CHENEY, Wash. - For the first 20 minutes, Bogdan Bliznyuk single-handedly outscored the Thunderbirds.
En route to moving to No. 3 on the Big Sky Conference's all-time scoring list, Bliznyuk had another near triple-double as the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team rolled to a 74-51 victory over Southern Utah Thursday (March 1) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The victory, coupled with a win by Montana over Weber State and an Idaho victory, clinched a first-round bye in the upcoming Big Sky Conference Tournament. Eastern can finish no worse than third with a win on Saturday, but a loss coupled with a Weber State win at Montana State would give the Eagles fourth.
Eastern had season-best performances defensively for points and shooting percentage allowed as it extended EWU's winning streak to a league-best five games. Eastern opened up a 41-12 lead in the first 17 1/2 minutes and went on to out-shoot SUU 49 percent to 32 percent. The Eagles led by as many as 30 in the second half and no less than 16.
Bliznyuk, who scored only 18 points in just 27 minutes because of foul trouble in the overtime loss to SUU, played 37 minutes in the rematch and had 32 points, a career-high 15 rebounds and five assists. Junior Ty Gibson had 13 points for his best scoring performance in 2 1/2 months. Senior Sir Washington, who played in his 118th game as an Eagle to move into seventh in school history, chipped in 10 points.
Eastern's all-time leading scorer, Bliznyuk now has 2,045 points in his illustrious career to move into third in Big Sky history. He is only 57 points from the record of 2,102, with at least two games left to play for the Big Sky Player of the Year candidate. Bliznyuk is only the fifth player in the 55-year history of the league to hit the 2,000-point mark. He also made all three of his free throws, giving him a streak of 68-straight, just five from the NCAA single season record,
Now 10-1 at home and 56-10 (85 percent) at Reese Court in the past five seasons since 2013-14, Eastern closes out its regular season home schedule on Saturday (March 3) on Senior Day. Tipoff will be at approximately 2:15 p.m. following the conclusion of senior introductions.
"The statement was pretty good, and we have to come back on Saturday and do the same thing," added Legans. "We have to play with more energy because it's Senior Day, and guys will be way up and ready to go. A lot of teams lose on Senior Day, so we have to make sure we come out and play a full 40 minutes."
Records . . .
* The Eagles are 17-13 on the season and 12-5 in the Big Sky, and have won 14 of their last 19 games after a 3-8 start. The Eagles are 10-1 at home and 6-11 on opponent home courts this season, finishing 5-4 on the road in the league season and currently 7-1 at home.
* Southern Utah is 11-17 overall, 4-12 in the conference and 2-13 on the road this season.
What it Means . . .
* With just one game left for all league teams on Saturday, Eastern has clinched a first-round bye in the Big Sky Conference Tournament, which 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.
* Through Thursday's action in the Big Sky, Montana clinched the regular season title at 15-2, followed by Idaho at 13-4, and EWU and Weber State at 12-5. Northern Colorado is currently at 11-6.
* The Eagles can finish as high as third in the league standings, either with a 3-way tie at 13-5 with Weber State and Idaho, or a two-way tie with Weber State. Eastern was swept by Idaho, but the Vandals and Eagles both defeated WSU in the lone meetings. A tie just with Idaho would give the Vandals third place by virtue of a season sweep over EWU.
* Eastern could end up a three-way tie at 12-6 with Weber State and Northern Colorado, and EWU would be No. 3, WSU No. 4 and UNC No. 5. EWU and WSU would both have a 2-1 record amongst tied teams, and UNC would be fifth with a 1-3 record. After the elimination of UNC in the tie, EWU would get No. 3 because of its win over Weber. A head-to-head tie with Weber would give Eastern No. 3, and a tie with just UNC would give EWU the tiebreaker by virtue of EWU's win over Montana. The Eagles and Bears split two games this season.
* If Eastern loses and Weber State wins on Saturday, the Eagles would finish fourth.
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