EWU Eagles

Bliznyuk Breaks Record, Eagles Advance To Title Game

RENO, Nev. -

The glass was once again full – overflowing in fact -- Friday (March 9) for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team.
 
On a night Big Sky Conference MVP Bogdan Bliznyuk became the all-time leading scorer in the 55-year history of the league and set a trio of tournament records, the third-seeded Eagles beat No. 10 Southern Utah 82-70 in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament at the Reno (Nevada) Events Center.
 
With the league MVP pouring in 32 points, Eastern extended its winning streak to eight games – its longest in 14 years – to advance to its seventh Big Sky championship game in school history. The Eagles, who won the tourney title in 2004 and 2015, have now won 17 of their last 22 games after a 3-8 start. Now 20-13, they have 20 victories for the second-straight season and third in the last four, with EWU achieving that mark just one other time in the school's 35 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I.
 
For the fifth-straight game, Eastern led at halftime by at least 12 points, taking a 43-31 lead at half. With Bliznyuk scoring 17 points in the first half, Eastern had its best shooting half of the season both overall (70.8 percent) and from 3-point range (80 percent, 4-of-5).
 
The Eagles used a 10-run in the second half to lead by as many as 17 and no fewer than six in the second half. Eastern made a season-best 64.6 percent of its shots to offset the 50.0 percent shooting for SUU, as Bliznyuk sank 13-of-17 from the field and 5-of-7 from the free throw line.
 
Redshirt freshman Jacob Davison added 16 points and five rebounds while making all nine of his free throw attempts, and senior Benas Griciunas came off the bench to make all seven of his field goals and score 14 points.
 
"It's a big thing for our program to get to 20 wins," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. "The guys deserve it and they did everything we asked them to do all season long. To be able to p lay for a championship is what you are trying to do when the season starts."
 
Eastern advances to Saturday's championship game versus regular season champion Montana at 5 p.m., with the winner receiving a berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Grizzlies, now 24-7 with its best season in school history, beat fifth-seeded Northern Colorado 91-89 in overtime in Friday's other semifinal game to advance to the winner-take-all game to be broadcast on ESPNU and via watchespn.com.
 
"It wasn't as exciting as the first semifinal, but at the same time our players played with a lot of poise," said Legans of his team's victory. "Southern Utah is a good team and has a good coach, and they have some good players. For us to play with poise at the end and make the big plays when we needed to was huge for us. It helps to have Bogdan – he makes it real easy on me."
 
The Eagles have advanced to the Big Dance in 2004 and 2015, were in the NIT in 2003 and have played in the last two College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournaments.
 
Bliznyuk secured the record less than five minutes into the game. With a 3-pointer 2:45 into the game, he tied the 24-year old league record of 2,102 points set by Orlando Lightfoot from Idaho in three seasons from 1991-94. Bliznyuk then hit a free throw 30 seconds later to own sole possession of the record, and went on to increase his total to 2,127 points in 136 career games. Just five players layer in the 55-year history of the league have hit the 2,000-point mark, and he stands above them all.
 
"It's definitely an honor and there have been a lot of great players in this conference," said Bliznyuk. "I'm just really happy that our team was composed and we are playing for a trip to the NCAA Tournament."
 
The Big Sky MVP tied the league record by playing in his ninth Big Sky Tournament game, and went on to break the scoring record as well in the second half. He now has 178 points to break the record of 165 set by current Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak from Montana from 1983-86. His 65 career field goals are also a record.
 
Interestingly, Eastern women's player Delaney Hodgins became just the fourth player in the 29-year history of women's basketball in the Big Sky to hit 2,000 points when she scored 30 versus Weber State on Feb. 22. She had 37 on Feb. 28 versus Southern Utah and a Big Sky and EWU record 46 two days later at Northern Arizona, and now has 2,120 in her career to also rank third all-time in the league (29 years).


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