EWU beats Sacramento State 89-70, advances to Big Sky Semifinals - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

EWU beats Sacramento State 89-70, advances to Big Sky Semifinals

Courtesy: EWU Athletics Courtesy: EWU Athletics

By EWU Athletics

The Eagles shared the wealth and survived foul trouble, and, as a result, are moving on to the semifinals.
 
With five players scoring at least eight points, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team rolled to an 89-70 victory over Sacramento State in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament Thursday (March 9) at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nev.
 
The Eagles held the Hornets without a field goal for a stretch of 7:45 in the first half and 10:08 in the second half, on their way to a 55 percent to 42 percent advantage in shooting from the field. Runs of 12-1 and 9-0 were the catalyst in helping EWU improve its season record to 22-10 with 11 victories in their last 14 games.
 
Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley scored 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and had 10 rebounds, with junior Bogdan Bliznyuk adding 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals. Wiley was named as the league's MVP earlier this week and was a unanimous first team All-Big Sky selection, with Bliznyuk earning second team honors.
 
Three other players also scored at least eight, including 11 by junior Sir Washington and eight by freshman Mason Peatling. Matching Sac State's physicality, Eastern was whistled for 30 fouls and sent Sac State to the line 36 times.
 
"A 19-point win – wow. I was still looking at the clock (with concern) with 40 seconds to go," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "We made enough 3-pointers to keep them honest, and our studs were studs. Bogdan came one rebound from a double-double and Jake with limited time had a double-double. When we got in foul trouble, we just told Jesse (Hunt) to go collect the fouls. Felix came out hot and then he got in foul trouble. Fortunately Bogdan didn't get in foul trouble and we were able to finish the game without anybody fouling out."

The Eagles now need to win two more games in Reno, Nevada, to win the Big Sky Tournament title and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Eastern went on to win the Big Sky Tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2015.
 
One of several Eagles to spend much of the game in foul trouble, senior Felix Von Hofe scored nine points in just nine minutes of action. The winningest player in the school's NCAA Division I history with 81 victories, he equaled the school record for games played against the Hornets. He played in his 126th game to match his former EWU teammate Parker Kelly (2012-15). Now with 257 3-pointers, he moved to within three of EWU's career record.
 
Both Wiley and Bliznyuk moved up on EWU's single season scoring list into sixth and seventh, respectively. Wiley now has 644 this season and Bliznyuk has 640. They both moved past the 626 points of David Peed (1989) with Tyler Harvey's 677 (2014) the next player to catch.
 
 
Won-Lost Records . . .  
 
* The Eagles are now 22-10 in their 34th season as a member of NCAA Division I after finishing 13-5 in the league as they continue their 30th season as a member of the Big Sky. Eastern, which has won 11 of its last 14 games, is now 15-1 at home, 6-9 on the road and 1-0 on neutral courts. Eastern's five league losses were by a combined 34 points (6, 3, 1, 9, 15).
* Sacramento State is the No. 7 seed and beat No. 10 Idaho State 91-76 in the opening round on Tuesday (March 7). The Hornets finished the season 13-18 overall after finishing 9-9 in the Big Sky season. Eastern registered a 77-72 home victory over Sacramento State in the lone meeting with the Hornets, with Eastern's Jacob Wiley finishing with 38 points, 12 rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists in that game.
 
 
What It Means . . .
 
 * Eastern is making its 15th Big Sky Conference Tournament appearance in 30 years as a member of the league in 2017, and has a record of 13-12 in its 24 games. The Eagles are now 4-5 in quarterfinal games, and are 6-3 in the semifinals and 2-4 in the championship (also 1-0 in the first round).
* Eastern won Big Sky Conference Tournament championships and appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 2015 & 2004. The Eagles have also advanced to the National Invitation Tournament in 2003 and the College Basketball Invitational in 2016. Eastern registered the school's first NCAA Division I postseason win with a 79-72 victory over Pepperdine in the first round of the CBI.
* Eastern head coach Jim Hayford has now coached in nine Big Sky Conference Tournament games, with a record of 6-2 in four appearances. His 2014-15 squad won the title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament with a trio of victories in Missoula, Montana. Included was a come-from-behind 69-65 over the host Grizzlies in the championship game.
 
