3/1/2018 - 6:05 p.m.
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Eagle coach Shantay Legans has said it all year – pick your poison.
Senior Bogdan Bliznyuk went over the 2,000-point mark in his career and finished with a game-high 17, but three other Eagles scored in double figures as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team beat Idaho State 74-69 in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Feb. 24) in Pocatello, Idaho.
True freshman Jack Perry made five 3-pointers and finished with 16 points, redshirt freshman Jacob Davison scored 11 and junior Cody Benzel had 12 in the second half to help Eastern hold onto fourth place in the league standings. Eastern led by 13 at halftime and 15 early in the second half, but Idaho State came back to take a 69-68 lead with 2:01 left. But a 3-pointer by Bliznyuk and a trio of free throws down the stretch by Davison and Perry helped EWU secure it first road sweep in two years.
"I keep saying it, but it's a team effort," said Legans. "I'm excited about the outcome of this game, the way we are playing and the way our freshmen are stepping up. Our players did a great job and played great under the circumstances of being on the road in an environment where it's tough to win."
Saturday's game was the lone Eagles-Bengals meeting this season, which, had ISU won, would have been crucial in the event of a head-to-head tie in the league standings. Eastern is now three games clear of ISU, but is still just one game ahead of Northern Colorado with two games left to play.
As a residual effect of a current four-game winning streak, Eastern is just a game away from second-place Idaho and Weber State, both at 12-4. The top four teams in the league standings receive first-round byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Eastern's all-time leading scorer, Bliznyuk now has 2,013 points in his illustrious career to become only the fifth player in the 55-year history of the league to hit the 2,000-point mark. The record currently is at 2,102, with at least three games left to play for the Big Sky Player of the Year candidate. He didn't shoot any free throws, so his streak of 65-straight, just eight from record, remains intact heading into Thursday's (March 1) home game versus Southern Utah.
Now 5-4 on the season in league road games and 6-11 overall on opponent home courts, the Eagles completed their first road sweep in two years. Eastern had split its last seven two-game league road trips prior to beating ISU on the heels of knocking off Weber State two games earlier. The Eagles swept the Southern Utah and Northern Arizona road trip in February of 2016, and one trip earlier that season was swept by the Montana schools.
The Eagles were coming off a 75-70 victory at Weber State to snap a nine-game winning streak for the Wildcats, a week after snapping league-leading Montana's 13-game streak with a 74-65 win at Reese Court on Feb. 15.
Records . . .
* The Eagles are 16-13 on the season and 11-5 in the Big Sky, and have won 13 of their last 18 games after a 3-8 start. The Eagles are 6-11 on opponent home courts this season, finishing 5-4 on the road in the league season.
* With five players averaging in double figures, Idaho State now owns an 8-8 conference record and 13-14 overall mark.
What it Means . . .
* Through Saturday's action in the Big Sky, Montana remains on top at 14-2, followed by Weber State and Idaho at 12-4. Idaho has a tiebreaker advantage over Eastern with a season sweep, but EWU has a tiebreaker advantage over Weber State. The Eagles are fourth in the league standings at 11-5, but also own a tiebreaker advantage over 10-6 Northern Colorado. Eastern has already split with Northern Colorado, so a tie in the league standings would, at this point at least, favor the Eagles because the Bears were swept by Montana, a team EWU beat in their lone meeting. The Big Sky Conference Tournament takes place March 6-10 in Reno, Nevada. The top four teams receive first-round byes and won't have to play until March 8 in the quarterfinals.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern returns home to play its final two regular season games of the season versus Southern Utah on Thursday at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time and Saturday versus Northern Arizona at 2:05 p.m. The Lumberjack game is Senior Day at EWU, and the Eagles will honor Bogdan Bliznyuk, Sir Washington and Benas Griciunas in pre-game ceremonies. Earlier this season, Eastern beat NAU on the road 81-76, then lost two days later 66-62 in overtime at SUU. The Thunderbirds held EWU to its second-lowest point total in conference play this season and third fewest overall.