Bliznyuk sets NCAA record as Eagles beat Northern Arizona, 85-68 - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Bliznyuk sets NCAA record as Eagles beat Northern Arizona, 85-68

Photo: EWU Athletics Photo: EWU Athletics

By Eastern Washington Athletics

It's been a record more than two months in the making.
Eastern Washington University men's basketball player Bogdan Bliznyuk set a new NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws made as the Eagles beat Northern Arizona 85-68 in their Big Sky Conference regular season finale on Saturday (March 3) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
Bliznyuk made all six of his free throws, including a pressure-packed, record-breaking pair with 3:46 left in the Senior Day game. He has now made 74 consecutive free throws dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31, breaking the NCAA Division I record of 73 set by Gary Buchanan from Villanova over a 21-game stretch in the 2000-01 season.
"It's amazing what he's done and it's a cool streak," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans, who played professional basketball in Europe with Buchanan. "That's a hard record to beat – I don't think Bogdan's new mark will be beaten. I think he'll keep going and I don't think he'll miss again in his career. It was great for him to be able to break it at home in his last game at home. It's something he's going to hold and remember a long time."
The Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate hasn't missed in 2018, and is now 78-of-79 during conference play as EWU wrapped up the No. 3 seed for the upcoming Big Sky Conference Tournament. He had a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists versus the Lumberjacks, and can now set his sights on the career record of 85-straight free throws between Feb. 15, 2001, and Jan. 18, 2003, by Darnell Archey from Butler during a 57-game stretch.
Eastern used a 17-4 run in the first half to open a double-digit lead, and used a 9-0 advantage in 3-pointers to lead 38-25 at halftime. Sophomore Mason Peatling also had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and true freshman Jack Perry had a career-high 18 points. Senior Sir Washington and redshirt freshman Jacob Davison were also in double figures with 13 and 14, respectively.
Eastern led by as many as 23 in the second half as EWU extended its winning streak to a league-best six games. It's the longest streak in more than a year for the Eagles, and first in conference play since winning seven-in-a-row in the 2015-16 campaign. Included in this year's triumphs was the school's first road sweep in two years in late February, including a win over Weber State to give EWU a tiebreaker advantage in the league.
Eastern's all-time leading scorer, Bliznyuk now has 2,060 points in his illustrious career to continue to rank third in Big Sky history. He is only 18 out of second and 42 points from the record of 2,102, with at least one more game left to play for the Big Sky Player of the Year candidate. Bliznyuk is only the fifth player in the 55-year history of the league to hit the 2,000-point mark.
Now 11-1 at home and 57-10 (85 percent) at Reese Court in the past five seasons since 2013-14, Eastern will play in the Big Sky Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday, March 8 against an opponent to be determined.
Records . . .
* The Eagles are 18-13 on the season and 13-5 in the Big Sky, and have won 15 of their last 20 games after a 3-8 start. The Eagles are 11-1 at home and 6-11 on opponent home courts this season, finishing 5-4 on the road in the league season and currently 7-1 at home.
* The Lumberjacks are 5-26 this year with records of 2-16 in the conference and 3-14 on opponent home courts (3-16 on the road including neutral site games). Eastern beat NAU on the road 81-76 on Jan. 18.

