Eags fall short against Georgia State in MGM Resorts Main Event - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eags fall short against Georgia State in MGM Resorts Main Event opener

Courtesy: EWU Athletics Courtesy: EWU Athletics

Eagle head coach Shantay Legans knew the Panthers were going to be a handful for his road-weary team, and a valiant defensive effort in the first half and game-ending 11-1 run by EWU wasn't enough.
After holding the Panthers in check for much of the first half, Georgia State went on runs of 17-4 in the first half and 9-0 to open the second half and went on to defeat the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team 68-50 Monday (Nov. 20) at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, as part of the fourth-annual MGM Resorts Main Event.
"Defensively I thought we did a great job in the first half of switching up our defenses," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans
. "But after a while and you don't score, guys start hanging their heads. They had 31 points in the first half and that team can score a lot of points. I liked our defensive effort in the first half."
Now 2-3 on the season, the Eagles will play 2-2 Eastern Kentucky in the consolation game on Wednesday (Nov. 22) at 11 a.m. Pacific time. Prairie View defeated Eastern Kentucky 80-70 in Monday's other first-round game of the "middleweight" bracket.
Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison scored a career-high 20 points to lead the Eagles, who began their road trip on Nov. 11. He scored 18 of his points in the second half as EWU ended the game with an 11-1 run that was too little too late.
The Eagles had a season-high 21 turnovers and had just 14 points scored by their starters. Devin Mitchell scored 23 points for Georgia State and NBA prospect D'Marcus Simonds had 19 points and a pair of assists for the Panthers, now 3-1.
"They are a very good team and are well-coached," said Legans. "Coach Ron Hunter did a good job against us and I learned a few things today. He had his team ready and they were fired up. We went up against their zone and it was tough to score at times. They did a really good job of mixing up what they were doing."
Eastern is currently in a three-game stretch in which they are playing teams they've never played before – Georgia State, Prairie View or Eastern Kentucky, and Utah.
Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 2-3 on the season, but lost its second straight since a 67-61 victory over Stanford in EWU's first win over a Pac-12 Conference opponent for the first time since 2002. The Eagles are coming off a third-straight appearance in a national postseason tournament, and were 22-12 overall a year ago. Eastern finished 13-5 in the Big Sky to finish second behind regular season champion North Dakota, and then the Eagles advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament.
* Georgia State is from Atlanta, and the Panthers were 20-13 a year ago and 12-5 in the Sun Belt Conference. Thus far, they are 3-1, having lost to Ole Miss 77-72 on Friday (Nov. 17). Previously, the Panthers defeated Carver Bible College 90-50 and Rice 75-54 to open the season.
What it Means . . .
* The 10th day of a two-week road trip took its toll on the Eagles in an afternoon game in a mostly-empty 20,000-seat facility. However, it was EWU's first neutral site game of a 10-game stretch of games on the road, which made it an intriguing match-up of teams which won 20 victories a year ago.
What's Next . . .
* The Eagles will play Eastern Kentucky in the consolation game on Wednesday (Nov. 22) at 11 a.m. Pacific time as part of the fourth-annual MGM Resorts Main Event on Nov. 20-22 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ole Miss, Rice, UNLV and Utah comprise the Heavyweight Bracket with Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Washington, Georgia State and Prairie View A&M competing in the Middleweight Bracket. Eastern will play in either the championship game of the middleweight bracket at 1:30 p.m., or the consolation at 11 a.m. The heavyweight bracket consolation game is 7 p.m. on ESPNU, and the championship game follows at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The T-Mobile Arena is a new 20,000-seat venue located on the Las Vegas strip, and opened April 6, 2016. Eastern will also play at Utah on Nov. 24 as part of the "undercard games schedule" of the MGM Resorts Main Event.
* The games in the tournament will be available via webcast at: https://www.flohoops.com. All EWU games will be carried live on 700-AM ESPN and 105.3-FM in the Spokane/Cheney area, with Larry Weir calling the play-by-play. Broadcasts begin a half-hour prior to tipoff and may also be heard via http://www.tunein.com (search for Eastern Washington University). A mobile phone app is also available via tunein radio.
* The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky are now 2-2 this season, having defeated Kentucky State in its most recent outing on Nov. 16 by a 97-66 score. They also lost to Ole Miss 85-75 on Nov. 13 and beat Rice 73-72 on Nov. 10. A year ago, EKU was 12-19 overall and 5-11 in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles led early 5-0, and then took a 12-7 lead on a 3-pointer by Jesse Hunt with 9:14 left. After that, turnovers became a key as EWU finished with 21, leading to a 23-6 advantage off turnovers by the Eagles. Eastern went 3 1/2 minutes without scoring and over five minutes without a field goal as Georgia State used a 17-4 lead to take a 24-16 lead.
Turning Point . . .
