Eagles win at S. Utah, now tied atop Big Sky - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles win at S. Utah, now tied atop Big Sky

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

EWU Athletics

The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team will be playing for at least a share of the Big Sky Conference regular season championship in two days.
Eastern used runs of 11-0 and 7-0 in the second half to pull away from Southern Utah for a 91-75 victory Thursday (March 2) in an important league game for EWU's title hopes. But the even better news came from Grand Forks, N.D., where league-leading North Dakota was upset by Sacramento State 57-53.
As a result, the Eagles and Fighting Hawks sit atop the Big Sky standings at 13-4 apiece. Although UND has the tiebreaker advantage in the event of a tie, the championship will come down to EWU's game at Northern Arizona on Saturday afternoon (March 4) and UND hosts Portland State later that night. Interestingly, Eastern's football team tied UND for the league title when both schools finished 8-0.
"This team is doing great and they're still hungry," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford
"They are always focused on the next game and what they can do to be better. They genuinely love one another. It's what makes coaching really fun when you get years like this. It's just been fun, and there is a lot more to come. It's a great night to be an Eagle."
Senior Felix Von Hofe, Eastern's all-time winningest NCAA Division I player with 80 victories in four seasons, scored 20 points to become the 21st player in school history go over the 1,000-point mark in his career.  He had six 3-pointers, giving him 249 in his career to move up two positions to eighth in Big Sky history and just 11 from the school record. His scoring performance was his best since getting 22 in a league-opening win at Idaho.
He, Jacob Wiley and Bogdan Bliznyuk combined for 70 of EWU's 91 points. Wiley had a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds – his 10th double-double of the season – and Bliznyuk had 32 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Wiley and Bliznyuk combined for all of EWU's points in a 7-0 run to give EWU a comfortable 73-61 lead with 3:56 to play, about six minutes after EWU used an 11-0 run to take the lead for good.
Trailing 54-50 in the second half, EWU outscored the Thunderbirds 41-21 the rest of the way. Eastern made all 23 of its free throws in the second half and made 12 3-pointers, helping the Eagles to a 57 percent shooting night.
 "That's the closest 16-point road win I've ever been a part of," said Hayford. Our team played really well – we put the ball in Bogdan's hands down the stretch and he obviously delivered. We were 23-of-24 from the free throw line – we missed our first shot of the night and didn't miss again. We shot the ball very well against their 1-3-1 zone. Felix had a big night and that's what you expect from a senior coming down the home stretch of the season. Ty Gibson gave us some really good minutes defensively when Sir Washington was in foul trouble. Jake was big on the boards. It was just a great, solid team win."
Won-Lost Records . . .  
* The Eagles are now 21-9 in their 34th season as a member of NCAA Division I and 13-4 in the league as they continue their 30th season as a member of the Big Sky. Eastern, which has won 10 of its last 12 games, and is now 15-1 at home and 6-8 on the road. Eastern's four league losses have been by a combined 19 points (6, 3, 1. 9).
* The Thunderbirds are 3-14 and 5-25, and lost at EWU 83-68 on Jan. 21.
What It Means . . .
 * The win assured Eastern of at least a second-place finish in the league standings, and EWU can advance to the Big Sky Tournament as the No. 1 seed if EWU wins and North Dakota loses to Portland State on Saturday. Earlier this season in the lone meeting between the two schools, North Dakota defeated EWU 95-86, thus UND has the tiebreaker advantage if both teams tie. The 2017 Big Sky men's basketball championship will take place March 7 through 11 at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nev. With Northern Colorado not eligible for the league tournament, seeds 6-11 play in three games on Tuesday, March 7, with those winners advancing to the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 9. The semifinals and championship game follow the next two days.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern closes out the regular season at Northern Arizona (March 4) at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time in a game televised on FOX Sports Arizona (Dish 415, DirecTV 686) and FOX College Sports Pacific (FSA will replay on 3/6 at 4 p.m.). The Lumberjacks were edged 77-75 by Idaho on Thursday, and enter Saturday's game 5-12 in the league and 8-22 overall. Northern Arizona lost at EWU 84-62 on Jan. 19.