6-1 Pitt Provides Another Huge Challenge for 5-4 Eagles Friday on East Coast Road Swing

6-1 Pitt Provides Another Huge Challenge for 5-4 Eagles Friday on East Coast Road Swing

After losing 96-86 to a lethal-shooting Davidson squad, Eastern now faces a Panthers team that is one of the best in the nation in both offense and defense

Complete Release in .PDF Format

Upcoming Games

EWU GAMES IN THE GOTHAM CLASSIC PRESENTED BY THE GAZELLE GROUP

Friday, Dec. 11 - Petersen Events Center (12,508) - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
4 p.m. Pacific - Eastern Washington (5-4) vs. Pittsburgh (6-1) 

Monday, Dec. 14 - Ramsey Center (7,826) - Cullowhee, North Carolina
4 p.m. Pacific - Eastern Washington vs. Western Carolina (3-5 entering 12/12 game) 

Thursday, Dec. 17 - Reese Court (5,000) - Cheney, Washington
6:05 p.m. - Eastern Washington vs. Morehead State (5-2 entering 12/13 game)


Coverage

TV: The Pittsburgh Game in on ESPN3; the Morehead State game is televised regionally in Eastern Washington by SWX.
Webcast:
Pittsburgh game available via http://espn.go.com/watchespn/; Western Carolina game available via http://www.socondigitalnetwork.com/wcu; All Eastern home games and non-conference Big Sky Conference road games are carried at http://www.watchbigsky.com
Radio: All Eastern games are on 700-AM ESPN in Spokane. Larry Weir returns for his 23rd season calling the play-by-play, starting 30 minutes prior to tipoff (Dennis Patchin will call the action at Pittsburgh and Western Carolina).
Internet Radio:
www.700espn.com or www.tunein.com.
Radio iPhone App:
Search for "Spokane Radio" and download app. An app is also available for tunein radio.
Live Stats: http://www.pittsburghpanthers.com/gametracker/launch/gt_mbaskbl.html?event=1456864&school=pitt&sport=mbaskbl&camefrom=&startschool=& for Pittsburgh game; http://www.catamountsports.com/gametracker/launch/gt_mbaskbl.html?event=1456410&school=wcar&sport=mbaskbl&camefrom=&startschool=& for Western Carolina game; ewustats.com for EWU home games.


With the top three scorers for the Panthers also their top three leaders in assists, Eastern Washington University men's basketball head coach Jim Hayford knows his team will be facing a potent team more than the physical force Pittsburgh has always been known for.

The Eagles and Panthers – in a game featuring two of the highest scoring teams in NCAA Division I for the second game in a row -- continue action in the Gotham Classic presented by the Gazelle Group by playing each other Friday (Dec. 11) at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., at 4 p.m. Pacific time.

Besides a national broadcast/webcast on ESPN3, fans can listen to the game on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com. Pre-game coverage starts a half-hour prior to tipoff, with Dennis Patchin providing the play-by-play.

The Panthers enter the game 6-1 and lead the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (+2.12 per game), with averages of 22.1 assists (second in the nation) and just 10.4 turnovers per game (20th). The Panthers are ninth in scoring offense (87.4) and sixth in scoring margin (+24.4 per game).

"The more I've looked at Pittsburgh, I see they are a very skilled team," praised Hayford, whose team fell to 5-4 with a 96-86 loss at Davidson on Wednesday (Dec. 9). Davidson sank 13 3-pointers and made 60 percent of their shots overall against the Eagles, including a blistering 66 percent in the second half.

He expects more of the same versus Pitt – and then some. Besides ranking 18th in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage (49.9 percent), the Panthers are also 24th in field goal percentage defense (37.0 percent) and 33rd in scoring defense (63.0).

"They are still going to play good defense, and it's going to be a hostile place to play going against an ACC team on the road on national television. It's going to be a tough game."