* Trailing 31-23 at halftime, Eastern went the first 5:11 without scoring, and the resulting 9-0 run by the Panthers opened a 17-point margin. Georgia State led by as many as 29 after that before Eastern rallied late and closed the game on an 11-1 run.
Top Performers . . .
* Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison had his second-straight double figure scoring performance, coming off the bench to score 20. He made 5-of-8 field goals overall, 3-of-6 from the 3-point line and 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
* Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, a candidate for Big Sky Conference Player of the Year honors, was held to two points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field. He also had eight of EWU's 21 turnovers.
* Junior Jesse Hunt had eight points and a team-high eight rebounds.
* Junior Ty Gibson was the only other Eagle with at least six points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and finishing with six.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern had a 37-28 rebounding advantage, led by eight rebounds by Jesse Hunt and six by 7-footer Benas Gricunas. Eastern had 12 offensive rebounds and had an 11-6 advantage in second-chance points, but the difference of 10 turnovers was too much for EWU to overcome. The Panthers scored 23 points off 11 EWU miscues, and EWU scored six off 11 Georgia State turnovers. Eastern made only 36 percent of its shots from the field and just 8-of-24 3-pointers (33 percent), while GSU sank 46 percent overall and sank 10-of-15 3-pointers (67 percent).
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern's defense was superb early, holding the Panthers without a field goal for the first 5:27 of the game, and just one in the first 11:04. The Panthers missed their first six shots, then had another stretch of four-straight misses to begin the game 1-of-11. However, Georgia State would get untracked and make 25 of its last 43 (58 percent).
Notables . . .
* Entering Monday's game, GSU sophomore D'Marcus Simonds was averaging 21.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Interestingly, Simonds was the Freshman of the Year in the Sun Belt last year; in 2014-15 Eastern's Bogdan Bliznyuk was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year. The Eagle senior entered the game averaging 19.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists through four games for EWU.
* The Eagles are in the midst of a stretch of 36-straight days without a home game – one of just four NCAA Division I teams with such a road stretch this year. Eastern will continue its road trip with four games – three of them played in Las Vegas and the other at Utah -- before returning home on Nov. 25. Then there are four more games before a pair of pre-Christmas home games. The first leg of EWU's road stretch includes 4,432 airline miles, while the other trips in the road stretch will include 6,408 miles. That's a total of 10,840 air miles, not including ground travel.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Second Half: "In the second half we didn't stick with (our defensive game plan) because we weren't scoring. That's a little disappointing, but at the same time, I have to put our team in the right spots. Our team played well at times and there were times where they had their head down, but most of all they played hard again."
On Panthers: "Georgia State is really good. They have a really dynamic point guard (Simonds) who I think will get drafted this year. He's only a sophomore but he's really good."
On 10th Day of Road Trip: "They are tired and mentally fatigued. It's hard to be away so long – it's a tough go. Being able to practice and being able to do what we need to do is harder. It's something we have to fight through, and this is going to help us at our league tournament. You have to win three games in three days to get to the NCAA Tournament and ultimately that is our goal."
On Needing to Improve: "We are trying to get better and better. But I didn't feel like we got better today, and that's the tough thing we're taking away from today. But I think we'll have the opportunity to come out in our next game and get better. We'll play really hard."
On Davison: "He played really hard and understood what we wanted to do. He's young and there are things he's going to mess up in the game plan and defensively. But he's playing hard and that's what we are trying to get our team to do. In the last two games he's come in and just played -- you have to play that way. You have to be creative and come down the court and just play – you can't worry about if you miss a shot or turn the ball over."
On Getting Behind: "You have to keep playing and we didn't do that today. We turned the ball over and got a little rattled. You can't make a 15-point play, so you have to chip away in games like this and we're going to get there. I really think this is a team that can really fight for the Big Sky championship. We just have to play better."
On Bliznyuk's Production: "I think their zone got him thinking a little bit today. He has to be able to just play, and I have to put him in the right positions that are going to suit him offensively. He did a great job defensively, he did a good job on the boards and did everything we asked of him. But I didn't help him show everything he can do offensively. Our top player has to be able to get some easy baskets and I put him in spots where he was trying to think about what he needed to do instead of just going down the hill."

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