EWU men’s basketball narrowly drops thriller in Moscow


Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk against North Dakota on Jan. 25. Bliznyuk had 16 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists in the loss to Idaho on Feb. 9 | Bailey Monteith for The Easterner

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

It is rare that a rivalry matchup consistently lives up to its lofty billing, however EWU men’s basketball versus Idaho continues to do so.

The most recent classic in the clash—a 66-64 home victory for Idaho on Friday, Feb. 9.

In the 10 games since the Vandals re-joined the Big Sky Conference in 2014-15, the Eagles are 6–4 against them. The average margin over victory has been 6.2 points per game, with the largest split coming in a 14-point EWU win in 2015-16. At Reese Court on Jan. 12, Idaho came back from down 20–6, to beat the Eagles 58–51.

This time around, the score was close throughout. The Vandals led 15–11 and 22–19, but EWU ended the half on a 10–4 spurt and led 29–24.

Balanced scoring was the theme of the first half; seven players scored for each team, but no one was in double figures. Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk scored eight points with eight assists at the intermission, but committed five turnovers. Idaho senior guard Victor Sanders had seven points and five assists.

The back-and-forth nature continued into the second half, as neither team led by more than four after the break. With 14:37 to go, the Eagles held a 39–36 advantage. That’s when Idaho junior forward Nate Sherwood was unleashed.

Sherwood scored the next 11 points for the Vandals, giving his team a 48–47 lead. The lead changed a few more times, until the Eagles led 58–57 with 2:46 remaining. Senior guard Perrion Callandret and junior guard Cody Benzel traded three-pointers, and the Eagles clung to a 64–63 lead with 43 seconds to go.

Nineteen seconds later, Idaho senior forward Brayon Blake re-took the lead with a turnaround in the lane. With 13 seconds remaining and a one-point deficit, senior forward Sir Washington was fouled going to the basket and missed both free throws.

The Eagles intentionally fouled Sanders, who made one of two to put the Vandals up two points. The Eagles didn’t take a timeout, and instead put the ball in their senior forwards hands. With six seconds to go, Bliznyuk drove to the basket and got blocked by Blake at the rim.

“We came up one play too short,” Legans said following the loss, which featured 20 lead changes, including 13 in the second half. “It was great game and a lot of fun. It was going back and forth and there were a lot of lead changes and ties. Players on both sides stepped up and made big shots.”

Bliznyuk, who missed practice all week with an illness and vomited in the locker room at halftime, still played 39 minutes and put up 16 points, 13 rebounds and three assists in the loss. However, the ailment was clear, as the usually efficient Bliznyuk shot 6-for-18 from the field and had five turnovers.

Through two conference games against Idaho, Bliznyuk is averaging 15 points per game, compared to 23.5 points in the other 10 contests.

Benzel finished the game with 15 points (5-for-8 from downtown). Sophomore forward Mason Peatling added eight points and nine rebounds.

The Eagles got 20 points off the bench, including six points each by senior guard Sir Washington and redshirt freshman guard Jacob Davison.

Senior forward Benas Griciunas had six points, two rebounds and a block off the bench in the first half, prompting Legans to start the graduate-transfer over Peatling after halftime. Griciunas finished with eight points.

For Idaho, Nate Sherwood poured in 23 points (9-for-13 shooting), including 19 in the second half. Blake had 15 points and eight rebounds, while Sanders added eight points (3-for-13 shooting), eight rebounds and nine assists.

The Vandals had 15 assists to the Eagles’ eight. Both teams had a similar amount of defensive rebounds, however Idaho pulled down 17 offensive rebounds compared to 10 for EWU. That led to 10 second-chance points for the Vandals, including seven in a pivotal stretch to start the second half.

“Their offensive rebounds and losing the 50-50 balls hurt us,” said Legans. “When you lose those battles, it shows that Idaho came in a lot tougher than us. When we had it, our effort and energy kept us in the game.”

Next up for EWU (7–5 Big Sky, fourth place) is a home stand against first place Montana on Feb. 15 and sixth place Montana State on Feb. 17. The Eagles are 7–1 at Reese Court and 4–11 on the road.