The physical nature of the Panthers under head coach Jamie Dixon initially caught Hayford's attention. Six-foot-9, 235-pound Michael Young and 6-7, 215-pound Jamel Artis lead the way – Young is averaging 16.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, and Artis contributes 14.3 points and 3.4 rebounds. They have combined for nine blocked shots and 51 assists as well. James Robinson, a 6-3, 198-pound guard, averages 11.0 points and a team-leading 5.1 assists per game.

Not only will Eastern's defense be challenged, but their nationally-ranked offense will as well. The Eagles are ranked 33rd in scoring offense (83.8), 23rd in field goal percentage (49.5 percent) and 30th in fewest turnovers per game (10.7).

"Pittsburgh is a very physical, disciplined team," said Hayford, whose team closes out its road stretch in Cullowhee, N.C., to face Western Carolina on Monday (Dec. 14). "They play to their identity and their team is poised to have an outstanding season."

"Talk about a really well-coached team – Coach (Jamie) Dixon is one of the best," he added. "My first year out of college he was an assistant at Los Angeles Valley College when I first met him. He knew what he was doing way back then."

Following the East Coast swing, Eastern returns home to face Morehead State of the Ohio Valley Conference on Dec. 17 on a game that will be broadcast live regionally on SWX. All EWU home games are broadcast on www.watchbigky.com.

 
 

Link to Fact Book

The complete version of the 2015-16 EWU men's basketball fact book may be found at:
http://goeags.com/trads/ewas-factbooks.html

 

More Eagle Basketball Links

Eastern Basketball -- http://goeags.com/sports/m-baskbl/index
2015-16 Season Outlook -- http://goeags.com/sports/m-baskbl/2015-16/releases/16mbSEASONOUTLOOK.docx
Link to Ticket Information -- http://www.goeags.com/tickets
Spokesman-Review EWU Basketball Page -- http://www.spokesman.com/ewuhoops
Story on Eagle Head Coach Jim Hayford -- http://www.inlander.com/spokane/the-man-in-the-red-blazer/Content?oid=2603878
Big Sky Conference Basketball -- http://www.bigskyconf.com/index.aspx?tab=basketball&path=mbball
NCAA Basketball -- http://www.ncaa.com/sports/m-baskbl/ncaa-m-baskbl-body.html
ESPN College Scoreboard -- http://sports.espn.go.com/ncb/scoreboard
Tyler Harvey NBA D-League Page -- http://dleague.nba.com/player/tyler-harvey/
Rodney Stuckey NBA Page -- http://www.nba.com/playerfile/rodney_stuckey/index.html
More Information and Links are Available at: HTTP://WWW.GOEAGS.COM

 

Opponent/Series Notes 

* Of EWU's four opponents in the Gotham Classic (Davidson, Pittsburgh, Western Carolina, Morehead State), three of them are the first-ever meetings between the schools. The only one of those opponents EWU has faced before was Morehead State back on Dec. 29, 1969. Eastern lost that game 84-69 as part of the Granite City Classic in St. Cloud, Minn.

* The list of teams playing in the Gotham Classic is headlined by Davidson, the defending Atlantic-10 Conference regular season champion. The Eagles will also play at Pittsburgh from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Western Carolina from the Southern Conference. Morehead State of the Ohio Valley Conference visits Reese Court in Cheney, Wash., on Dec. 17 to close EWU's games in the tourney. Through games of Dec. 9, those four opponents are 20-9 (Davidson 6-1, Pitt 6-1, Western Carolina 3-5, Morehead State 5-2). Western Carolina will play at Davidson on Dec. 12 prior to hosting the Eagles. Morehead State will play at Pittsburgh on Dec. 13 prior to making the trip to the West Coast.

