Bliznyuk and Peatling lead Eagles to 84-79 win over Montana Stat - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Bliznyuk and Peatling lead Eagles to 84-79 win over Montana State

Photo: EWU AThletics Photo: EWU AThletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

Like most of EWU's games recently, the Eagles and Bobcats fought right down to the wire.
 
Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk and sophomore Mason Peatling combined for 44 points and 22 rebounds as Eastern Washington University men's basketball team prevailed late in the second half to beat Montana State 84-79 Saturday (Feb. 17) in a key Big Sky Conference game at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
 
True freshman Jack Perry and junior Cody Benzel each added 11 points in a game that featured 10 ties and 15 lead changes. Eastern sank 50 percent of its shots in the game, while MSU cooled off to 44 percent after making half its shots in the first half.
 
Eastern took the lead for good with 1:58 to play on a three-point play by Bliznyuk, and didn't trail for the last 9:25. The Eagles sank 14-of-15 free throws in the second half to seal the win.
 
Bliznyuk nearly had a triple-double with 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and Peatling had his fourth double-double of the season with 19 points and 13 boards.
 
"We did a good job of stepping up for a period of time in the second half," said Shantay Legans of his team's play down the stretch, including an 8-0 run to open a seven-point lead. "Our guys stuck with the game plan and fought through some things. We were able to separate it a little bit in the second half and made it a multi-possession game, then it was hard for them to get back in it. I couldn't be happier."
 
The win kept EWU in fourth place in the league standings, as Eastern and several other teams are mired smack dab in the middle of the battle for perhaps the last of four first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern has won 11 of its last 16 games, and is now 14-13 on the season and 9-5 in the league.
 
Two days earlier, Eastern beat league-leading Montana 74-65, ending its 13-game winning streak, dating back to a loss at Washington on Dec. 22 in UM's final non-league tune-up. It was the worst loss for UM since falling 70-54 at Stanford on Nov. 29 – just 15 days after the Eagles handed the Cardinal a 67-61 defeat.
 
Eastern's all-time leading scorer, Bliznyuk now has 1,969 points in his illustrious career to inch closer to 2,000 in his career. Only four players in league history have hit the 2,000-point mark, with the record currently at 2,102.
 
 
Records . . .
 
* The Eagles are 14-13 on the season and 9-5 in the Big Sky, and have won 11 of their last 16 games. Now 9-1 at home, the Eagles are 55-10 (85 percent) at Reese Court in the past five seasons since 2013-14. However, the Eagles saw their 12-game home court winning streak snapped against Idaho on Jan. 12, having not lost at home since falling to Montana on Jan. 7, 2017.
* The Bobcats are 6-9 in the conference standings, and are 13-15 overall. Montana lost 88-78 at Idaho on Thursday when the Vandals out-scored MSU in the second half 50-38. Coached by Brian Fish, the Bobcats are 3-11 on the road this season and 8-4 at home (2-0 neutral). The Bobcats opened league play with four-straight victories, but are just 2-9 since.
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What it Means . . .
 
* Eastern is clinging to fourth place in the league standings, a position which would give the Eagles the last of four first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. This was the lone meeting between the two schools this season, which now gives EWU a significant advantage in a potential head-to-head tiebreaker. Eastern also potentially has a significant tiebreaker advantage in the league by beating Montana 74-65 on Thursday (Feb. 15). The Big Sky Conference Tournament takes place March 6-10 in Reno, Nevada. The top four teams receive first-round byes and won't have to play until March 8 in the quarterfinals.
 
 
What's Next . . .
 
* Eastern plays Thursday (Feb. 22) at Weber State, which enters its game tonight at Sacramento State with an 11-2 league record and 18-7 overall mark. Two days later on Feb. 24, Eastern plays at Idaho State in EWU's final regular season road game of the year.
 
 
Keys to Game . . .
 
* The Eagles entered with a sparkling 81.2 percent accuracy mark from the free throw line in conference games to lead the league, and overall rank 28th in NCAA Division I at 76.4 percent. They didn't disappoint against the Bobcats, making 14-of-15 that featured a 9-of-9 performance by Bogdan Bliznyuk. Eastern made 8-of-9 in the final 1:58 of the game.
 
* Saturday's game was a battle featuring two of the elite players in the league in EWU's Bogdan Bliznyuk and MSU's Tyler Hall. Bliznyuk entered averaging 19.8 points per game and 21.8 in league play, and Hall entered averaging 18.2 points overall and 19.0 in league play. Bliznyuk sank 8-of-17 shots from the field and scored 25 points, while Hall was 6-of-14 from the field and scored 22. Combined, Bliznyuk and Hall had 47 points, 14 rebounds, 15 assists and made 16-of-17 free throws.
 
