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EWU men’s basketball enters offseason with promising future

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Redshirt freshman guard Jacob Davison hangs in the air for a layup against Southern Utah on March 1. Davison is one of seven major players returning for the Eagles next season | Bailey Monteith for The Easterner

Redshirt freshman guard Jacob Davison hangs in the air for a layup against Southern Utah on March 1. Davison is one of seven major players returning for the Eagles next season | Bailey Monteith for The Easterner

Redshirt freshman guard Jacob Davison hangs in the air for a layup against Southern Utah on March 1. Davison is one of seven major players returning for the Eagles next season | Bailey Monteith for The Easterner

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

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For the second time in as many years, the EWU men’s basketball team is losing the Big Sky Conference MVP to graduation.

Last season’s loss was Jacob Wiley, who notched 20.4 points and 9.1 rebounds in a single graduate transfer campaign.

This time it’s Bogdan Bliznyuk, whose presence has been felt with the Eagles for the past four years. Bliznyuk averaged 21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 2017-18 to cap off a record-breaking career.

Guided by their trusty senior forward and first-year head coach Shantay Legans, the Eagles finished the season 20–15 overall and 13–5 in the Big Sky Conference and were within 20 minutes of knocking off Montana in the tournament championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

EWU’s season ultimately ended with a loss to Utah Valley in the College Basketball Invitational.

Not bad for a team that was predicted to finish seventh in the conference and opened the season 3–8 following a grueling road exhibition schedule.

In his four years with the Eagles, Bliznyuk set 16 school records, in addition to becoming the Big Sky’s all-time leading scorer. He will surely go down as one of the most decorated athletes in EWU and Big Sky history.

But Legans said the attribute he will miss the most is Bliznyuk’s leadership.

“Bogdan was like a coach on the floor,” Legans told The Easterner. “He really helped the young guys. But he also helped me and helped the coaching staff. He gave us a great pulse on the team; let us know when they were tired or if they wanted to go more.”

Next season, the leadership, as well as production, that Bliznyuk provided will have to come from elsewhere.

Fortunately for Legans, the Eagles have seven crucial players coming back. Most played the whole year, while a couple missed time due to injury.

Along with the demanding slate, the Eagles lost starting point guard Luka Vulikic, a sophomore, for the season after just eight games. Junior forward Jesse Hunt also missed almost half the season with an ailment.

Freshman guards Jack Perry (6.8 points and 2.4 assists per game) and Jacob Davison (7.2 points per game), in addition to sophomore forward Mason Peatling (7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game) stepped up in their place. Legans predicts that Peatling will be one of the best post players in the conference next year.

Perry, who shot 43.1 percent from three on the season, moved into the starting lineup and became a steady hand next to Bliznyuk.

Davison, meanwhile, became a major contributor off the bench. The redshirt freshman guard scored in double-digits 10 times on the season, seven of which came in the team’s final 13 games.

With Bliznyuk and senior guard Sir Washington graduated, Perry and Davison will take on more of a playmaking role, a fact the latter is cognizant of.

“I want to improve my ball handling and my passing,” Davison told The Easterner. “I’m going to work my butt off all spring and summer and hopefully be able to take on a bigger role than I had this year. That’s what I want to do every year, just improve my role.”

The other returners include senior-to-be guards Cody Benzel and Ty Gibson. Benzel (41.6 percent from three) and Gibson (37.2 percent) join Perry as the team’s returning sharpshooters.

“I’m excited about next season,” said Legans.

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EWU men’s basketball enters offseason with promising future