* Davidson (24-8 overall and 14-4 in the A-10 last season) is the only EWU opponent in 2015-16 that played last year in the NCAA Tournament, losing 83-52 to Iowa in Seattle. Pitt (19-15/8-10) lost to George Washington 60-54 in the NIT. Adding Western Carolina (15-17/9-9 Southern Conference) and Morehead State (17-17/10-6 OVC) to the mix, those four opponents were a collective 75-57 overall and 41-29 in league play a year ago.

* After the Morehead State game, Eastern will close its pre-Christmas schedule at Denver of the Summit League. Earlier this season, South Dakota knocked off EWU 77-71 in a battle between the Summit and Big Sky. Eastern is 2-2 all-time against Denver, winning the first two meetings and dropping the last two. Eastern won 69-48 on Nov. 30, 2002, 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.

 
 

Game Notes 

* The first half has been intriguing this season for both the Eagles and Panthers. Until a 96-86 loss to Davidson on Dec. 9, EWU had led at halftime in its first eight games of the season. Eastern has out-scored opponents 358-291 in the first half (average score of 40-32) and 396-384 in the second half (44-43). Pitt, meanwhile has rolled to a 6-1 record – plus a halftime lead in its opener against Gonzaga. Unsafe court conditions due to humidity and moisture at Foster Field House in Okinawa, Japan, led to the cancellation of the fourth annual Armed Forces Classic. The Panthers grabbed a 37-35 halftime lead on a three-point play by Ryan Luther with 5.4 seconds remaining in the half, before officials gathered during intermission and decided to halt the contest. Pittsburgh has led at halftime in all six of its wins and trailed at halftime in its loss. The Panthers have out-scored their opponents 304-197 (43-28) in the first 20 minutes and 308-244 (44-35) after intermission.

* Eastern's scoring average for the season is at 83.8 points to rank 33rd in NCAA Division I and lead the Big Sky Conference through games of Dec. 9. Eastern had scored 290 points in its first three games for an average of 96.7 points per game to rank fifth nationally. Last year's team set a school record with 2,820 points scored and averaged 80.6 per game to rank third in NCAA Division I.

* Eastern's average of 10.8 3-pointers per game is 10th in NCAA Division I (previously fourth after eight games) and leads the Big Sky, and the team's percentage is 82nd at 37.0 percent (previously 175th/33.9 percent after six games). A year ago, Eastern was fifth with an average of 9.8 made treys per game, and its 40.0 percent accuracy was eighth-best in the nation.

* Because of his team's involvement with the C.H.A.M.P.S (College Headed and Making Progress) program at Whitman Elementary School in Spokane, senior Venky Jois is one of 154 nominees nationally for the NABC/Allstate Good Works Team. The 10-player squad will be announced in February, and the distinguished award shines a spotlight on a select group of student-athletes who have shown dedication to community service and altruism in their communities. Eastern student-athletes spend part of their time at Whitman with the entire student body, but a majority of their time is spent one-on-one with a fifth-grade student. The unique program follows each Whitman student for eight years through middle school and high school. Once a EWU student-athlete graduates, an incoming player will begin mentoring their student. Jois, an Academic All-America candidate with a 3.51 grade point average as a pre-med student at EWU, has also been a part of several other team community projects. Those include Salvation Army backpacks and school supplies distribution; Salvation Army Christmas Eve meal for the homeless; participation in AAU Youth Basketball Day; food drive for the West Plains Food Bank; and campus move-in days. He's a three-time member of the Big Sky Conference All-Academic Team, and three times has been honored on All-Big Sky Conference teams (2012-13 Freshman of the Year and all-league honorable mention; 2013-14 all-league honorable mention; 2014-15 all-league first team for a squad that won Big Sky regular season and tournament titles to advance to the NCAA Tournament). He is also the preseason choice for 2015-16 MVP honors in the Big Sky.