 
What's Next . . .
 
* The second-seeded Eagles will play in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament at 8:05 p.m. Pacific time on Friday (March 10). Eastern will play the winner of the No. 3 versus No. 11 Southern Utah game in Thursday's late game. No. 4 seed Idaho (18-12) will play No. 1 North Dakota (20-9) in Friday's other semifinal game. Idaho defeated Montana 81-77 and North Dakota knocked off Portland State 95-72 in Thursday's other quarterfinal games. The championship game is Saturday (March 11) at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
* Fans can listen to EWU games on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com. Pre-game coverage starts a half-hour prior to tipoff. All Big Sky games through the semifinals will also be broadcast via www.watchbigsky.com, and the championship game will be televised on ESPNU.
* Eastern was 1-1 versus Weber State this season, winning 70-67 in Ogden, Utah, on Jan. 14 and winning 82-72 on Feb. 23 in Cheney to move into a second-place tie with the Wildcats in the league standings. Jacob Wiley scored 36 in the first meeting, then four Eagles scored in double figures in the second meeting -- Bogdan Bliznyuk (25), Wiley (20), Sir Washington (16), Ty Gibson (13).
* The Eagles swept the season series with Southern Utah, winning 83-68 in Cheney on Jan. 21 and 91-76 in Cedar City on March 2. The Eagles sank 52 percent of their shots in the first meeting and 57 percent in the second, with the trip of Bogdan Bliznyuk, Jacob Wiley and Felix Von Hofe combining for 124 of the team's 174 points. Bliznyuk had 53 (21/32), Wiley scored 39 (21/18) and Von Hofe had 32 (12/20). Randy Onwuasor scored 50 in the two games (22/28).
* The 2017 Big Sky men's basketball championship is taking place March 7 through 11 at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nev. Tickets and lodging information for the 2017 Big Sky Basketball Championships – including the women's tournament held concurrently -- is available at: http://RoadtoReno.com.
 
 
Keys to Game . . .
 
* Eastern had six players finish with three fouls or more, but none fouled out. As a result, Bogdan Bliznyuk (39 minutes) and Sir Washington (36 minutes) were the only Eagles to play more than 28 minutes. That should help in the quick turnaround between games. Jacob Wiley played only 27 and Felix Von Hofe played just nine. Although EWU sent Sac State to the free throw line 19 times in the first half and 36 in the game, the Hornets made only eight and 21, respectively.
 
 
Top Performers . . .
 
* Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk made 6-of-15 shots from the field and 5-of-6 from the line to finish with 18 points, to go along with nine rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals. A second team All-Big Sky selection, Bliznyuk entered the game averaging 20.1 points per game to rank fifth in the league and 37th nationally. He was averaging 26.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists in his last five games entering the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley made all nine of his field goal attempts, and finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. One of his field goals was an emphatic dunk with 2:14 left on a three-point play that gave EWU its biggest lead of the night at 80-57. The MVP of the Big Sky, Wiley entered the game averaging 20.0 points per game overall to rank 38th in NCAA Division I and sixth in the Big Sky, and had made 63.9 percent of his shots to rank seventh in the nation and second in the league. In league-only statistics, he was tops in the Big Sky in with averages of 24.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game, while making a league-best 65.9 percent of his field goal attempts and 81.7 of his free throws.
* Senior Felix Von Hofe finished with nine points, making a trio of 3-pointers. He is now eighth in career 3-pointers in the Big Sky with a current total of 257, which is three from the school record of 260 set by his former Eastern teammate Tyler Harvey from 2013-15. Von Hofe's 91 3-pointers this season are sixth all-time at EWU.
* Junior Sir Washington had his eighth game of the season in double figures, finishing with 11 on 5-of-8 shooting from the field.
* True freshman Mason Peatling made his 16th start of the season and had eight points and six rebounds on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from the free throw line. He had scored only four total points in his last seven games, and his performance was his best since scoring 13 at Montana on Jan. 26.
 
