Eastern Washington falls to Wyoming 83-88 in overtime - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Eastern Washington falls to Wyoming 83-88 in overtime

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

The Eagles nearly had the other bookend to their epic Nov. 14 Stanford win – amazingly, on the same road stretch.
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team ended its 10-game road stretch with an impressive showing, but Wyoming rallied from a six-point deficit with 33 seconds left in regulation to prevail 93-88 in overtime Tuesday (Dec. 12). Eastern led for 35:14 in the game, compared to just 6:52 for the Cowboys.
"Everything they had in the tank they emptied today," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans of his team. "It's tough to lose this game, but we are going to get better and we just have to be smarter at the end of games."
Eastern nearly beat a Mountain West Conference foe for the first time since 2002, opening leads of 9-0 and 16-5 in the early going and leading by as many as 13 in the first half. Wyoming rallied though, and the second half and overtime featured five ties and seven lead changes before the Cowboys outscored EWU 22-11 in the final six minutes of the regulation and overtime.
Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk led the Eagles with 30 points – his ninth career game with at least 30 -- and his free throw with 33 seconds left gave EWU a 75-69 lead in regulation. He missed a 3-pointer with five seconds left that could have sent the game into a second overtime.
True freshman Jack Perry hit his first five shots and finished with a career-high 17 points. Six Eagles combined for a season-high 15 3-pointers made, including three each by Bliznyuk and Perry, and five by Ty Gibson who finished with 15 points. Eastern was 9-of-16 in the first half, and EWU made 6-of-14 after that.
Eastern nearly snapped a long losing streak to current members of the Mountain West Conference, having now dropped 16-straight since a 65-59 victory over Boise State (then in the Western Athletic Conference) on Dec. 18, 2002. Earlier that year, Eastern beat San Diego State.
After 36 days without a home game, Eastern finally returns to Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., this Sunday (Dec. 17) to host CSUN at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time.
"I'm really excited about this team," added Legans. "When we get back to Cheney we'll be ready to go against Northridge."
Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 3-8 on the season and lost for the fifth-straight time, with their last victory coming on Nov. 24 by an 83-62 score against Eastern Kentucky in the MGM Resorts Main Event in Las Vegas.
* Wyoming, which is now 8-3 and ended EWU's season a year ago in the College Basketball Invitational, have had a difficult schedule as reflected in an RPI of No. 50 (through games of Dec. 11). Eastern is 200th, and both teams have recorded road wins over Pac-12 Conference opponents. Eastern beat Stanford 67-61 on Nov. 14, and the day before that Wyoming won at Oregon State 75-66.
What it Means . . .
* Despite the heartbreaking loss, Eastern will finally get to play again at Reese Court after beginning their road trip against the University of Washington in Seattle on Nov. 12 – two days after their first and only home game to date. The 10-game stretch of road games is the second-most in school history, and the 36 days without a home game is the third-longest streak. The Eagles played four road games in a 10-day stretch, but earlier had a season-opening stretch that included seven games in a 15-day span. Thus far, the highlight of season has been EWU's 67-61 victory over Stanford on Nov. 14 in EWU's first win over a Pac-12 opponent since 2002.
What's Next . . .
* The Eagles will host CSUN (Cal State Northridge) on Sunday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. Pacific time, and the University of Providence from Great Falls, Mont., on Wednesday, Dec. 20, before starting league play on the road on Dec. 29. CSUN is 349th out of 351 teams in NCAA Division I. The Matadors are 1-8 (0-8 versus NCAA Division I competition) heading into their game in Cheney on Dec. 17.
Keys to Game . . .
* While Eastern was dominating from the 3-point stripe with 15 3-pointers to Wyoming's six, the Cowboys were dominating in points inside the paint 56-20. The Eagles finished the game 15-of-30 from the 3-point arc for a season-best 50.0 percent, having eclipsed its previous highs of 11 treys made and a .440 percentage – both versus Stanford. Eastern also missed five free throws in the last minute of regulation and in overtime, helping Wyoming pull ahead.
Turning Point . . .
* In overtime, Eastern missed three early free throws and its first two field goal attempts, and didn't make a field goal until 53 seconds remained. Meanwhile, the Cowboys used a 5-0 scoring run to take an 87-81 lead. A Ty Gibson 3-pointer with 42 seconds to play at two free throws by Bogdan Bliznyuk cut the lead to three with 26 seconds left, but Bliznyuk missed a 3-pointer with five seconds remaining followed by a pair of Wyoming free throws to close out the scoring.
Top Performers . . .
* Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk made 9-of-18 shots overall, 3-of-6 from the 3-point stripe and 9-of-12 free throws to finish with 30 points. He now has nine performances in his 114-game career of at least 30 points, 30 with at least 20 and 77 scoring in double figures. He also had four rebounds and three assists.
* True freshman Jack Perry made his first five shots, and finished with a career-high 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field. He sank 3-of-6 3-pointers and had a career-high seven assists. His previous highs were 13 points in his last outing against South Dakota and three assists on two previous occasions.