* Eastern's games versus Pacific and South Dakota were part of the post-Thanksgiving Sacramento State Basketball Invitational. The Eagles opened with a 70-63 win over the Tigers from the West Coast Conference, while the Coyotes were a 96-90 winner over host Sac State. There was no tournament champion, but if there was, then a 77-71 win for USD over EWU on the tournament's second day was a pseudo championship game between teams that won the day prior. There was also no all-tournament team.  Next year, the tournament is expected to be played in Cheney, with the Eagles and Hornets hosting two non-conference opponents from the same leagues (Denver from the Summit and San Francisco from the WCC are the tentative opponents).

* Fresh off its best season in the school's NCAA Division I history, Eastern will play teams from 11 different conferences in the 2015-16 season. The Eagles will play nine games versus six teams who appeared in national postseason tournaments a year ago. Seattle, which advanced to the semifinals of the College Basketball Insider (CBS) Tournament, accounted for two of those games. The next opponent Eastern will play that was in the postseason last year comes on Dec. 9 when EWU plays at NCAA Tournament participant Davidson. Two days later on Dec. 11, the Eagles play at NIT qualifier Pittsburgh. Davidson was 24-8 overall and 14-4 in the Atlantic-10 Conference a year ago, and lost 83-52 to Iowa in Seattle in the NCAA Tournament. Pitt was 19-15 overall and 8-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and lost to George Washington 60-54 in the NIT.

* In what could again be a tightly-contested race in the Big Sky Conference, the defending champion Eastern men's basketball team has been picked to finish third by both the coaches and media in preseason polls released Oct. 1 by the league. Eastern had 99 points in the coaches poll to trail preseason favorites Weber State (114) and Montana (113). Both the Wildcats and Grizzlies received six first-place votes. With 183 points in the media poll, EWU trailed preseason favorite Montana (220) and WSU (194). Montana captured 14 of the 19 first-place votes, with the Eagles receiving one and the Wildcats two.

* The Eagles closed a monumental 2014-15 campaign with a 26-9 record overall after finishing 14-4 in the Big Sky Conference to share the regular season title with Montana. Eastern swept through three games in the Big Sky Conference Tournament to garner the school's second NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The Eagles finished with program bests for victories overall (26), in the Big Sky (14), on the road (11) and in non-conference play (9) in 32 seasons as a member of NCAA Division I. Eastern's national resume featured the 25th-most wins in NCAA Division I and 28th in winning percentage at .743, the fourth-most victories in the 50+ year history of the Big Sky Conference, a marquee win at Indiana and the nation's leading scorer in Tyler Harvey (23.1 per game).

* Entering the 2015-16 season, head coach Jim Hayford was selected by College Sports Madness as its preseason Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year. Additionally, Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports rated him as one of the top 21 offensive coaches in all of NCAA Division I.

* Head coach Jim Hayford – the 2014-15 Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year -- took over an Eastern team four years ago that had been to the Big Sky Conference Tournament just once in five seasons, but in the 2014-15 season he took the Eagles to new heights. The Eagles entered the 2015-16 season with 66 victories overall, 39 league wins and four Big Sky Tournament game triumphs under Hayford, and the 26 victories last season are the fourth-most in the more than 50-year history of the league. In fact, a local newspaper dubbed Hayford the "Wizard in Cheney" in a feature article in November 2015. On July 8, 2015, Hayford signed a new five-year agreement which extends his contract at EWU through the 2019-20 season. The new five-year agreement replaced the contract he signed a year prior.

* Eastern's triumphs in 2014-15 included victories over six different NCAA Division I conferences, including road wins at Indiana, San Francisco and Seattle. Eastern was ranked as high as 12th in the national mid-major poll, and as high as 50th in the RPI. The Eagles concluded their home schedule with a crowd of 4,621 against Montana to rank as the fourth-most in school history and the most in 15 years.

* For the second year in a row, EWU was honored with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Team Academic Excellence Award. Eastern's 3.27 team grade point average was the best in the Big Sky Conference in the 2014-15 season, and .20 better than the team's 3.07 average of a year ago.

