Eagles move into second-place tie after beating Weber State 82-7 - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles move into second-place tie after beating Weber State 82-72

Courtesy: EWU Athletics Courtesy: EWU Athletics

By EWU Athletics

This time, a second chance at second resulted in a great triumph for the program.
 
Using runs of 7-2 and 8-1 in the second half, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team knocked off defending Big Sky Conference champion and league favorite Weber State 82-72 Thursday (Feb. 23) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
 
Eastern was picked to finish just fifth by the media and seventh by the coaches in preseason polls, but knocked off the favorites in both to forge a second-place tie in the league standings with the Wildcats at 11-4. Eastern lost Feb. 9 at North Dakota – now the league leader at 12-3 -- with a chance at second on the line, but this time was able to prevail.
 
Eastern has now won three of the last five games against an opponent EWU was 19-45 against prior to that. Just three games remain in the regular season for the Eagles prior to the 11-team conference tournament.
 
"It's a great team win and a great victory for our program," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "I'm just really happy for a lot of people who are a part of the program and are very happy right now."
 
Four Eagles combined for 74 points in the win, led by the 25 of junior Bogdan Bliznyuk. Junior Sir Washington scored 10 of his 16 points after halftime, and senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley had 14 of his 20 after intermission. Sophomore Ty Gibson came off the bench to score 13 points, including four free throws in the final 1:20 to help clinch the win.
 
Eastern closes its regular season home schedule by hosting Idaho State for Senior Day on Saturday (Feb. 25) at 1:05 p.m. Felix Von Hofe, Eastern's all-time winningest NCAA Division I player with 78 victories in four seasons, will be among the three players to be honored in ceremonies that begin at approximately 12:45 p.m. The others are senior graduate transfer and Big Sky Most Valuable Player candidate Jacob Wiley and Julian Harrell, who played just two games this season because of a shoulder injury requiring surgery.
 
With 19 victories – it's third-straight season under Hayford to win at least 18 – this year's Eastern team is just one of five in the school's 34-year NCAA Division I history to have that many. Now EWU sets its sights on the 20-win mark, something that has occurred just twice since 1983-84 in 1985-86 (20-8) and 2014-15 (26-9).
 
Eastern now has a 14-1 home record, and is just one Reese Court victory away from tying the single season record of 15 set by the 1985-86 team. It was also accomplished two other times in EWU's NAIA era.
 
 
 
Won-Lost Records . . .  
 
* The Eagles are now 19-9 in their 34th season as a member of NCAA Division I and 11-4 in the league as they continue their 30th season as a member of the Big Sky. Eastern, which has won eight of its last 10 games, and is now 14-1 at home and 5-8 on the road. Eastern's four league losses have been by a combined 19 points (6, 3, 1. 9).
* Now 16-10 overall and 11-4 in the Big Sky, the Wildcats won both the regular season and tournament titles a year ago, and were picked to repeat by both the coaches and media this season. Weber State lost 71-53 to Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and Eastern fell to 17th-ranked Xavier 85-56 on Dec. 20 of this season.
 
 
What It Means . . .
 
 * In a battle for second place in the league standings, the Eagles handed a second-straight loss on Weber State, which fell out of first place last week with a 77-68 home loss to North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks sit atop the league standings at 12-3. Eastern's 77-67 win over Idaho last week helped the Eagles maintain sole possession of third.
 
 
What's Next . . .
 
* There are still three games left to play for the Eagles in the league season, but they seem poised for a first-round bye. Eastern plays its final home game 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). Eastern's final three opponents are just a collective 10-31 in the league entering action this week. The top five teams secure first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament March 7-11 to Reno, Nevada.
 
 
Keys to Game . . .
 
* After opening the game 3-of-15 from the field, the Eagles got hot late in the first half and continued it the rest of the game. Eastern made 26 of its last 43 shots, finishing the game at exactly 50 percent (29-of-58). Eastern's defense, meanwhile, was solid throughout in holding Weber State to 40 percent from the field (22-of-54).
 
 
Top Performers . . .
 
* Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk sank 10-of-20 shots from the field in finishing with 25 points, and also had seven rebounds.
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley had his eighth double-double of the season, finishing with 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting and 13 rebounds. He also had two blocked shots.
* Junior Sir Washington scored 16 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. He also had five rebounds and five assists before fouling out with 3:09 to play. In his previous game he scored 17 points versus Idaho, the second-best performance in his career only behind the 21 he scored earlier this season versus San Francisco. Coupled with a 14-point effort at North Dakota on Feb. 9, he has scored in double figures in three of EWU's last four games after having just four in the first 24 outings for the Eagles.
* Sophomore Ty Gibson made his third-straight start and made 3-of-4 shots from 3-point range and 4-of-5 free throws to finish with 13 points. He also had five rebounds.
* Senior Felix Von Hofe finished with six points, making a pair of 3-pointers. He is now 10th in career 3-pointers in the Big Sky with a current total of 241, which is 19 from the school record of 260 set by his former Eastern teammate Tyler Harvey from 2013-15.
 
 
Turning Point . . .
 
* Leading by just two at halftime with a lead no larger than four points, Sir Washington hit the first five points at the free throw line in a 7-2 run that helped give EWU some breathing room. A basket by Jacob Wiley capped the run to give EWU a 45-37 lead with 14:47 left. Later, Washington hit three more charity shots to start an 8-1 run that was capped by a 3-pointer by Felix Von Hofe that gave EWU a 69-55 lead with 6:22 to play.
 
 
Key Stats . . .
* Weber State's Jeremy Senglin entered the game averaging 20.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, but finished with just 14 on 3-of-10 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from the 3-point line. He recently set the Big Sky Conference record for 3-pointers made in a career with a current total of 317, and entered the game leading NCAA Division I with an average of 4.08 per game this season. Eastern's Felix Von Hofe, who will join fellow seniors Jacob Wiley and Julian Harrell (injured) in being honored in pre-game ceremonies on Saturday, is 10th on that same Big Sky all-time list with 241 3-pointers made.
 
 
Team Highlights . . .
* Gritty defense was the name of the game in the first half, as Eastern held Weber State without a field goal for a 5:54 stretch. Eastern led at halftime 32-30 in a half that began with the two teams combining for 10-of-37 shooting in the opening 13 minutes. But in the final seven minutes, they were 13-of-21. There was only one lead change, but seven ties, as the largest lead for either team was EWU's six four-point leads. Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 11 to lead the Eagles, with Ty Gibson hitting nine with a trio of 3-pointers.
 
 
Notables . . .
 
* Until Thursday, the last seven meetings between the Eagles and Wildcats had all been decided by eight points or less, including an eight-point game going to overtime. The average margin for the winning team was 5.4 points, with the last two meetings decided by two and three tallies.
 
* Eastern is now 23-47 all-time against Weber State, including a 16-17 home record after last season's 79-77 loss. Eastern is just 5-30 all-time at Weber State, but won there 79-71 in the 2014-15 season to end the regular season. Earlier in '14-15, Eastern opened league play with an 84-78 home win over the Wildcats to snap a seven-game losing streak against WSU. Eastern had also lost the last five meetings at Reese Court, having not defeated the Wildcats at home since a 77-69 victory on Jan. 11, 2009.
 
 
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
 
On Victory: "What a solid win – we shot 50 percent from the field and held Weber to 40 percent. We out-rebounded them, made 50 percent from three and 80 percent of our free throws. Turnovers were even. It was just a solid, solid team win."
 
On Beating Wildcats: "The measuring stick as we were building our program was Weber State. Randy Rahe is a great coach and has a great program there. To be in a tie with them with three games to go – second in the league a half-game behind North Dakota – I'm just really proud of a lot of people. I know in the last three years, once we got this program where we have it right now, we've won three of the last five against them. It didn't seem possible early."
 
On Focus: "Our focus is the same – we have to keep getting better. It's not a cliché and our players truly believe in that. We keep playing better basketball. We played really good against Idaho six days ago, then we came out and played even better today."
 
On Idaho State: "Idaho State presents a very tough zone. We'll see what we have to do better in attacking that zone. They have a really dynamic, quick backcourt, so we have to get better against that. We have to determine what part of our offense we'll want to execute that is our strength compared to their weakness."
 
On Effort, Concentration and Determination: "There are three things we are preaching – the first one is effort and they bring great effort. The next one is concentration and the last one is determination. It doesn't matter who we are playing next – top or bottom of the standings – our team wants to get better and they are going to bring that effort, that concentration and that dedication. That's why they keep getting better."
 
On Sir Washington and Ty Gibson: "They represent that no matter where we come from, this team truly is a family. You can see it when they play – they are so unified. I'm really proud of both of them."
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