The Easterner

EWU men’s basketball win two at home, opens Big Sky 3-1

Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk is 62 points from becoming Eagle's all-time scoring leader.

A+group+of+Eagles+react+during+a+dead+ball+in+the+team%27s+victory+over+Portland+State+on+Jan.+4.+EWU+is+now+8-9+on+the+season.+%7C+Photo+courtesy+of+Aaron+Malmoe.
A group of Eagles react during a dead ball in the team's victory over Portland State on Jan. 4. EWU is now 8-9 on the season. | Photo courtesy of Aaron Malmoe.

A group of Eagles react during a dead ball in the team's victory over Portland State on Jan. 4. EWU is now 8-9 on the season. | Photo courtesy of Aaron Malmoe.

A group of Eagles react during a dead ball in the team's victory over Portland State on Jan. 4. EWU is now 8-9 on the season. | Photo courtesy of Aaron Malmoe.

By Jeremy Burnham, Reporter

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The 10-game non-conference road trip that saw the EWU men’s basketball team suffer a seven game losing streak is distant memory. The Eagles are back at home, and Big Sky Conference play has started. EWU picked up a pair of wins over Portland State on Jan. 4, and Sacramento State on Jan. 6, to improve their conference record to 3-1, and their overall record to 8-9.

The week saw the return of sophomore forward Mason Peatling to the lineup. Peatling had missed the Eagles’ first two conference games with a hand injury. Peatling played—but did not start—against PSU on Thursday, before joining the starting five against Sac State on Saturday.

PSU entered the game 10-4 overall, however they were 0-1 in conference play after losing their conference opener to Sac State. Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk continued his stellar season on Thursday against PSU. He had 28 points, 12 rebounds and was a perfect 13-13 at the free throw line.  

PSU contained Bliznyuk for much of the first half, holding him to only eight points. The Vikings came out aggressively to start the game with a full-court press. This—along with quick transition play—helped the Vikings climb to a 12-7 lead. However, EWU freshman forward Richard Polanco scored five straight to even up the score. Polanco made the most of his six first-half minutes by scoring nine points. The Mustangs closed out the half with a 40-38 advantage.

The second half was the Bogdan Bliznyuk show. The preseason Big Sky MVP candidate scored the first seven points of the half for the Eagles, as the team went up 48-47. The lead didn’t last long. PSU senior forward Braxton Tucker hit a jumper, and junior guard Michael Mayhew sunk a three to put PSU up four with 13:33 remaining in the game. This would be PSU’s final lead of the game.

The Eagles went on a 16-0 run, and never looked back. Bliznyuk scored 13 more points, bringing his second half total to 20, and his game total to 28. The Eagles won 81-74.

The Eagles had to fight for every point they scored against an intense Viking defense that never called off the full-court press.

“We haven’t played a team like that this year,” said EWU head coach Shantay Legans. “Teams have pressured us, but this team is 40 minutes of straight press. They speed you up and don’t allow you to get into your sets.”

Saturday’s contest brought a different kind of challenge to the Eagles’ offense. Sac State entered the game determined to shut down Bliznyuk at all costs. And while they did limit Bliznyuk to his season low of two points, it came at a high price, as five Eagles managed to score in double digits.

Peatling returned to the starting lineup, and played the first eight minutes of the game. While the Hornets were double and triple-teaming Bliznyuk, Peatling scored 10 points in eight minutes, before sitting and resting most of the remainder of the half. He finished with 12 points. The Eagles went into the locker-room with a 39-27 lead.

Junior guard Cody Benzel scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half to seal Sac State’s coffin, as the Eagles coasted to a 82-67 victory. Senior center Benas Griciunas had 16 points, while freshman guard Jack Perry chipped in 14 and senior guard Sir Washington had 10.

Despite Bliznyuk being held to two points, Legans was quick to point out the forward’s other contributions to the game.

“Bogdan had one of his best passing games of his career because he was getting triple-teamed every time he got the ball,” Legans said. “They took Bogdan away, and he did a really good job facilitating for other guys. A lot of teams will guard Bogdan like that, but it’s going to hurt them because our guys can really shoot the ball.”

Bliznyuk was not bothered by the unusually low number in the scoring column on his statistics sheet.

“It was great that we play like that, and make sure we punish teams that try to do that,” said Bliznyuk. “We’ve got great shooters and great finishers. If teams are going to do that, this a great sign of what we can do.”

The Eagles were without junior forward Jesse Hunt with an ankle injury, but Legans said he expects him back for the Eagles’ home game on Friday against Idaho, which tips off at 7:30 p.m.

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EWU men’s basketball win two at home, opens Big Sky 3-1