Saturday was Alumni Family Day at Eastern Washington – all the better to make a positive impression on the little ones watching at Reese Court.
The Eagles didn’t disappoint, beating Southern Utah 83-68 in their second straight dominant performance of the week.
Eastern led by as many as 30 points before easing up in the second half.
“We played as good a 20 minutes as we have all season in the first half,” coach Jim Hayford said after the Eagles improved to 13-7 overall and 5-2 in the Big Sky Conference.
Coming off a 22-point win over Northern Arizona, the Eagles carried the momentum into Saturday’s matinee in front of 1,621 fans.
Just 3 ½ minutes into the game, Eastern was up by 10. Midway through the first half it was 26-8, as the Eagles shot 50 percent from three-point range while the Thunderbirds shot 27 percent from the field in the first half.
This one was all but over at halftime, which saw Eastern ahead 47-22.
“When we are clicking on all cylinders our team looks pretty good,” Hayford said. “The 22 points we gave up in the first half shows what we can do defensively.”
“We were shooting well from outside and the drive game was going. But the second 20 minutes showed why we have to keep working hard at practice every day.”
The only disappointment? If Eastern fans expected to see a scoring duel between EWU forward Jacob Wiley and T-Bird guard Randy Onwuasor – the leading scorers in the conference – they left disappointed.
Wiley got plenty of double-teams (though he still managed to finish with 21 points). Anwuasor finished with a game-high 22, but went 0-for-4 from long range and didn’t break double digits until well into the second half.
“We did a pretty good job on him – he’s a good player,” Hayford said. “He didn’t make a three, we held him under 50 percent from the field and forced him into three turnovers. He had to earn all 22 of his points.”
For the game, Eastern shot 52 percent from the field and held Southern Utah to 36 percent. The Eagles also blocked 10 shots.
“We’re not just playing one-on-one defense, but we’re playing really good team defense and it’s getting better every week,” Hayford said.
Eastern took its biggest lead, 61-31, early in the second half, but the T-Birds (4-16 overall, 2-5 in the Big Sky) sliced in half in six minutes.
It could have been even closer. Twice the T-Birds had a chance to close to 11; the last time came with 3 ½ minutes left, but Bliznyuk blocked John Marshall’s layup attempt.
Ninety seconds later, Bliznyuk sealed the game with two free throws to put the Eagles up 81-66.
Eastern hits the road next week at Montana State on Thursday and Montana on Saturday.
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