* Active within the last year in the pro ranks are 14 former Eagles, including Tyler Harvey and Drew Brandon from last year's Eagle team. Harvey is now with the Erie Bay Hawks of the NBA's Developmental League after getting drafted in the second round (51st overall) by the Orlando Magic in the 2015 NBA Draft. Harvey averaged 10.6 points, 2.0 assists and 1.4 rebounds for the Magic's "Blue" summer squad. Brandon is in his first year with the Bayer Giants in the Germany ProA League. Eastern's professional players are headlined by NBA veteran Rodney Stuckey, who is in his second season with Indiana after seven seasons with the Detroit Pistons. In 2014-15 – his eighth season as a pro and first with the Indiana Pacers – Stuckey averaged 12.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 0.8 steals per game in 71 games (36 starts). He made a career-best 39.0 percent of his 3-point attempts, sinking 55-of-141. Stuckey signed a new 3-year, $21 million contract with the Pacers on July 21, 2015.

 
 

Player Notes 

* Approaching several milestones in his illustrious career, senior Venky Jois will play in the 99th game of his career this Friday, and on Dec. 14 should become the 16th player in school history to hit the century mark. Jois is also three rebounds from 800 in his career, and six points from the 1,400-point milestone. With four more blocked shots, he'll move into third in league history. He is coming off his first double-double of the season and 27th of his career when he had 21 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots at Davidson on Dec. 9.

* The Eagles rested senior starters Austin McBroom and Venky Jois in a 104-64 win over Great Falls on Dec. 6, and it paid dividends three days later at Davison. They combined for 54 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and a pair of blocked shots, and combined for 22-of-36 shooting (61 percent) from the field.

* Preseason Big Sky Conference MVP Venky Jois is ranked sixth in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage, having made 69.3 percent of his shots thus far (he was as high as third at 72.4 percent after his first seven games played). However, he was able to get off just three shots on Nov. 29 against a South Dakota defense that double and triple teamed him when he got the ball in the post. As a result, Jois equaled his career high with seven assists and ended up going to the free throw line five times to surpass the school's career record for charity shots. Now with 508 free throws in his career, he broke the previous school record of 499 set by Dave Hayden from 1970-73. His 288 free throws made are fourth in school history, with Rodney Stuckey (2006-07) owning the record of 386. 

* The Eagles lost a pair of All-Big Sky guards from last year's NCAA Tournament team, but senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom has provided an instant solution for the Eagles. The former starter at Saint Louis has a team-leading 289 minutes thus far (36.1 per game to rank 32d in NCAA Division I through games of Dec. 9). Coming off a career-best 33 points at Davidson on Dec. 9, he is also 83rd nationally in scoring (18.0), 31st in 3-pointers per game (3.13) and 37th in free throw percentage, making 25-of-28 for 89.3 percent (he was 10th nationally after making 19 of his first 20). He has averages of 18.0 points, 3.6 assists and 2.4 rebounds, and just 14 total turnovers. He has made 25-of-64 3-pointers for 39.1 percent while making 45.6 percent from the field overall. His performance against Davidson including a 12-of-19 shooting night, and eclipsed his previous top game as an Eagle of 20 points (versus Pacific) and as a collegian of 26 points (for Saint Louis against Bradley on 11/29/14). His 19 points, five 3-pointers and five assists helped EWU win at San Francisco 81-77 on Dec. 1. He also had a 16-point effort against Seattle on Nov. 18 in which he only had three assists, but had only one turnover to help EWU to a season-low of seven. He had a double-double with 19 points and 10 assists versus George Fox on Nov. 15. McBroom came to EWU with 97 games and 45 starts worth of NCAA Division I experience -- he played in 66 games at Saint Louis (15 as a starter) and 31 (30 as a starter) at Central Michigan in 2011-12.

* Six Eagles have already made their college basketball debuts this season, and five of them have played in at least eight Eastern games. Those five were inserted into the starting lineup by head coach Jim Hayford against Great Falls on Dec. 6.

