Bliznyuk nears triple-double in OT win

Bogdan Bliznyuk was one assist away from a triple-double in the 85-80 overtime win against Denver.

With a young team needing more experience, why not experience another overtime game?

A near triple-double by Bogdan Bliznyuk and a trio of 20-point performances helped the Eastern Washington University men's basketball extend its winning streak to three games with an 85-80 overtime victory over Denver Saturday (Nov. 26) as part of the Eastern Classic at Reese Court.

"40 minutes just isn't enough for our team right now – we have to keep playing more into overtime," laughed Eastern head coach Jim Hayford of the team's second-straight overtime game. "The thing I'm liking about our team is that we are finding a way to win."

The Eagle trio of Bliznyuk, Felix Von Hofe and Jacob Wiley combined for 67 of Eastern's points, with Bliznyuk coming a rebound away from his second triple-double in school history. Wiley also had five blocked shots, helping hold the efficient Pioneers to 43 percent shooting in the second half. The Pioneers made 55 percent in the first half after entering the game making 54 percent for the season.

"Felix made some really big shots for us and we ran a lot of our offense through Bogdan with low turnovers," said Hayford, whose team had only three turnovers in 45 minutes. "And Jake was good enough inside to make a difference, and he had his hands full on the defensive end. Their inside players were better than we thought they would be from watching video."

The 4-2 Eagles now face 4-0 San Francisco at 6:05 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 27) in the final game of a Reese Court tripleheader. The Dons from the West Coast Conference defeated Big Sky Conference opponent Sacramento State 77-59 in Saturday's first game, meaning Sunday's game could be regarded as the title tilt despite having pre-determined pairings. Sac State will take on the Pioneers Sunday at noon, followed by an EWU women's game versus Multnomah at 3 p.m.

"It's fun playing and hosting these tournaments, and getting a chance to play different teams," he added. "We'll have our hands full tomorrow."

Won-Lost Records . . . 

* The Eagles, who were coming off the championship of the Legends Classic Sub-Regional in at EWU, are now 4-2. Denver is 1-3, having lost this season to Jacksonville (84-92) and Utah Valley (88-85), and defeating San Jose State on the road (74-69). San Francisco, which opened an 11-0 lead over the Hornets, is now 4-0 while Sac State is 1-4.

* The Eagles finished the 2015-16 season with an 18-16 record and advanced to the second round of the College Basketball Invitational, including the school's first NCAA Division I postseason win with a 79-72 victory over Pepperdine. Eastern finished fourth in the Big Sky Conference with a 10-8 league mark.

What It Means . . .

* With pre-determined pairings, the Eastern Classic doesn't have a champion crowned. But with EWU and USF both winning, Sunday's game can be a pseudo championship game. Another close game should also help the Eagles moving forward as well. The game included seven ties and 11 lead changes. In Eastern's previous game versus Seattle, there were 11 ties and 14 lead changes in a game EWU won in double-overtime 80-76.

What's Next . . .

* On Sunday (Nov. 27), on the second day of the Eastern Classic, the Eagles will host San Francisco at 6:05 p.m. Also, at noon that day, Denver will take on Sac State. At 3 p.m. on Sunday, the Eastern women's team hosts Multnomah. The Eastern men then will head back out on the road for a Dec. 4 rematch with Seattle, the team EWU defeated 80-76 in double-overtime on Nov. 22 to capture the title in the Legends Classic Sub-Regional at EWU. The Eagle men will again travel the nation this season by playing teams from 13 different leagues. Eastern's schedule includes four teams which appeared in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and four others who joined EWU last year in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

Keys to Game . . .

* The Eagles had just three turnovers, including one in each period. Eastern forced 11 and had a 13-2 advantage in points off turnovers, plus attempted 75 shots to Denver's 66.

Top Performers . . .

*Junior Bogdan Bliznyuk has the only triple-double in school history, and came a rebound from another. He scored 22 points and had a career-high 11 assists and nine rebounds.
* Senior Felix Von Hofe led all scorers with 23 points, making 6-of-12 3-pointers and 8-of-17 shots overall. He scored a career-high 28 points in last year's 74-58 victory at Denver, hitting eight 3-pointers.
* Senior graduate transfer Jacob Wiley made 9-of-12 shots from the field and all four of his free throws, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds, five blocked shots and three steals. He was named the MVP in leading EWU to the title at the Legends Classic Sub-Regional on Nov. 21-22 at EWU.
* True freshman Mason Peatling hit two big shots in the final 2 1/2 minutes of regulation and finished with six points. He also missed the front end of two one-plus-one free throw opportunities in the final 1:39 when Wiley was battling cramps. Peatling entered the game having made 7-of-10 free throws this season.
* Sophomore Cody Benzel had three points and a pair of rebounds. His brother, Erik, played four seasons from 2001-05 at the University of Denver, and scored 17 points each of three games versus EWU (Denver won two of those).

