EWU men’s basketball closes out non-conference slate with two wins


Senior forward Jesse Hunt fights for position during a home game this season. Hunt had 14 points in the Dec. 17 win over CSUN | Photo courtesy of Aaron Malmoe.

By Jeremy Burnham, Reporter

“I don’t know if the guys know what the scoreboard at home looks like anymore.”

That is what EWU men’s basketball head coach Shantay Legans said after his team’s 10 game road trip, in which the Eagles went 2-8. On Dec. 17, the Eagles put it all behind them with a 86-58 victory over California State University Northridge. They followed that up with a 94-66 victory over Providence on Dec. 20 to close out the non-conference portion of the schedule.

CSUN entered the game ranked dead last among NCAA Division 1 teams in the RPI. They were 1-8 on the season, with the one victory coming against an NAIA team.  The Eagles, meanwhile, entered the game on a five game losing streak with senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk pacing the way with 17 points per game.

The win against CSUN was never in doubt. Bliznyuk opened the scoring with the first two of his game-high 16 points. He was joined by four other Eagles who scored in double digits: junior forward Jesse Hunt (14),  junior guard Ty Gibson (12), freshman forward Richard Polanco (10) and senior center Benas Griciunas (10). Bliznyuk also chipped in 11 rebounds and seven assists.

“I liked what we did today,” Bliznyuk said following the victory. “We played unselfishly, with 22 assists. It’s big for us to move the ball because we have a lot of shooters.”

The Eagles made 12 of their first 24 shots of the game, while holding CSUN to 6-26 from the field during the same period. By halftime, the Eagles had built a 39-22 lead as seven different Eagles scored. They also out-rebounded CSUN 26-15 in the half.

The second half brought more of the same, with the team’s 86 points being scored by nine different players. The five Eagles in double digits was a season high. Hunt, who normally comes off the bench to give his team a spark, got the start. He was able to maintain his high level of play over an extended outing.

“I’ve got a lot of great teammates who found me for wide open shots,” Hunt said. “It’s not too different, coming off the bench or starting. I come in and I give energy. That’s my role.”

Legans, however, thought Hunt did more.

“Jesse didn’t just provide energy.” Legans said. “He’s a really good player and did a lot of great things today. Offensively he had three assists and moved the ball well, and he’s a great rebounder.”

The Eagles then played Providence on Dec. 20, an NAIA opponent. Still, Legans did not want to see his team look past them.

“I’m excited about it being a home game, but I don’t want it to be a trap game because we’re looking forward to Big Sky,” said Legans. “Providence is a pretty good team […] We have to be ready for that game and can’t give up any surprises.”

Though EWU was able to jump out to a 12-3 lead, Providence did not let the first half get out of hand. Every time the Eagles started to pull away, their opponent would bring it back to around 10 points. Hunt led the Eagles in the first half with 12 points as EWU took a 44-34 lead into the locker room.

The second half was the Bogdan Bliznyuk show, as the senior scored 17 of his 24 points in the frame. He was all over the court, registering seven rebounds five assists, two steals and a block.

The Eagles also took care of the ball better than they have all season. Though they average just 11 turnovers a game, they only committed six against Providence. This helped them to not allow a single fast break point. EWU also outrebounded Providence 42-27, and used 13 offensive rebounds to score 15 second-chance points. They continued the balanced attack that they had established against CSUN, as all 11 players who played, scored.

The Eagles will now have some time off before they open Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 29 at Northern Colorado.

“We’re going to give the guys some time to get away from the coaching staff,” said Legans. “We’re going to hang out and relax—we need to re-set and get ready for conference play […] We know how important each game is in the Big Sky. We finally get to play against like opponents and you get to see what you accomplished since last summer.”