* Starting true freshman Jesse Hunt, a 6-foot-7 forward, made the first start of his career against Pacific (11/28/15), and is averaging 13.4 minutes, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 points per game. Redshirt freshman Will Ferris, who came off the bench to play 23 minutes against Seattle on Nov. 23 and score a career-high nine points, is averaging 2.9 points and 8.9 minutes on the season. Ty Gibson has seen significant action as a true freshman, averaging 8.9 minutes per game. Redshirt freshman Bear Henderson has averaged 8.6 minutes and 2.9 points thus far, and started his first career game against George Fox on Nov. 15. Freshman redshirt Cody Benzel has averaged 7.4 points in an average of 6.8 minutes, including 23 points on a 7-of-14 3-point shooting performance against Great Falls on Dec. 6. He also had a 12-point performance against South Dakota on Nov. 29 when he made four 3-pointers in just eight minutes of action. All five of those players made their collegiate debuts in EWU's opener at Mississippi State on Nov. 13, and Ferris, Benzel and Gibson made the first starts of their careers against Great Falls. True freshman Michael Wearne made his collegiate debut versus George Fox, however, will now redshirt because of a hip injury requiring surgery.

* Making his NCAA Division I debut against Mississippi State on Nov. 13 was junior college transfer Rico Nuno. Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom made his Eagle debut against the Bulldogs, and junior transfer Julian Harrell is out indefinitely with a hand injury. Three Eagles – transfer Geremy McKay, transfer Mario Soto and freshman Grant Gibb – will redshirt.

* Senior Venky Jois continues to climb the Big Sky Conference career leaders list for blocked shots. His school-record total of 203 currently is fourth, just four from third, nine from second and 44 from the league record of 247. His 1,394 total points ranks eighth in school history and his 797 rebounds are fourth, and he also ranks on leaders lists for scoring average (14.20, 12th), rebounding average (8.1, eighth), field goals attempted (983, eighth), field goals made (550, third), free throws made (290, fourth) and owns the school record for free throws attempted (508). Jois was on the All-Big Sky Conference first team as a junior in the 2014-15 season, and then was named to the Big Sky Conference All-Tournament team. He was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year in the 2013-14 season, and earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades as a freshman and sophomore. Jois averaged 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game as a junior, and so far as a senior has averages of 14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 blocks. Jois has one double-double this season 27 total in his career. Jois is from Boronia, Australia, and has a 3.51 grade point average as an interdisciplinary studies major (biology/pre-med emphasis). He is a three-time member of the Big Sky All-Academic team and was a member of the NABC Honors Court as a junior.

* Sophomore forward Bogdan Bliznyuk has been used frequently at bringing the ball up the court, and is averaging 14.6 points and 2.2 assists per game with a deft ability to get to the rim. He has made 13-of-43 3-pointers thus far for 30 percent, and is 33-of-65 inside the stripe (51 percent) with an overall percentage of 43 percent. He has also made 26-of-37 free throws (70.3 percent), has a team-high 17 steals and is averaging 5.2 rebounds. He was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year after coming off the bench to average 8.7 points and 4.0 rebounds for the Eagles. It's an honor now won six times in the past 14 seasons by Eastern players, including current Eagle Venky Jois in the 2012-13 season. Bliznyuk, who also earned Big Sky All-Academic honors, 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) while also averaging 24.3 minutes and 1.4 assists. He made 58.0 percent of his shots (80-of-138) in those 18 league games and converted 39-of-51 free throws (76.6 percent). Bliznyuk is formerly from Lutsk, Ukraine, but graduated from Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash., in 2014. He was less than 2 years old when his father, a truck driver, died in an accident. Their mother moved them to Federal Way five years later to be closer to family. Born with a gap in his upper jaw, he has had multiple surgeries after moving to the United States, included transferring bone from his hip.

