EWU men’s basketball to play in CBI after dropping Big Sky title game


Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk drives past a Montana defender in the Big Sky title game on March 10. Bliznyuk became the all-time conference scoring leader a game earlier against Southern Utah | Photo courtesy of Brooks Nuanez, Skyline Sports

By Michael Brock, Sports Editor

For the fourth straight season, the EWU men’s basketball team will represent the Big Sky Conference in a national postseason tournament.

The Eagles accepted an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) and face off against Utah Valley in Orem, Utah at 6 p.m. tonight (March 13). A full bracket can be found here. This is EWU’s third consecutive appearance in the CBI.

As monumental an accomplishment that is, the team was just a win away from securing an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. During last weekend’s Big Sky Conference Tournament, the No. 3-seeded Eagles beat No. 6 Portland State 78–72 in the quarterfinals and No. 10 Southern Utah 82–70 in the semifinals, before falling to No. 1 Montana 82–65 in the championship.

“Although it was disappointing we did not make it to the big dance, getting a chance to play more basketball is always exciting,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said. “It is another chance for this group of guys to get out there together and represent the EWU community.

The title bout with Montana on March 10 was largely back-and-fort in the early going. Neither team was able to gain more than a few-point separation for much of the first half, as the game was tied at 25 with 6:57 to go.

The Eagles closed the first first on an 18–4 run and led 40–29 at the break. Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison ushered the attack, scoring 11 points for an EWU team that shot 53.3 percent and made eight three-pointers in the first 20 minutes.

The second half, however, was a different story. With 14:38 remaining in the game, the Eagles held a 50–43 advantage. Over the next eleven minutes, the Grizzlies went on a spurt of their own, this one a 28–4 run. Montana took a commanding 71–54 lead with 3:33 remaining and never looked back.

After leading by 11 at the half, EWU scored just 25 points after the break and fell 82–65.

“I’m disappointed and I’ll probably look at this game a 1,000 times,” said Legans. “I’m sure there are things we could have done a lot better tonight.”

The loss snapped the team’s eight-game winning streak, which began on Feb. 15 against Montana.

Senior forward Bogdan Bliznyuk played the entire game and finished with a stat line of 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Bliznyuk had all six of his turnovers in the second half when the Grizzlies switched junior guard Ahmaad Rorie onto the BSC MVP.

Davison finished scored 16 points for the game, while sophomore forward Mason Peatling had 15 points. The Eagles shot 1-of-11 from three after halftime.

Four Grizzlies were in double figures, led by junior guard Michael Oguine with 21 points (18 in the second half) and 15 from Rorie.

To advance to the finals against Montana, EWU beat Portland State (78–72) in the quarterfinals and Southern Utah (82–70) in the semifinals.

Besides trailing 2–0, the Eagles led for the entirety of the quarterfinal against PSU. They went up by as many as 20 in the first half and led 43–27 at the break. The Vikings were held without a field goal over a ten minute stretch.

The second half looked to be more of the same, until EWU got a bit sloppy with the ball. The Eagles turned it over 11 times in the second half, however the Vikings couldn’t pull any closer than four points.

“We were solid and we were smart, and our team did a good job,” said Legans. “Our guys made some plays at the end that separated it a little bit.

Three players scored in double figures for PSU, including junior guard Derek Brown with 14 points.

EWU shot 52 percent from the field and made 10 threes, while Bliznyuk scored 35 points. The Eagles held the Vikings to 37.9 shooting. Both teams shot over 20 free throws.

Bliznyuk entered the semifinals against Southern Utah just eight points from becoming the BSC all-time leading scorer. The senior forward secured the accomplishment on a free throw with 14:45 left in the first half. Entering the CBI game against Utah Valley, Bliznyuk has 2,142 career points.

The Eagles held a 43–31 advantage at halftime, as Bliznyuk poured in 17 points. The team’s lead never dipped below six points in the second half en route to the 82–70 victory.

EWU shot 64.6 percent from the field and scored 40 points in the paint. Bliznyuk’s 32 points led the way, while Davison chipped in 16 and senior forward Benas Griciunas scored 14 off the bench.

SUU turned the ball over 17 times. The Thunderbird’s junior guard Jadon Cohee and junior forward scored 15 points each.