EWU men’s basketball sweeps home pair to remain in 4th place


Senior guard Sir Washington extends for a layup in EWU’s win over Montana on Feb. 15. Washington is averaging 8.5 points per game in Big Sky Conference play | Richard Clark IV for The Easterner

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

There’s been no place like home for the EWU men’s basketball team this season.

In 2017-18, the Eagles are 14–13 overall; 9–1 at Reese Court, 1–1 at neutral sites and 4–11 on the road. Focusing only on Big Sky Conference play, the team is 9–5; 6–1 at home and 3–4 away from Reese Court.

The most recent victims to fall to the Eagles at Reese Court: Montana (74–65 on Feb. 15) and Montana State (84–79 on Feb. 17.)

Montana entered the Feb. 15 game 13–0 in conference play, but were coming off a narrow overtime victory over Sacramento State the week before. EWU, meanwhile, was gripping onto fourth place after losing two straight on the road—to Portland State and Idaho.

This one was different for the Eagles.

Despite a close score throughout, the Eagles led for the majority of the win over UM on Feb. 15. UM held a slight advantage a few times early on, including 10–7 and 15–13, but once EWU went up 17–15 with 11:37 in the first half, the home team didn’t relinquish the lead.

The Eagles opened up the game 10-of-14 from the field en route to a 21–15 lead. Though UM tied it up again at 25, EWU closed the first half strong, leading the Grizzlies 35–32 at the break.

Senior forwards Bogdan Bliznyuk and Benas Griciunas paced the Eagles in the first half, combining for 27 points on 13-of-14 shooting. Overall, EWU made 61.5 percent of its field goals in the opening frame. UM junior guard Ahmaad Rorie finished the first half with 13 points and four assists.

The Grizzlies kept up the attack in the second half, but were never able to pull closer than two points. With 4:27 to go, UM cut the EWU’s lead to 60–57. That’s when the Eagles went on a 7–2 run, scoring on a pair of layups by Bliznyuk and sophomore forward Mason Peatling, and a dagger three from redshirt freshman Jacob Davison with 3:22 remaining.

“It was a great win playing against the best team in the league,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said following the win. “They are well-coached and kept coming back play-after-play. But our players did a great job of making big plays.”

After scoring 15 in the first half, Bliznyuk ended up with 19 points for the game. As a result, the senior forward moved into No. 5 all-time in conference scoring. Bliznyuk added six rebounds and dished out five assists while being double-teamed nearly every time he touched the ball.

It was the redshirt freshman who stole the show at Reese Court—Davison scored 12 points, all in the last 10 minutes of play. His four makes were pivotal in the win, as when each shot went in, it gave the Eagles the lead.

“It was tough last year having to redshirt,” Davison said after the game. “I’m a competitor and I want to play, so being a part of a big win is an unbelievable feeling.”

Rorie finished with 18 points for UM, while sophomore guard Sayeed Pridgett scored 15 and senior forward Fabijan Krslovic added 12.

Still, the Eagles held the Grizzlies’ second- and third-leading scorers in check. Junior guard Michael Oguine entered the game averaging 15.6 points; he was held to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting. Junior forward Jamar Akoh was notching 14.3 points per game, and ended up scoring seven points.

“It shows our guys that we can play with all of these teams if you play with confidence,” said Legans. “We were at home tonight, but if we can take that on the road with us to a neutral site at the tournament we can have a good outcome.”

In the Feb. 17 win over MSU, the Eagles led for the most of the first half. They went up by as many as seven, 30–23 on a triple from junior guard Cody Benzel. Both teams traded baskets, before the Eagles went up 34–28 on a layup by Peatling. The Bobcats closed the half on a 12–4 spurt which gave them the 40–38 lead at the break.

Both teams shot over 50 percent in the back-and-forth first half. Peatling had 12 points (6-of-7 shooting) and eight rebounds. Benzel scored nine points on three triples, while Bliznyuk added six points, five assists and three rebounds.

MSU junior guard Devonte Klines scored the first 10 points for the Bobcats. Senior forward Konner Frey led the way in the opening half with 11 points, while junior guard Tyler Hall, the team’s leading scorer, had 10 points and four assists.

The second half was somehow even closer than the first, featuring eight ties and nine lead changes. For the game, there were 10 ties and 15 changes of the lead.

With 10:39 remaining, the Bobcats led 62–61. To that point, Bliznyuk had been held to 12 points. The Eagles then went on an 8–0 run, fueled by six points from Bliznyuk. EWU’s largest lead of the game, 74–66, came on a three-pointer from freshman guard Jack Perry with 5:21 to go.

MSU tied the game up at 74 with 2:19 remaining. That’s when the Eagles put the ball in their leader’s hands. Bliznyuk delivered, making a layup after rebounding his own miss, getting fouled in the process.

Bliznyuk made the free throw, and then four more to close out the victory for EWU. The senior forward has now made 63 consecutive free throws, dating back to the game at North Dakota on Dec. 31. The NCAA single season record is 73 set by Gary Buchanan from Villanova over a 21-game stretch in 2000-01.

Bliznyuk nearly had a triple double, registering 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, including 19 points in the second half. Peatling finished with 19 points (9-of-10 shooting) and 13 rebounds. Perry and Benzel added 11 points each.

For MSU, Hall scored 22 points (but was held to 3-of-10 from the field), with six assists and five rebounds. Konner Frey had 16 points, while sophomore guard Harald Frey added 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Klines scored 15 points.

The Bobcats shot 50 percent in the first half, but just 37 percent after the break. The Eagles, meanwhile, connected on 50 percent of their attempts for the game.

“Our guys stuck with the game plan and fought through some things,” said Legans. “We were able to separate it a little bit in the second half and made it a multi-possession game, then it was hard for them to get back in it.”

EWU (8–5 Big Sky, fourth place) go on the road next to take on second place Weber State (Feb. 22) and sixth place Idaho State (Feb. 24) for the team’s final regular season road games.

The Eagles are trying to hold onto a top-four seed, which would give the team a first round bye in next month’s Big Sky Tournament.

“The sweep was huge, especially against the Montana schools and the positions they are in,” said Legans. “We have to take this on the road next week […] Our guys will be excited for those.”