Quartet of Eagles are honored after leading Eastern to its first Big Sky Conference regular season title since 2004
Injuries during the season tested their mettle, but lots of hardware is headed to Cheney, Wash., after the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team reaped several awards from the Big Sky Conference head coaches on Monday (March 9).
Junior guard Tyler Harvey and junior forward Venky Jois were honored by the league coaches as first team All-Big Sky selections, while Bogdan Bliznyuk was recognized as the Freshman of the Year. Point guard Drew Brandon was honored as an honorable mention selection.
More importantly, the Eagles head to Missoula, Mont., this week for the Big Sky Conference Tournament, where Eastern will attempt to be the second team in school history to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Eastern is 23-8 on the season and was 14-4 in the Big Sky, sharing the league title with Montana.
A repeat choice on the first team and a unanimous selection, Harvey is averaging 22.9 points and 4.0 3-pointers per game to lead the Big Sky and NCAA Division I. He missed three league games with a quadriceps contusion, but still averaged 23.1 points per league game to lead the Big Sky. Sacramento State's Mikh McKinney won the league's MVP award.
"I'm very glad Tyler was named first team all-conference," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "But I think if he was injury-free this season he would have been the MVP, and the tournament probably would be here in Cheney. He's a very special player and very deserving of this recognition."
"I have great respect for Mikh McKinney at Sac State, as well as Martin Breunig of Montana, and either of those players or Tyler could have won the award," Hayford added. "Tyler carried an un-asked for load as the leading scorer in the nation. He was a target by opposing teams and had a lot of media demands, but he proved himself to be a special player on the court and a special person off of it."
Jois, who has missed four full games and parts of two others with a sprained ankle, is fourth in the league and 79th nationally in per game scoring (17.1), third/ninth in field goal percentage (60.4 percent), first/33rd in blocked shots per game (2.41) and third/101st in rebounding (7.6). He ranked in the top 10 in all three categories in league games as well, averaging 15.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks while making 60.1 percent of his shots.
When Jois and Harvey played as freshmen in the 2012-13 season in Hayford's second season at the helm, EWU finished 10-21 overall and 7-13 in the Big Sky. A year later, with Brandon joining the Eagles as a junior college transfer, EWU improved to 15-16 overall and 10-10 in the league. Jois earned honorable mention All-Big Sky honors both seasons.
"Venky is one of the players we've built this program on," said Hayford. "He came in as a freshman and we went through a 10-21 season, but we knew he was the kind of person who could help us build our program. He's been a cornerstone of building our success, and I'm excited for all the recognition he's receiving."
Bliznyuk averaged 12.0 points in league play to rank 24th in the Big Sky -- tops among all freshmen. He was also fifth in field goal shooting (58.0 percent) and 12th in rebounding (5.6). The only Eagle to play in all 31 games thus far – all off the bench -- Bliznyuk averaged 8.4 points and 4.1 rebounds on the season while making 59.3 percent of his field goal attempts to rank fifth overall in the Big Sky.
Just two years ago, Jois was the league's Freshman of the Year, an honor now won six times in the past 14 seasons by Eastern players (Glen Dean 2010, Rodney Stuckey 2006, Matt Nelson 2004 and Marc Axton 2002). In addition, Collin Chiverton won the Newcomer of the Year Award in 2012 – Hayford's first season at the helm.
"Bogdan had a great freshman year and has a great career ahead of him," said Hayford. "He's a very coachable player and he plays hard, and if you can get that out of every player you know they are going to reach their full potential. It also shows what a great job of recruiting our staff has done, and I salute them. In three of our four years we've had the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year and two winners of the Freshman of the Year honor. I think that speaks really well for our program."
Brandon is fourth in the league and 50th nationally in assists (4.9), and is also second/22nd in assist-to-turnover ratio (+2.69 per game), third/71st in steals (1.8), fourth/124th in rebounding (7.3) and seventh/129th in free throw percentage (.809). In league games only, he averaged 10.9 points, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals and 7.5 rebounds per game.
"I'm very pleased to see Tyler, Venky and Drew all receive recognition from the other coaches in the conference," Hayford said. "All three are very deserving. Tyler and Venky are two of the cornerstones we've built the program on the past three seasons. We grew through youth to this position of being Big Sky champions. But the missing ingredient was Drew at point guard, and he gave us everything that we needed to finish the equation. All three have battled injuries all year, but they led us to the best road record of all the Big Sky teams and in our history, and that shows maturity and toughness. I'm very pleased to see these three players recognized."
MVP – Mikh McKinney, Sr., G, Sacramento State
Newcomer of the Year – Martin Breunig, Jr., F, Montana
Freshman of the Year – Bogdan Bliznyuk, Fr., Eastern Washington
Top Reserve – Marcus Colbert, Jr., G, Montana State
Defensive Player of the Year – Jordyn Martin, Jr., F, Northern Arizona
Note: McKinney first Hornet ever to win Big Sky MVP
*#Tyler Harvey, Jr., G, Eastern Washington
Venky Jois, Jr., F, Eastern Washington
*Martin Breunig, Jr., F, Montana
Jordan Gregory, Sr., G, Montana
Kris Yanku, So., G, Northern Arizona
*#Mikh McKinney, Sr., G, Sacramento State
#Two-time First Team Selection
Connor Hill, Sr., G, Idaho
Mike Scott, Sr., G, Idaho
Quinton Upshur, Sr., G, Northern Arizona
Dylan Garrity, Sr., G, Sacramento State
Joel Bolomboy, Jr., F, Weber State
Drew Brandon, Sr., G, Eastern Washington
Chris Hansen, Sr., G, Idaho State
Jeffrey Solarin, Sr., F, Idaho State
Mario Dunn, So., G, Montana
Aaseem Dixon, Sr., G, Northern Arizona
Tevin Svihovec, Sr., G, Northern Colorado
DaShaun Wiggins, Sr., G, Portland State
Jeremy Senglin, So., G, Weber State