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles had its 15th game this year of shooting at least 50 percent from the field, sinking 28-of-49 for 57 percent. But even more impressive was EWU's 3-point shooting. The Eagles sank 12-of-26 for 46 percent just one game after making only 6-of-27 (22 percent) against Idaho State. Eastern's 12 3-pointers as a team was its most since sinking 13 at Montana State on Jan. 28. Felix Von Hofe sank 6-of-11, his most since opening the league season with six at Idaho on Dec. 30.
Top Performers . . .
* Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk had the sixth performance of the season and of his career with at least 30 points, finishing with 32. He also had eight rebounds and six assists, making 8-of-11 shots from the field and 15-of-16 free throws. He missed his first free throw and made his last 15.
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley made 7-of-10 shots from the field and all four of his free throws to finish with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. It was his 10th double-double of the season.
* Senior Felix Von Hofe finished with 20 points, making six 3-pointers. He is now eighth in career 3-pointers in the Big Sky with a current total of 249, which is 11 from the school record of 260 set by his former Eastern teammate Tyler Harvey from 2013-15.
* Both Ty Gibson and Sir Washington added nine points and three assists, with Gibson adding a career-high six rebounds.
Turning Point . . .
* The Eagles trailed 54-50 with 13:50 to play in the second half, but the Eagles used an 11-0 run to take the lead for good. After tying it for the ninth time on the game at 54 on four free throws by Bogdan Bliznyuk, Jacob Wiley and Bliznyuk followed with field goals, then Felix Von Hofe capped the run with a 3-pointer to give EWU a 61-54 lead with 10:45 to play. Eastern held the Thunderbirds without a point for 3:25 and without a field goal for 4:49. Eastern followed with a 7-0 run on five points by Wiley and a three-point play by Bliznyuk which gave EWU a double-digit lead it held most of the rest of the way.
Key Stats . . .
* The Eagles continued its hot free throw shooting, making all 23 of its free throws in the second half to finish 23-of-24 (95.8 percent). The Eagles entered the game leading the Big Sky at 75.7 percent. Bogdan Bliznyuk made his last 15 free throws after missing the lone Eagle free throw attempt in the first half.
* The Eagles have compiled some impressive records in several areas this season, including a 17-2 record when scoring 73 or more points, 13-2 when they make at least 50 percent and 15-3 when making 45.0 percent or better. Eastern ranks first in league games only in field goal percentage (.508) and scoring margin (+8.2).
* Recently, the Eagles have been impressive rebounding the basketball, with a 12-3 record when they out-rebound opponents. Eastern has advantages in 13 of the last 16 games – with a current streak of nine in a row -- but in its first 14 games, Eastern had a rebounding advantage just two times.
Team Highlights . . .
* Felix Von Hofe hit four of EWU's nine 3-pointers in the first half and Eastern was able to lead 43-41 at halftime. There were seven ties in the first half, as both teams were hot from the field. Eastern made 17-of-29 shots for 59 percent and 9-of-17 3-point attempts, and SUU made 14-of-27 for 52 percent and sank 8-of-16 treys.
Notables . . .
* The Eagles are now 9-4 all-time against Southern Utah (5-1 in Cheney, 4-3 in Cedar City) with an eight-game winning streak.
* Eastern's 80 victories is the best four-year stretch in the school's Division I history, and the third-best overall. Eastern won 83 games from 1975-1978 and 106 from 1943-46.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Von Hofe: "He's the player who has been in the NCAA Tournament and calls it the highlight of his life. The best thing Felix could do to get us back there is to play well for us. He certainly did tonight, shooting over 50 percent from the field with six threes."
On Second Half: "We defended a lot better in the second half. We weren't satisfied with our defense in the first half. They had a lot of unguarded players shooting shots looking at the rim. We buckled down and handled their pressure well. Bogdan made some great decisions, and we was good attacking the rim too. What do you say about a guy 15-of-15 from the line in the second half? That's clutch."

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