Turning Point . . .

* After missing its final three shots of regulation and three to begin overtime, two baskets by Bogdan Bliznyuk were sandwiched around a basket by Jacob Wiley to give EWU an 83-80 advantage with one minute left. Eastern's defense did the rest, as Denver missed its final four shots and had a turnover in the final two minutes.

* In regulation, the game was tied at 62 when Felix Von Hofe made a four-point play with 5:40 to play. After a blocked shot on the other end by Jacob Wiley, a three-point play by Sir Washington gave the Eagles their biggest lead of the night at 69-62 at the 5:07 mark.

Key Stats . . .

* The Pioneers went on a 3-point shooting barrage in the first half, including three in an 11-2 run to open a seven-point lead. Eastern battled back late in the half thanks to a three-point play by Bogdan Bliznyuk and a conventional 3-pointer by Felix Von Hofe during an 8-4 Eagle run. Eastern trailed at halftime 41-37, with the Pioneers making 7-of-12 3-pointers and making 54 percent overall, while EWU was 4-of-13 from the 3-point arc on 41 percent shooting. But in the second half and overtime, Denver made only 15-of-35 shots for 43 percent. Eastern, meanwhile, made 19-of-41 after halftime for 46 percent, and finished with eight 3-pointers to Denver's 10.

Team Highlights . . .

Trailing by as many as seven in the first half and four at halftime, Eastern started the second half with a 7-0 run, including five points by Von Hofe. He hit a 3-pointer in another 5-0 run to give EWU at 51-47 lead with 15:17 to play.

Notables . . .

* With a team-leading 20 3-pointers this season, senior Felix Von Hofe has moved into third in school history in 3-pointers made with 186. He moved past the 184 of Marc Axton (2002-05) and is now 24 from the No. 2 position (210, Parker Kelly 2012-15). Von Hofe is 74 from the record set by his former teammate Tyler Harvey from 2013-15 with 260. Von Hofe now has had nine performances of at least 20 points in his Eastern career, including seven as a junior in 2015-16 when he had the fourth-most 3-pointers in school history with 105. He has scored in double figures three times this season and 29 times in his career (20 as a junior), and has led EWU in scoring on 11 occasions (eight in 2015-16).

* Eastern is now 3-3 all-time against Denver, winning 74-58 last season on Dec. 20, 2015, in Denver. The Pioneers won the first meeting on Nov. 30, 2002, by a 69-48 score in Denver, then won 77-73 in Cheney on Nov. 26, 2003. Eastern fell on the road 80-64 on Nov. 28, 2004, and then lost at home 80-61 less than a month later on Dec. 18, 2004. In last year's victory, Australians Felix Von Hofe and Venky Jois joined Austin McBroom to combine for 72 points, and the Eagles used hot 3-point shooting some great defense to register a huge road win. Von Hofe scored 28 points and made eight 3-pointers, Jois had 26 points and equaled his career high with 16 rebounds and McBroom chipped in 18 points and four assists. That trio combined for all 26 of EWU's field goals, helping the Eagles sink 51 percent of their shots overall (26-of-51) and 12-of-25 3-pointers for 48 percent. Defensively, Eastern had a dominating 40-21 rebounding advantage over the Pioneers, who entered the game 3-0 against Big Sky Conference teams. The Eagles held the Pioneers to 40 percent shooting from the field, and just 4-of-17 from the 3-point stripe (24 percent). The Pioneers entered the game ranked 33rd in NCAA Division I at 48.6 percent but had just two field goals in the last nine minutes.

* Eastern is 2-1 all-time against San Francisco, losing 66-48 on Dec. 1, 1995, winning 81-76 on Dec. 11, 2014, and winning 81-77 on Dec. 1, 2015. All three games were played at USF.

More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .

On Denver Win: "We played a lot better defense in the second half – I was disappointed with that in the first half. Give Denver credit – they are a very good team and execute well. They are a hard team to guard and run their offense really well. We came out in the second half and knuckled down and played some defense and executed our offense a little bit better. The big difference was we only turned the ball over three times the whole night. So we had that many more chances to take shots, as opposed to their turnover number. That's why we won a close game. It probably shouldn't have gone to overtime – we should have made some more free throws, at least one more. The extra five minutes will only make us better."

On Talk With Team Heading into Overtime: "'Let's go find a way to win,' that's the first thing I told them. We had three trips to the free throw line and came away with zero points. We had three stops, but they had all their points off of rebounds. We played good enough defense, but we didn't get the rebounds. We're a really good free throw shooting team, and that's not going to happen again. Mason missed those free throws, but he also came up with two big buckets while Jake was battling cramps. And Sir is a good free throw shooter – I don't think that will happen again."

On Playing With the Lead: "That's why you need to play in these close games. You can't pucker up – you have to go make baskets. Sometimes it's harder playing with the lead the last four minutes than when you are the other team chasing. Regardless, our team found a way to win against a quality opponents."



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