 
Turning Point . . .
 
* After a game that featured 10 ties and 15 lead changes, Eastern erased MSU's last lead with 9:25 left on a basket by Bogdan Bliznyuk. That ignited an 8-0 Eastern run, and Bliznyuk's two free throws at the 6:37 mark gave EWU a 69-62 advantage. Montana State tied it, but Bliznyuk's three-point play with 1:58 left on a rebound basket off his own miss gave EWU the lead for good. Eastern used runs of 9-0 and 8-0 in the first half to lead by as many as seven, but the Bobcats scored 12 of the last 14 points to take a 40-38 halftime lead.
 
 
Top Performers . . .
 
* Eastern all-time leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk made 8-of-17 shots from the field to finish with 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.  It was his 13th game of the season of 20 points or more (39th of his career), and the 24th double-figure scoring performance of the season and 91st in 130 career games. He was 9-of-9 from the charity stripe and has now made 63 consecutive free throws dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31.
* Sophomore Mason Peatling had the fourth double-double of the season and of his career with 19 points and 13 rebounds. His point total equaled his career high, and was his eighth game of the season and 12th of his career scoring double figures. He has hit double figures in rebounding four times this season and in his career, with a EWU owning a 3-1 record when he has a double-double
* True freshman Jack Perry finished with 11 points and five assists for his fifth double-figure scoring performance of the season and first since Jan. 18.
* Junior Cody Benzel also finished with 11, giving him seven performances this season and 15 in his career of 10 or more points.
 
 
Key Stats . . .
 
* For the second-straight game, Eastern won the rebounding battle, just the ninth and 10th times this season EWU has had an advantage on the boards. Eastern is 8-2 in those 10 games, having a 37-29 advantage over the Bobcats after edging Montana 30-27 two days earlier.
 
* The Eagles also had a second-straight 50-percent shooting night to improve to 8-0 this season when they hit that mark. Coming off a 56.3 percent performance against Montana on Feb. 15, the Eagles made exactly 50 percent versus MSU. Eastern has had all eight of its 50-percent shooting nights in the last 16 games. Included was a season-best 57.1 percent performance against Sacramento State on Feb. 1 when Bogdan Bliznyuk made 15-of-18 shots on his way to a 40-point night. For the season, Eastern is now 13-2 when they out-shoot their opponents and 1-11 when they don't.
 
 
Other Team Highlights . . .
 
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk now has 1,969 career points in 130 career games, ranking him all alone in fifth in league history. He is now just 31 from the coveted 2,000-point mark, and only four players in the 55-year history of the league have hit the 2,000-point mark. Bliznyuk went into Saturday's game tied at No. 5 with Tanoka Beard with 1,944 points from 1989-93. Next on the list is Larry Krystokowiak from Montana with 2,017 points from 1982-85 and Bruce Collins from Weber State with 2,019 from 1976-80. Weber State's Jeremy Senglin scored 2,078 from 2013-17 and the record is 2,102 set by Orlando Lightfoot from Idaho in three seasons from 1991-94.
 
 
Notables . . .
 
* Bogdan Bliznyuk has made 63 consecutive free throws dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31. There is no known record for EWU and the Big Sky, but the NCAA single season record is 73 set by Gary Buchanan from Villanova over a 21-game stretch in the 2000-01 season. The career record of 85 came between Feb. 15, 2001, and Jan. 18, 2003, by Darnell Archey from Butler during a 57-game stretch.
 
 
 
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
 
On MSU: "We give 100 percent credit to Montana State – the came out and played great. Their team stepped up and hit some big shots. Good players step up and make big shots, and that's what they did today. Hall is an unbelievable player. He knows how to get to a spot and just shoot over somebody. It doesn't really affect him if somebody is there – that's what NBA guys do. He reminds me a lot of Tyler Harvey when we had him here. With both of those guys, if he's missing that day you're lucky."
 
On Defense Against Tyler Hall: "He went for 22, but Ty Gibson and Sir Washington did a great job defending him. They made his catches really tough. You can't stop him – you just contain him and hope he's having an off night."
 
On Jesse Hunt Aggravating Foot Injury Versus Montana: "I care more about his health than anything else. We want to get him healthy for next year and not have any more setbacks. But if he gets healthy, he feels like he's 100 percent, the doctors and trainers say okay, and we all talk about it, then we'll let him play again. But I'm thinking about sitting him out the rest of the year."
 
On EWU Free Throw Shooting: "Our guys do a good job getting in the gym on their own and shoot a lot of free throws and 3-pointers. They have to put the work in. We don't work on free throws much at practice. They take pride in being the best free throw shooting team in the Big Sky. We are having the right guys shooting the free throws I guess. Bogdan just has the knack to go get the ball. He loves free throws – he loves points I guess."

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