Eastern Washington basketball coach Jim Hayford saw this coming eight months ago.
Not the recent run of overtime games – exciting as they were – but that junior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk would be the key to a fast start this season.
Sure enough, it’s the first week of December and Bliznyuk already has two Big Sky Conference player of the week awards and is the biggest reason the Eagles are a surprising 6-2 going into Thursday’s home game against Great Falls.
The latest award came on Tuesday, two days after Bliznyuk had 31 points and 12 rebounds to help the Eagles rally from 14 points down in a 93-88, double-overtime win over Seattle at KeyArena.
“As soon as last season ended, all of our thoughts went into asking how we are going to be successful,” Hayford said. “We knew we were going to put some hybrid in our offense, and ran it through Bogdan.”
Now Bliznyuk is the Eagles “point-forward,” as Hayford terms it.
Through eight games, Bliznyuk leads the Eagles in almost every major category: scoring (21.9 points per game), rebounding (7.4), assists (4.7) and free-throw percentage (.943). He’s also shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
Beyond the numbers, Hayford said he appreciates Bliznyuk’s emotional maturity, especially on the road. “He knows how to rise above those situations,” said Hayford, who credited the entire team with taking up the slack when senior forward Julian Harrell was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
Bliznyuk leads a frontcourt that is shaping up among the best in the Big Sky – a good thing, as league play opens in three weeks. Senior forward Felix Von Hofe is lighting it up from outside (he’s 45 percent from long range and averages 15.1 ppg), and transfer Jacob Wiley (14.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg).
Meanwhile, the Eagle backcourt is maturing. Sophomore Cody Benzel and freshman Luka Vulikic are getting starts, and junior Sir Washington has stepped up in key moments.
This is just the third Eastern team in its 34-year Division I history to start out 6-2 or better.
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