* Junior Ty Gibson sank 5-of-10 3-pointers, and finished with 15 points and a career-high seven rebounds. His previous high for boards was six against Southern Utah last season.
* Junior Jesse Hunt chipped in six points, and also had a team-high eight rebounds and a pair of assists.
Key Stats . . .
* For the second-straight game, the Eagles had a season-best shooting performance, finishing at a 48.4 percent clip. The Eagles made a season-best 45.6 percent of its shots in its last outing against South Dakota, including a 56 percent second half. The Eagles followed that with a 52 percent first half against Wyoming, with Bogdan Bliznyuk making 5-of-8 and Jack Perry sinking all three of his shots. Eastern sank 9-of-16 3-pointers and took leads of 9-0, 16-5 and its biggest lead of the game at 31-18 on a basket by Bliznyuk with 6:10 left. Eastern led at halftime 38-32, and at one point after intermission, Eastern had made 13-of-26 3-pointers and 13-of-26 from inside the 3-point arc.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Wyoming took a 67-66 lead late, but the Eagles had back-to-back 3-pointers by Ty Gibson and Cody Benzel to give the Eagles a 72-67 advantage. A huge basket by Jack Perry maintained the five-point lead with 54 seconds remaining, but Eastern was able to make just four of its next six free throw attempts, and an Eagle turnover with a dozen seconds left led to a game-tying basket by the Cowboys to send the game into overtime.
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk is now just 183 points from ending what could be a short-lived record. In 114 career games (15th in school history), Bliznyuk has a current total of 1,620 points – 121 from second and 183 from the school record. Next on the list is Ron Cox (1,741 from 1974-77) and former teammate Venky Jois (school-record 1,803 points from 2013-16). In addition, if Bliznyuk plays 14 more games he will equal the record of 128 set by his former teammate Felix Von Hofe from 2014-17.
Notables . . .
* The Eagles made all 12 of their free throws at South Dakota, and entered the Wyoming game leading the Big Sky Conference at 75.0 percent on the season (153-of-204). However, Eastern was just 13-of-21 at the line against the Cowboys for an uncharacteristic 61.9 percent.
* A year ago, the Cowboys won a 91-81 shootout versus EWU in a game in which both teams made 11 three-pointers. Eastern senior Bogdan Bliznyuk, who is coming off outings of 31 and 18 in his last two games, scored 29 to pace the Eagles. Five Cowboys scored in double figures, and all five of them are back this season (Justin James 19, Alan Herndon 12, Hayden Dalton 18, Louis Adams 16, Cody Kelley 10). Dalton, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, entered Tuesday's game averaging a team-leading 16.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season.
* Eastern is 0-7 all-time versus Wyoming and 13-69 all-time versus current members of the Mountain West Conference. The last victory over a team now in the Mountain West was a 65-59 victory over Boise State on Dec, 18, 2002, when the Broncos were in the Western Athletic Conference. One month earlier, however, Eastern beat San Diego State 75-70 on Nov. 23, 2002. Later that same season, Eastern lost to Wyoming 78-71 in the NIT, starting a current streak of 16 losses in a row to current members of the league. The latest losses were 91-67 earlier this season on Nov. 17 at UNLV; a 91-81 loss at Wyoming on March 15, 2017, in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational; and an 85-70 setback at Nevada in the semifinals of the 2016 CBI.
* 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's 15-day road trip from Nov. 11 to Nov. 25 included 4,432 airline miles, while the other trips in the road stretch included 3,449 air miles. That's a total of 7,881 air miles, not including ground travel and a bus trip to and from Seattle for the game versus the Redhawks.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Loss: "It's tough, really tough. We had some great performances by our guys and they did a good job. They took the ball downhill and made the extra pass -- it was one of our better assist games. Our team did a great job, but it's a tough one to take because it came down to a couple of things here and there. But we are getting there and I feel really confident in our team."
On Late-Game Situations: "We practice situations, but we haven't covered all the situations, so I take that totally on me at the end. In that case I learned a lot. Our team played a great game and Wyoming came out and did a good job of scoring the ball, and our guys did too. My hat is off to both teams and everybody who played in that game."
On Jack Perry: "We're lucky to have him. He does a lot of things right and his father is a good coach back in Australia. Jack comes battle-tested and it's great having him. He is confident every time he's on the court and he understands exactly what is going on. It's like having another coach out there, and he's doing everything the right way. We have a lot of different options we can go with."
On Road Stretch: "Our strength of schedule is in the top 50 in the country. We are battled-tested and the guys will be prepared for league play. It's going to be hard to get their heads up because they knew they should won this game."
On Free Throws: "We could have made some free throws -- that would have helped. In close games you have to make them, and on the road we can't go 13-of-21 and win a ballgame – especially a close one against a team like this. That hurts us when we miss free throws – we shot the ball well from everywhere else but just missed at the line. And we missed some in important situations. Maybe it's fatigue, but at the same time we've been shooting free throws well. We'll get back home, get rested and be ready to go in our next game."

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