What it Means . . .
* With just one game left for all league teams on Saturday, Eastern has clinched the No. 3 seed in the Big Sky Conference Tournament, which 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. Eastern will play at 8:05 p.m. Pacific time that night. Through Saturday afternoon's action in the Big Sky, Montana clinched the regular season title at 15-2, followed by Idaho at 13-4, and EWU and Weber State at 13-5. Northern Colorado is currently at 11-6. Later tonight, Idaho State is at Montana, Southern Utah is at Idaho and Northern Colorado is at Sacramento State in games that will determine final pairings. The Eagles can finish no lower or higher than third in the league standings, either with a 3-way tie at 13-5 with Weber State and Idaho, or a two-way tie with Weber State. Eastern was swept by Idaho, but the Vandals and Eagles both defeated WSU in the lone meetings.
What's Next . . .
* Now in its 31st year as a member of the league, Eastern will be making its 16th appearance in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Eagles have a record of 13-13 in its 26 games -- 1-0 in the first round, 4-5 in the quarterfinals, 6-4 in the semifinals and 2-4 in the championship. Before winning the 2015 title, Eastern hadn't appeared since the 2011-12 and 2010-11 seasons, which were EWU's first since 2006. The Eagles qualified for each tournament from 1998-2006.
Keys to Game . . .
* Eastern sank a season-high 16 3-pointers, coming just four from the school record of 20. The Eagles made 47.1 percent of their attempts compared to just 26.7 percent for NAU (4-of-15). In the first half alone, EWU had a 9-0 advantage. True freshman Jack Perry had a career-high six (6-of-9) on his was to career-high 18-point scoring night, and redshirt freshman Jacob Davison sank 4-of-6 and finished with 14 points.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern trailed early 7-5, but hit four 3-pointers during a 17-4 run that put the Eagles up 22-11 with 8:06 left. Eastern's defense did its part in that stretch, holding NAU without a field goal for 4:24. Jacob Davison and Jack Perry hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the half, and then another by Perry gave EWU a 38-25 halftime lead. Davison scored 12 in the first half and Perry had nine, as EWU sank 9-of-18 3-pointers compared to 0-of-4 for NAU. Eastern led by no less than 14 in the second half, and led by as many as 23.
Top Performers . . .
* Eastern all-time leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk sank 4-of-9 shots from the field, finishing with a double-double of 15 points and 10 assists. It was his sixth double-double of the season and 21st of his career, with EWU owning a 17-4 record in those games. He now has three double-figure assist performances in his career and 95 scoring 10 or more. He was 6-of-6 from the free throw line, and has now made a NCAA Division I record of 68 consecutive free throws dating back to EWU's game at North Dakota on Dec. 31.
* Sophomore Mason Peatling had his fifth career double-double – all this season – with 11 pints and 10 rebounds. He made 5-of-6 shots from the field and now has scored in double figures 10 times this season and 14 times in his career, and has had at least 10 boards on five occasions both this season and in his career.
* Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison had his eighth game of the season scoring in double figures, finishing with 14 after scoring 12 in the first half alone. He made 5-of-7 shots overall and 4-of-6 from 3-point range, and added three blocks and a pair of steals.
* True freshman Jack Perry had nine first-half points, and finished with a career-high 18 to give him seven double-figure performances this season. He made 6-of-9 shots from 3-pointer range and had a pair of assists. His previous career high was 17 against Wyoming on Dec. 12, 2017.
* Senior Sir Washington scored 13 points, giving him seven double-figure scoring performances this season and 22 in his career. He also had five rebounds for EWU.
Key Stats . . .

* The Eagles made 55.8 percent of their shots against NAU, and have now made at least half their shots in four of their last six games to improve to 10-0 this season when they hit that mark. For the season, Eastern is now 16-2 when they out-shoot their opponents and 2-11 when they don't.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* First-year head coach Shantay Legans is the 18th coach in Eastern history, and has made history of his own. His 18 wins is the most by a first-year Eastern coach in EWU's NCAA Division I era, besting Ray Giacoletti with 17 in the 2000-01 season. Joe Folda also won 17 games in 1982-83 as an interim head coach during Eastern's rise from NAIA to NCAA Division I. Thus, you have to go back to the 1942-43 season when Bob Brumblay won 27 games in his debut season to find a rookie Eastern coach with more than 18 victories, which is also the only time it's happened. Legans was a an Eastern assistant for eight years before becoming EWU's 10th coach at the NCAA Division I level this season. Legans spent six years on the staff of Jim Hayford (now head coach at Seattle), and two previous seasons under former head coach Kirk Earlywine (now an assistant at Idaho). Legans was associate head coach under Hayford for the final three of those eight seasons. A former player at Cal and Fresno State, Legans is married to former Eastern women's basketball player Tatjana Sparavalo. Their daughter, Zola Lee, was born June 16, 2016, and they have a son due to be born later March 29.
* Seniors Bogdan Bliznyuk and Sir Washington will end their careers as EWU's winningest players in EWU's 35-year history as a member of NCAA Division I. After the Northern Arizona game on March 3, Eastern has won 84 games overall and 50 in the Big Sky Conference. Washington redshirted in the 2013-14 season, then they both played as freshmen in 2014-15. Eastern has won 26, 18, 22 and 18 games since then for the best four-year stretch in EWU's Division I history, and most since winning 106 from 1942-43 to 1945-46. The Eagles have had Big Sky Conference win totals of 14, 10, 13 and 13 since Washington and Bliznyuk were freshman – again, the best four-game stretch in 31 seasons as a member of the Big Sky. Former Eagle Felix Von Hofe was formerly the winningest Eagle with 81 overall wins and 47 league wins from 2013-14 through 2016-17.
Notables . . .
* Big Sky Conference Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk now has 2,060 career points in 134 career games, ranking him third in league history as just the fifth player in the 55-year history of the league to hit the 2,000-point mark. He is now 18 points away from Weber State's Jeremy Senglin with 2,078 from 2013-17 and 42 from the record of 2,102 set by Orlando Lightfoot from Idaho in three seasons from 1991-94. Last Thursday in a 32-point effort versus Southern Utah, he passed current Utah head coach Larry Krystokowiak from Montana with 2,017 points from 1982-85 and Bruce Collins from Weber State with 2,019 from 1976-80. Interestingly, Eastern women's player Delaney Hodgins became just the fourth player in the 29-year history of women's basketball in the Big Sky to hit 2,000 points when she scored 30 versus Weber State on Feb. 22. She had 37 on Wednesday versus Southern Utah and a Big Sky and EWU record 46 at Northern Arizona, thus giving her 2,105 in her career to also rank third all-time in the league (29 years).

