Eagles roll past Eastern Kentucky 83-62 - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eagles roll past Eastern Kentucky 83-62

Photo: Eastern Washington Athletics Photo: Eastern Washington Athletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team learned a lesson they liked learning on Wednesday (Nov. 22) – how to win with a big lead.
The Eagles used outstanding defense to go on a 21-0 run in the first half to open a 19-point lead, and went on to rout Eastern Kentucky 83-62 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, as part of the fourth-annual MGM Resorts Main Event.
After leading 39-16 at halftime, the Eagles led by as many as 28 in the second half and no less than 19 in the dominating victory. Eastern Washington had a commanding 40-13 advantage in bench points and 16-1 in assists as the Colonels made just 19 field goals in the game.
Eastern Washington held the Colonels to 34.5 percent shooting from the field in improving to 3-3 on the season, while EKU fell to 2-3. Eastern Kentucky went 13:08 without scoring during EWU's scoring run, missing 14 shots as EWU opened a 30-11 advantage.
 "It felt better today and we were pretty good," said EWU head coach Shantay Legans. "Our guys came out and did a great job defensively. They picked up our game plan and what we needed to do."
Three Eagles scored in double figures, including a collegiate career high of 16 points by senior graduate transfer Benas Griciunas. Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk had 13 points and junior Cody Benzel scored 11.
Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 3-3 on the season after snapping a two-game losing skid since a 67-61 victory over Stanford on Nov. 14 in EWU's first win over a Pac-12 Conference opponent 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.
* The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky are now 2-3 this season, having lost to Prairie View A&M 80-70 in their tournament opener on Monday. They also defeated Kentucky State on Nov. 16 by a 97-66 score, 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.
What it Means . . .
* Eastern Washington had a 39-point turnaround in two games, having lost to Georgia State by 18 points (68-50) on Monday in its MGM Resorts Main Event opener. The Eagles jumped out to a 19-point lead in the first half and led 39-16 at intermission. The Eagles led by as many as 28 in the second half and no less than 19 in the final minutes.
What's Next . . .
* The Eagles end a 15-day road trip this Friday (Nov. 24) when they play at Utah at 5 p.m. Pacific time. Eastern is currently in a three-game stretch in which they are playing teams they've never played before – Georgia State, Eastern Kentucky, and Utah. The Utes enter their game tonight versus UNLV with a perfect 4-0 record, having defeated Ole Miss 83-74 in Las Vegas on Nov. 20.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern Washington allowed big scoring runs two days earlier in an 18-point loss to Georgia State, but this time it was EWU which had the big run. The Colonels led 11-9, but then went 13:08 without scoring, going 0-of-14 from the field during that stretch. During EWU's 21-0 run, seven different Eagles scored, with Bogdan Bliznyuk and Benas Griciunas each contributing four. Eastern Kentucky had 14 turnovers in the first half, and EWU led 39-16 at intermission. The Eagles also had five offensive rebounds in the first half, scoring eight second-half points.
Turning Point . . .
* Although the Eagles led by 23 at halftime, they kept up the defensive pressure in the second half. Eastern Kentucky missed its first three shots of the second half, and at that point had made only 21 percent of its shots from the field (6-of-28). Free throws were the best offense the Colonels had, as they made 21-of-30 in the game, including 18-of-25 in the second half.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior graduate transfer Benas Griciunas had his best game as an Eagle – and career high as a collegian -- with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field. He also had five rebounds. His best scoring performance while at UNC Charlotte was 14 points and his best as a freshman at Auburn was eight. He had 12 rebounds once while playing for the 49ers.
* Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, a candidate for Big Sky Conference Player of the Year honors, scored 13 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the free throw line, and also had five assists and four rebounds. He made 2-of-7 from the field after being held to two points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field one game earlier versus Georgia State.
* Junior Cody Benzel had a season-high 11 points, making 3-of-4 from the 3-point line.
* Junior Jesse Hunt chipped in six points and a team-high six rebounds, including two of EWU's nine offensive boards in the game.
Key Stats . . .
* A total of 10 Eagles played at least 13 minutes, with a total of 12 players seeing action. All but three of them scored. The Eagles made 48 percent of their shots in the second half and 43 percent in the game, while EKU made just 24 percent in the first half and 35 percent in the game.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison scored nine points and had five rebounds, and now has scored all 40 of his points this season in EWU's last three games. He came off the bench to score 20 against Georgia State on Nov 20, and had 11 one game earlier versus UNLV.
Notables . . .
* 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 Washington will continue its current 15-day road trip with its game 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 Defense: "That did win us the ballgame. Our guards did a great job of picking them up and pressuring them. We got them to turn the ball over and didn't let them play as fast as they want to play. When they are driving in, we have our big guys coming over using their size and athleticism to meet guys at the rim. They are changing shots and forcing passes, and our other players are rotating down well. This was one of our better defensive games, and they were all excited about playing defense. That's key for us because we have to keep getting better on offense."
On Spreading Out Minutes: "We had a lot of guys play today because we have a huge game on Friday. We're excited and we want to go in there and beat that team. I think our team will go in there and play with a chip on their shoulder and will be confident. It should be a lot of fun. We got everybody in and got a lot of guys a lot of minutes today."
On Offensive Rebounds: "That is big for us – we have guys 6-6, 6-7 who are active. Jesse Hunt is one of the best offensive rebounders in the Big Sky, and we're looking forward to that. Richard Polanco is picking things up and is looking good, and he's picking up offensive rebounds. We have to get our guards rebounding more on the offensive glass. It's a huge advantage because we have big guards."
On Bliznyuk: "Bogdan will get untracked soon. He did had five assists and he didn't have any turnovers, so that was good. He's going to get rolling – he's one of the better players to ever play at Eastern. We look forward to getting him some easy baskets."
On Starting Season 3-3 Heading to Utah: "When you looked at our schedule, if we you would of have said we'd leave Vegas 3-3, a lot of us would have taken it. We would have rather been 4-2, but at the same time, we have done a good job. We want to go to Utah and compete against them. They are a very good basketball club – they have everything. It's going to be fun for us at the end of a road trip to see how mentally tough we are. We'll go out there and compete against those guys."

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