* Junior Felix Von Hofe had a breakthrough game in the Big Sky Conference Tournament last March, and he topped that with a career-high 25 points against Seattle on Nov. 18 when he made 7-of-12 shots from the 3-point stripe. That bested his previous high of 23 points when he made 8-of-10 from the field and 7-of-8 from the 3-point stripe in a 91-83 victory over Sacramento State in the semifinals of the league tournament on March 14, 2015. Much like the 15-point lead he helped open against Seattle, his sizzling shooting helped EWU open a 26-point lead against the Hornets. With an average of 14.9 points on 23-of-55 3-point shooting (42 percent), he currently ranks 31st in NCAA Division I in 3-pointers per game (3.13) through games of Dec. 9 and is 72nd in percentage (42.4 percent).

* Guard sophomore Sir Washington had a career-high 11 points in the team's opener at Mississippi State, and topped that with 15 points and a career-high nine rebounds against Great Falls on Dec. 6. He has started four games thus far, and is averaging 6.6 points on 44 percent shooting from the field, and is also averaging 19.8 minutes and 3.4 rebounds with nine assists and 10 steals.

* Two major cogs in Eastern's roll to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament last season – Venky Jois and Bogdan Bliznyuk -- have been selected to the preseason All-Big Sky Conference team as selected by a panel of sportswriters, broadcasters and sports information directors in the league. Jois, a senior 6-foot-8 forward, is EWU's lone returning starter this season and was selected as the league's preseason MVP. A year ago, Eastern's Tyler Harvey won the award and went on to lead NCAA Division I in scoring and was eventually drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft by Orlando. Besides Jois, Bliznyuk was also selected to the seven-player team and was the only underclassmen chosen. The others honored included Montana's Martin Breunig, Montana State's Marcus Colbert, Northern Arizona's Kris Yanku and Weber State's Joel Bolomboy and Jeremy Senglin.

 
 

Quoting Coach Hayford

On Second Leg of Road Trip at Pittsburgh: "It's great for our team to play on that stage, but in terms of the turnaround, it's a road trip. We open at Northern Colorado and North Dakota on a two-day swing, and it's easier to get from here to Pittsburgh than it is to get from Greeley to Grand Forks. It is what it is – you just have get tough and go do it."

On Davidson Loss: "We represented our school very well. We showed that offensively we can hang with these teams, but we just couldn't put together the stops we needed. We didn't have enough mature depth to close that gap and that's why we left with a 10-point loss. It was a great learning experience. It's game that I would like to play in the future, because it's against the kind of team that can only make you better."

On Defense: "We held our own and scored (against Davidson), but we're just not at a place where we can go on the road to play a team like this and put the hurt on them defensively. We need to grow in that area – we just can't do it yet."

On Younger Players: "When you look at the rest of the players we're using, they are all young. They gave us good minutes (against Davidson), but out of that whole bunch we had only two rebounds. That's eight guys and 46 minutes. Everybody comes from high school where their identity was scoring points. Now they are put in the role where they have to get defensive stops, make tough plays and execute offense. Davidson didn't go deep into their bench, but their bench was a little better than ours. We had a big rebounding gap there. If we get four or five more defensive rebounds out of that group, that closes that gap and maybe it's a different game."

On East Coach Trip: "This three-game road trip we are embarking on is our toughest road trip of non-conference play. It's also in a stretch where we play six of seven away from home. So our team has no alternative but to develop toughness and cohesiveness to grow through this difficult stretch."

On Progress of Team Heading into East Coast Road Trip: "I had hoped we would be a little further along after eight games, but injuries have gotten in the way. At the same time, it's allowed us to let some younger players get some valuable experience that will make us better down the road. It's not just the injury to Julian (Harrell) – that one is obvious, but there hasn't been a day of practice where we haven't had two or three not participate that day. We've already had our fair share."