* The Lumberjack game wa Senior Day at EWU, and the Eagles honored Bogdan Bliznyuk, Sir Washington and Benas Griciunas in pre-game ceremonies. Bliznyuk has earned the last two Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors, and four on the season.
Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .
On Seniors: "Today was bittersweet. I'm excited to see them move on in their careers, but we still have a few games left obviously. The finality of it all. Being with those seniors has been great, and it was an emotional day for me all day. You look at their careers, and Sir and Bogdan will leave with the most wins and they did it together. They've become so close. I care for those guys so much and I want to protect them as much as I can, but they are out after this season. The finality of it catches you by surprise. I didn't have a problem at all until today when I saw them with their families and the joy they had. It's awesome."
On Opportunity to Advance to NCAA Tournament with Bliznyuk & Seniors: "They deserve it with the work they put in and how hard they've worked since they got here. It would be great for them to finish their careers in a NCAA Tournament game. I think we have the opportunity."
On Bliznyuk's Free Throw Record: "To be honest, I don't know if Bogdan knew anything about it unless one of his teammates told him. It's amazing what he's done. He shoots free throws and misses one in practice, and it's like, 'oh my gosh, he missed one.' I actually played with Gary Buchanan in Europe, and he was actually really excited to own that record."
On Play of Underclassmen Versus NAU: "It gives me a lot of confidence. I think we have a good program and we have great players and assistant coaches. We do a good job with player development and players come here and they get better. It's been great to watch these guys get better throughout the season. Jacob Davison and Jack Perry have played amazing basketball this year and at the end of the season. Jack is feeling comfortable, he's playing aggressive and he's shooting the shots we want him to shoot."
On Fan Support: "We've had terrific fans all season. We play a fun style of basketball and we have one of the best players to ever play in the conference, not just at Eastern. It's a great to come watch us play basketball because our team plays with so much passion and heart. They leave it on the court. Win, lose or draw, they are doing the same thing every game. I get on them about certain things, but I never have to get on them about their energy, effort, and helping a teammate. It's a real family and our team loves it when the crowd is here. We were 11-1 at home this year, and Bogdan and Sir haven't lost very much here their whole careers. It's important to play at home and win here. We have such a great home court advantage."
On Improvement: "It's the end of the season, but we still have room to grow a little bit. We have some guys who are starting to come on. Our players have been doing the things we've been asking them to do, and that's huge for us. We don't have to play guys a lot of minutes when we get up like this, so we'll be well-rested when we go to Reno."
"We're right up there and we've beat the best teams in the league. At the same time, this league is wide-open and we can lose to anybody anytime. We are playing at a neutral site you never know how the ball is going to bounce. Our shooters have to get used to it in Reno and get some shots up. I think we have the best player in the league, and whenever you go into a game we always say we are going to win. He's the best player in the league hands down. He does everything for us and – scoring, rebounds and assists. He just does so much."

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