Eagles Build Big Lead, Hang On To Win
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Eagles started hot and confident, and needed to end it that way too.
An 18-0 first half run helped open an early 28-point lead, but the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team needed every little bit of that advantage to lead from start-to-finish and edge Northern Arizona 81-76 Thursday (Jan. 18) at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk made all 16 of his free throws and scored 28 points, while true freshman Jack Perry and junior Ty Gibson hit big baskets in the last 1:06 to help EWU win for the sixth time in its last eight games. The Eagles, who didn’t practice Wednesday because of travel delays leaving Spokane, were fresh in the first half, but had to hold on for dear life after that.
“Our team was playing with a lot of confidence,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans . “Even when the game got close I had confidence in them. Northern Arizona made their run early in the half and I thought about taking a timeout, but I knew our players would fight through it. Using our timeouts late was huge – we needed them.”
The Eagles used an 18-0 run – all on 3-pointers by five different players – to jump out to an early 29-7 lead. The Eagles led by as many as 28 in the first half and 21 at halftime, but Northern Arizona roared back. The lead was down to 12 less than four minutes into the half and by single digits just a few minutes after that.
But the Eagles never gave up their lead, as Bliznyuk made 10-of-10 free throws for EWU’s only points in a 6 1/2-minute stretch. Perry hit a clutch 3-pointer with 1:06 left to put the Eagles up by four, then Gibson sank a reverse layup – only EWU’s second 2-point field goal of the half — with 28 ticks left. Bliznyuk closed out the win with four free throws in the final six seconds.
Besides scoring 28 points for the second-straight time against NAU, Bliznyuk also had five rebounds and six assists. He now has 1,784 career points, 19 away from the all-time record.
Junior Cody Benzel made five 3-pointers to finish with 16 points, and Eastern sank 15-of-23 3-pointers in the game for a season-high 65.2 percent. Eastern had 10 in the first half alone as EWU came just five from the school record of 20.
“We were great on both ends of the floor,” said Legans of his team’s first-half performance. “Our guys got hot and they couldn’t slow us down. We had so many guys getting open looks and knocking them down. Our first half effort was spectacular. I couldn’t be happier as a head coach.”
Against Idaho one game earlier, Eastern sank eight of its first 13 shots from the field to jump out to an early 14-point lead in the opening seven minutes. But the Eagles scored only 31 points after that and fell 58-51 to the Vandals.
The Eagles and Lumberjacks will end the regular season against each other in Cheney on March 3. Eastern’s next game is at Southern Utah Saturday (Jan. 20) at 11:30 a.m. Pacific time.