 
Turning Point . . .
* After the Hornets cut Eastern's 13-point halftime lead to six on a pair of occasions early in the second half, Eastern used a 9-0 run to regain command. Sir Washington had a driving layin and a 3-pointer to start the run, then baskets by Cody Benzel and Mason Peatling gave EWU a 55-40 advantage. Later, 3-pointers by Benzel and Bogdan Bliznyuk opened a 64-45 Eagle lead during a stretch in which Sac State missed eight-straight shots and went without a field goal for 10:08.
 
 
Key Stats . . .
 
* The Eagles have compiled some impressive records in several areas this season, including an 18-2 record when scoring 73 or more points and a 5-1 record in overtime games. Eastern is one of the league's top shooting teams, and are now 14-2 when they make at least 50 percent and 17-3 when making 45.0 percent or better. Eastern finished ranked first in league games only in field goal percentage (.501) and scoring margin (+7.3). Eastern's defense has also produced a 13-2 record when opponents make 44.9 percent of its shots or less, and 11-3 when opponents score 72 or fewer. The Eagles are a perfect 12-0 when they force 12 or more turnovers.
 
 
Team Highlights . . .
 
* Recently, the Eagles have been impressive rebounding the basketball, with a 13-3 record when they out-rebound opponents. Eastern has advantages in 14 of the last 18 games – including 10 of the last 11 -- but in its first 14 games, Eastern had a rebounding advantage just two times. Eastern is also 17-2 when it has 36 rebounds or more, and 17-4 when opponents have 35 or less.
 
* A trio of early 3-pointers by Felix Von Hofe helped open a seven-point lead, then a 12-1 run opened a 31-15 advantage with 6:39 left. Sac State went 5:11 without scoring and 7:45 without a field goal with eight-straight misses during the Eagle surge. Eastern survived its own 0-of-8 stretch during a 9-0 Hornet run, but EWU made its last three shots to take a 40-27 lead at halftime. Sac State made only 8-of-19 free throws in the first half and was held to 27 points, the eighth-lowest half of the season for an EWU opponent.
 
 
Notables . . .
 
* Eastern entered the year picked to finish seventh by the coaches and fifth by the media in the preseason polls. Eastern lost a pair of first team All-Big Sky Conference and All-District performers to graduation – including the school's all-time leading scorer – but have reloaded to win 21 games and entered the Sac state game leading the Big Sky in RPI at No. 147.
 
* 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 Bliznyuk and Wiley: "We run everything through Bogdan -- he's a very special player and so versatile. Our big two were really big tonight. I thought that and-one dunk by Jake was out of this world."
 
On Experience of Washington and Bliznyuk: "Sir and Bogdan played on our NCAA Tournament team, and they both played pretty well against Georgetown. So they are ready for these big moments."
 
On Offense Versus Sac State Pressure: "We did a good job recognizing what defense they were in and we found ways to attack out of it. We made enough threes to keep them honest with Bogdan's drive game and Jake's post-up game."
 
On Hornets: "Sacramento State played really hard for 40 minutes. They are an opponent we have tremendous respect for. Marcus Graves did everything you would want out of him in his last basketball game, and his 29 points deserves to be recognized."
On Foul Trouble: "You just ask the next player to step up. We handled all the pressure, the switching defenses and the traps with Bogdan and Sir. They fortunately weren't in foul trouble, which would have made us take them out of the game. That was really a key there. We had huge minutes from Mason Peatling to handle the foul trouble we had inside. Jesse was able to play with four fouls, so we got through the last few minutes of the game. It's a matter of your players having confidence when they go in."
 
On Sac State in Second Half: "Our lead went from 13 to six, but we answered and got it back to 13. You know it's going to happen and we tell our guys to play through runs. We have a pretty mentally-tough team, so we stay pretty stable and focused."
 
On Wiley's Limited Minutes: "The great thing is that Jake didn't play as many minutes and he has fresh legs. I thought his and-one at the end was Big Sky MVP spectacular."
 
On Matching Sac State Physicality: "We matched them a lot – we fouled them a lot more. We sent them to the line 36 times. We went at them and didn't back down. That's where you have to have that fight and that's the character of our team."

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