The Easterner

EWU men’s basketball wins fourth straight as regular season winds down

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Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk shooting a layup against Montana on Feb. 15. Bliznyuk became the 5th player in Big Sky history to eclipse 2,000 points on Feb. 24 versus Idaho State | Richard Clark IV for The Easterner

Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk shooting a layup against Montana on Feb. 15. Bliznyuk became the 5th player in Big Sky history to eclipse 2,000 points on Feb. 24 versus Idaho State | Richard Clark IV for The Easterner

Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk shooting a layup against Montana on Feb. 15. Bliznyuk became the 5th player in Big Sky history to eclipse 2,000 points on Feb. 24 versus Idaho State | Richard Clark IV for The Easterner

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

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For the first time in two seasons, the EWU men’s basketball team swept a Big Sky Conference weekend on the road. After going no better than 1–1 every conference weekend away from Reese Court last season, the Eagles finally achieved the feat, taking down the Weber State Wildcats 75–70 on Feb. 22 before beating the Idaho State Bengals 74–69 on Feb. 24.

With the victories, EWU improves to 11–5 in conference play and remain in fourth place with two games left in the regular season. The top four teams in the BSC will earn a first round bye in the conference tournament, which is held March 5 to 10 in Reno, Nevada.

In the win over Weber State, EWU got out to an early 8–0 advantage. The Eagles would lead by as many as 13, going ahead 19–6 with 11:52 left in the first half on a three-pointer from freshman guard Jack Perry.

The Wildcats fought their way back to retake the lead 31–30 near the end of the half as the Eagles battled foul trouble. However, a layup from redshirt freshman guard Jacob Davison with three seconds left gave EWU the 32–31 halftime advantage. After opening the game blistering from the floor, the Eagles closed the half shooting 2-for-10.

At halftime, sophomore guard Mason Peatling had 11 points and senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk had eight points. Weber State junior forward Brekkott Chapman scored 10 points in the half, while sophomore guard Jerrick Harding pitched in eight.

The Bengals continued their run as the second half began, going up by as many as eight, 46–38 with 14:40 left in the game. That’s when Bliznyuk took the game into his own hands. The senior forward went on a 9–0 run by himself to re-take the lead for the Eagles midway through the half.

Weber State would go up again briefly, but another layup from Bliznyuk a few minutes later gave EWU the lead for good. The Eagles, aided by strong free throw shooting down the stretch, held off the Bengals to complete the upset.

“Our guys fought through everything tonight,” head coach Shantay Legans said. “They followed the game plan to a T and we had some exceptional step-ups by our freshmen. But everybody contributed when they got on the floor, and that’s exactly what you need to beat teams like this.”

Despite 14 three-pointers from Weber State for the game, EWU’s 65.2 percent shooting in the second half was the difference. Davison had 17 points, while Peatling scored 15 points and pulled down five rebounds.

EWU scored 40 points in the paint to Weber’s 14, while the Eagles also got 26 points off the bench.

“It was a huge game for our team and a huge game for our program,” said Legans. “It always comes back to the preseason, and that crazy road schedule we had early. They bought in and believed in it, and it made them tougher for games like this.”

Bliznyuk entered Saturday’s game against ISU just four points away from 2,000 in his illustrious career. The senior forward scored his first two baskets of the game to complete the accomplishment as the Eagles went up 9–2 early.

The Eagles led for the rest of the opening frame, going up 38–25 at halftime. EWU shot 50 percent in the first half, compared to 40 percent for the Bengals. Bliznyuk had 12 points and five rebounds at the break. Freshman guard Jack Perry had nine points and Davison chipped in seven points.

ISU junior forward Novak Topalovic had 11 points in the first half, while sophomore guard Brandon Boyd had seven points.

The Bengals caught fire after the break, knocking down 69.6 percent of their total shots in the second half, including 8-for-12 from downtown. Still, late execution and hot shooting by the Eagles proved too much.

With 2:01 remaining, ISU took their only lead of the game on a three from sophomore guard Balint Mocsan. However, Bliznyuk answered with a three of his own thirty seconds later. After an empty possession from the Bengals, the Eagles closed out the victory with late free throws.

“That was another tournament-type of game,” said Legans. “We got up and they battled all the way back in it. We had to make some tough plays at the end of the game to win it, and that’s exactly how you need to play at the Big Sky Tournament. You have to make big plays at the right time.”

Bliznyuk had 17 points and points for the game. Perry scored 16 points on five three-pointers, while junior guard Cody Benzel poured in 12 points after halftime.

The Bengals’ Boyd finished with 23 points and Topalovic had 17. EWU had 23 points from its bench.

“I keep saying it, but it’s a team effort,” said Legans. “I’m excited about the outcome of this game, the way we are playing and the way our freshmen are stepping up. Our players did a great job and played great under the circumstances of being on the road in an environment where it’s tough to win.”

The Eagles close out their regular season with two home games this weekend against Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The NAU game will be senior night for Bliznyuk, Sir Washington and Benas Griciunas.

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EWU men’s basketball wins fourth straight as regular season winds down