. 27 when he had six versus San Francisco. He made 3-of-7 shots from the field and 3-of-4 from the line, and it was just the third time in 27 games this season he hasn't scored in double figures. He entered the game ranked sixth nationally in field goal percentage (.644), 10th in NCAA Division I in blocked shots (2.8), 29th in scoring (20.4), 66th in rebounding (8.6) and 120th in free throw percentage (.824). In league only statistics, he entered leading the Big Sky in scoring (27.2), and blocked shots (2.4), and is second in rebounding (9.6) and field goal percentage (.675).
Turning Point . . .
* The Vandals trailed by only one early in the second half before Eastern put together its second impressive defensive stretch of the game, holding Idaho without a point for 4:44 and on 0-of-7 shooting. The resulting 11-0 run gave the Eagles a 51-39 lead with 12:04 to play. Felix Von Hofe scored five of EWU's points, with Sir Washington contributing a 3-pointer.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern out-rebounded Idaho 37-32 to continue a recent trend and giving EWU a 10-2 record when they out-rebound opponents. Eastern has advantages in nine of the last 12 games, but in its first 15 games, Eastern had a rebounding advantage just three times. Eastern's defense has also produced a 11-2 record when opponents make 44.9 percent of its shots or less, and 9-3 when scoring 72 or fewer. Eastern is also now 15-2 record when scoring 73 or more points and 11-2 when they make at least 50 percent and 13-3 when making 45.0 percent or better.
Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern held Idaho to 37 percent shooting in the first half, including a 14-0 run during which Idaho went 6:27 without scoring and missed nine-straight field goal attempts. Jacob Wiley didn't attempt a shot in the first 8 1/2 minutes, but made his only two field goal attempts of the half during the run. Ty Gibson scored eight points in the first 20 minutes, and Bogdan Bliznyuk also had eight. The Eagles led at halftime 32-29 and made 64 percent of their shots, but eight first half turnovers kept the score close as Idaho scored 16 points off those miscues.
Notables . . .
* The Eastern basketball program under head coach Jim Hayford has hit for the third-straight year a milestone which was accomplished just three times in EWU's first 31 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I. Now 18-9 overall and 10-4 in the Big Sky, Eastern hit the 18-win mark like it did last season (18-16) and in 2014-15 when the Eagles were 26-9 for EWU's best record in what is now a 34-year history as a D1 member. Previously, Eastern only hit the 18-victory mark three times – 1985-86, 1989-90 and 2002-03. Eastern has been in the Big Sky Conference for 30 seasons now, with a high of 14 league wins in 2014-15. Only once has EWU exceeded 11 league wins, that coming in 1999-00 when EWU had 12 to share the regular season league title with Montana.
 * In the seven meetings since Idaho re-joined the Big Sky Conference in the 2014-15 season, EWU is 6-2. Included was a 69-62 Eagle win earlier this season in Moscow and last year's 77-73 loss at the Vandals in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Championships in Reno, Nevada. Eastern also lost 66-62 at Idaho on Feb. 27, 2016, but defeated Idaho at home earlier in the year by a 74-60 score. Since 1996 when Idaho left the Big Sky Conference, the two schools have now played 22 times, with Eastern winning 14 of them. Idaho leads the all-time series 54-29. Since EWU became a NCAA Division I member in the 1983-84 season, EWU is 17-33 against Idaho (9-14 home, 7-15 away, 1-4 neutral).
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Beating Vandals: "It's great to beat Idaho – they are a very good team. That was an earned victory and you have to go beat them because they are very well-coached. We have tremendous respect for the job they do with offensive rebounding, and Victor Sanders is obviously a very special player. We out-teamed them though. It was a very, very physical game which was well-officiated as well. We had some veteran officials out there and it made the game flow really well. We want to give a big thank you to the great crowd who came out. We know there were a lot of Idaho fans too. And it was really neat to see Beau and his family on the court. It was a meaningful time he had here – having a coach who led his school to a national championship is big-time stuff. He's going to be in the Eastern Hall of Fame some day. His family is in the community and his daughters go to school in Cheney, so for him to be able to say goodbye was a really neat moment. It was a special night and another great night to be an Eagle."
On Winning With Wiley Taking Only Seven Shots: "Jake still helped us – we had three guys who were over 50 percent from the 3-point line because of all the attention he was getting. Felix, Sir and Ty had some really good looks. We just have a team where everybody is moving in the right direction. That's why we've equaled last year's win total."
On Bliznyuk: "Bogdan is an amazing young man – he's a great student, a great member of his family and a great teammate. He was very honored when we made him a team captain this year, and he's taken that extremely serious. He leads by example and is one of our hardest workers. What he says is really meaningful, and all of his teammates have a genuine love and appreciation for him. He has multiple skills – he can shoot it better than he has this year but he has a great drive game and post-up game. He's kind of a bully. Idaho is a really physical team, for him to come up with 13 rebounds shows he has some strength."
On Home Stretch: "Everybody in the league gets three home games in a row where you are not traveling and you get to practice at home. We started it the way we wanted, and now we get Weber State. We are now 2-0 against Idaho so that tiebreaker is all ours and we are pushing them down a couple of games behind us. Let's defend our home court and see where we are heading into that last weekend. Our goal going into the season was to get 20 wins, and that's happened only twice in all of Eastern's Division I history. That's a lofty goal and we're closing in on it. Hopefully we can turn that goal into winning a Big Sky championship."

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