With Tyler Harvey on the bench with a quad contusion, Eagles use late offensive and defensive surge to improve to 7-1 in league play and 11-0 at home
The Eastern Washington University men's basketball team had an epic victory in November at Indiana, but this time the Eagles had an epic comeback to put on its resume.
Rallying from 11 points down in the final 1:33 of the game, Eastern forced key turnovers down the stretch and found some timely offense to go with that defense to defeat Idaho 98-95 in overtime in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Jan. 31) at Reese Court.
On his way to a monster double-double with 21 points and 15 rebounds, true freshman Bogdan Bliznyuk scored seven points in overtime after a driving layin at the buzzer by senior Drew Brandon had sent the game into OT. Eastern trailed by as many as 17 in the second half, then ended regulation with a 16-5 run, as Idaho had three turnovers and no field goals in the final 2:01.
Junior Venky Jois, who had missed EWU's last three games with an ankle sprain, blocked Idaho's final 3-point shot at the buzzer to keep EWU perfect at home and remain one of three one-loss teams in the league standings. Best of all, the Eagles rallied after the nation's leading scorer, junior Tyler Harvey, left the game for good with 7:31 remaining with a quad contusion he originally suffered in the first half.
"What I really love about this game for my team is we were playing without Tyler, and Venky is on half a leg, and our guys showed tremendous will and guts," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "Guy after guy hit big shots, Drew kept attacking and we never stopped believing. That's what makes for as entertaining a college basketball game as you are going to see this year -- in my opinion."
Won-Lost Records . . .
* Eastern is now 16-5 on the season and 7-1 in Big Sky play. The Eagles were ranked 13th in this week's Collegeinsider.com mid-major poll, and are a Big Sky-best 62nd nationally in the RPI rankings. The Eagles are a perfect 11-0 at Reese Court and have won those games by a combined 200 points (20.0 per game).
* The Vandals are now 8-11 overall and 3-5 in the league. Idaho lost its first league game of the season when they fell 89-86 to the Eagles earlier this month, and that started a four-game league losing streak.
* After having never defeated the Vandals in a Big Sky game entering the season, Eastern now has a two-game winning streak. The previous meeting in Moscow was EWU's first-ever league victory over the UI, and was the first league meeting between the schools since Feb. 17, 1996. The Vandals have rejoined the Big Sky Conference this season after previously competing in the league from 1963-1996, winning championships in 1980, 1981, 1989 and 1990. Eastern began playing in the Big Sky in 1987-88, and won the league title in 2004. In those previous nine seasons of co-existence in the Big Sky, the Vandals won all 18 league meetings between the two schools, as well as the Big Sky Conference Tournament Championship game in 1990 won 65-62 by the Vandals on a shot at the buzzer.
* Since 1996 when Idaho left the Big Sky Conference, the two schools have now played 16 times, with Eastern winning 10 of them. Idaho leads the all-time series 52-26.
What It Means . . .
* It wasn't easy, but the Eagles protected its home court with its 11th victory in 11 tries at Reese Court. Three Big Sky teams – EWU, Montana and leader Sacramento State -- entered Saturday's action with just one loss each at the top of the league standings. No other league team has lost less than three. The league schedule continues through early March, with the top eight teams qualifying for the Big Sky Conference Tournament on March 12-14 at the site of the regular season champion.
What's Next . . .
* Eastern goes on the road to face Montana (Feb. 5) and Montana State (Feb. 7).
Tweet of the Game . . .
Keys to Game . . .
* With Tyler Harvey out of the game for the final 7:31, point guard Drew Brandon took over with yet another near triple-double performance. He finished with 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds – the third time in his career he has come one stat from the first triple-double in school history. He also had just one turnover in 44 minutes of action. He had a steal with 1:11 left that resulted in a basket that cut Idaho's lead to five, and also made a pair of free throws down the stretch before his game-tying basket to send the game to OT.
Top Performers . . .
* True freshman Bogdan Bliznyuk finished with a double-double with 21 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, to go along with three assists and a steal. He made 9-of-14 shots from the field. He rebounded a missed Idaho free throw with 42 seconds to play in overtime, then made a driving layin with 12 seconds left to provide the final margin.
* Junior Tyler Harvey finished with 13 points in 28 minutes of action before leaving the game with a quad contusion. He made 3-of-10 3-pointers and 4-of-13 shots overall.
* Senior Parker Kelly hit four 3-pointers for the Eagles and finished with 14 points and three assists.
* Sophomore Ognjen Miljkovic was the fifth Eagle in double figures with 17, making four 3-pointers.
* Sophomore Felix Von Hofe came off the bench to hit a pair of three-pointers and finish with eight points.
Turning Point . . .
* A three-point play by Bogdan Bliznyuk with 1:21 left and a three-pointer by Felix Von Hofe at the 1:03 mark ignited EWU's late run, then a 3-point play by Ognjen Miljkovic with 46 ticks left pulled Eastern within three. His triple with 20 seconds left and a trade of free throws set the stage for Brandon's layin.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern attempted a school-record 44 3-pointers, making 17 for 38.6 percent. Idaho made 10-of-22 for 45.5 percent. The Eagles and Vandals entered the game both essentially ranked second in the NCAA Division in 3-point shooting accuracy, with EWU owning a percentage of .4198 percent and the Vandals three ten-thousandths behind at .4195. Eastern entered averaging 10.0 per game to rank sixth nationally, and Idaho was 31st with an average of 8.1 per game.
* Eastern, which had entered the game making 86.9 percent of its free throws in league play, was just 13-of-25 against the Vandals for its third-lowest percentage of the season at 52.0 percent. Venky Jois and Bogdan Bliznyuk were a combined 2-of-11.
Team Highlights . . .
* Eastern had a similar comeback in the first half after the Vandals hit five-straight 3-pointers to take a 30-18 lead. Tyler Harvey scored Eastern's first eight points in an 18-8 run that pulled the Eagles to within two, with Bogdan Bliznyuk and Ognjen Miljkovic each scoring six. Eastern trailed at halftime 45-43.
Notables . . .
* Although the Eagles struggled much of the game at around 40 percent shooting from the field (they finished at 47 percent), EWU has now scored 295 points in its last three games. The Eagles hadn't played in a week since scoring 67-second half points to beat North Dakota 102-80 on Jan. 24 in the fifth-best scoring game against a NCAA Division I opponent in Eastern history. That followed a 95-85 victory over Northern Colorado to give EWU its best back-to-back offensive outings of the year despite playing its third-straight game without the Big Sky Conference's second leading scorer, Venky Jois.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Game and Vandals: "What an amazing basketball game. It was really fun to be a part of it. I first salute Idaho and coach Verlin and his team because they played with every bit of heart and they were great on the boards."
Four Vandals With Four Fouls: "At the start of the second half we were drawing a lot of fouls. Unfortunately, we weren't scoring, but we were winning even though the scoreboard wasn't showing it. We were moving into a position where they weren't going to be able to play as many people as they want to. We have been really good from the foul line -- obviously Venky had a tough night there – and so we said we are going to keep attacking them and keep them in foul trouble. You can't play defense as well when you are in foul trouble. We just kept going at it."
On Rebounding by Bliznyuk: "We were getting our rear ends killed on the boards, and Drew and Bogdan went in there and rebounded 2-on-5. We have a freshman with a lot of guts and courage. If he gets 14 rebounds, and not 15, then we don't win. He was big inside for us."
On Big Sky Race: "I am not really looking at places as much as what can we do to put the team we are playing behind us in the race. There are teams that have played two more games than us going into today. We care about who is the next team and what do we have to do to put them behind us. That is kind of what we are thinking on the whole thing."