On Venky Jois & Involvement With Champs Program: "CHAMPS is a very unique mentoring program that will help a young person from age 10 all the way up to college entrance. It involves our team being a mentor each step of the way. Venky has been a leader of this program and sees its value. He has been exemplary to his teammates on how to maximize the mentorship to bring success to these young people."

On Jois & Bliznyuk Earning Preseason Honors: "Preseason honors set up expectations. We are comfortable with that, as our team has great expectations for the upcoming season. On preseason lists that I've seen, Venky is listed as one of the top 20 forwards in college basketball. It's pretty special to lose the nation's leading scorer, but you still welcome back one of the top forwards in college basketball."

On Venky Jois: "Venky is a threat to have a double-double every night out. He plays with great passion and energy, and is a captain of our team. Venky has been a foundation in the building of our program -- he is an outstanding student, a great leader, and committed to developing into the best basketball player he can be. I join all Eagle fans in anticipating a great senior year for Venky. " 

On Bogdan Bliznyuk: "Bogdan had a great freshman year and has a great career ahead of him. He's a very coachable player and he plays hard. He has a great drive game and rebounds with tenacity. He is efficient as a player and has great shot selection. I think he has a great career ahead of him because of his determination to be the best that he can be."

On Being Picked Third in Big Sky Preseason Poll: "Being picked in the top third of the conference is a good place to be. That shows we are earning the respect of our peers. This year there are many great players returning in the Big Sky Conference and the league has so many great coaches. We have our work cut out for us."

 
 

Recent Game Recaps

* Eastern sank 49 percent of its shots from the field, but Davidson was even hotter and used a 14-2 run early in the second half and 66 percent shooting after intermission to defeat the Eagles 96-86 Dec. 9 at the John M. Belk Arena in Davidson, N.C. Davidson is the former home for the NBA's hottest star right now, Stephen Curry of the unbeaten Golden State Warriors. Jack Gibbs did his best imitation of Curry, hitting 12-of-17 shots with six 3-pointers to finish with 37 points to lead a trio of Wildcats with at least 20. Ahead by just three at 47-44 with 18:23 left, Eastern went 2:22 without scoring. As a result, the Wildcats scored 10-straight as part of a 14-4 run that gave Davidson a 61-46 lead at the 14:58 mark. The Wildcats led by as many as 20, at 82-62 with 8:14 to play. The Eagles had only 11 turnovers in the game, but three came early in the second half that helped ignite Davidson's game-deciding run. Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom scored a career-high 33 points, making 12-of-19 shots from the field. He was 5-of-9 from the 3-point stripe, sank all four of his free throws, and finished with three assists and a pair of steals. Senior Venky Jois had his first double-double of the season and the 27th in his career with 21 points and 14 rebounds. He sank 10-of-17 shots against the Wildcats and also had four assists and two blocks. Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk had 14 points, but made only 1-of-9 from the 3-point line. He was 4-of-7 inside the stripe. Junior Felix Von Hofe had a career-high eight rebounds, but Davidson's defense limited him to four 3-point attempts. He made two, and finished 2-of-7 overall from the field. There were eight lead changes early in the game, and Eastern led by as many as four with 13:58 to play in the first half.

* With eight of its 10 players who played either freshmen or sophomores, Eastern tuned up for a difficult upcoming road trip to the East Coast by romping past Great Falls 104-64 in a non-conference game Dec. 6 at Reese Court. Redshirt freshman Cody Benzel scored a career-high 23 points with seven 3-pointers to lead seven Eagles in double figures. Eastern used a 14-4 run at the end of the first half to lead by 14 at halftime, then led by as many as the final margin in out-scoring the Argos 56-30 in the second half. The Eagles made 17 3-pointers – one short of the school record – in the game against the NAIA foe from Great Falls, Montana. Eastern dominated in most statistical categories. Eastern made 17-of-40 3-point attempts, plus won the rebounding battle 43-28. The Eagles had 20 second-chance points and scored 15 points off 13 Great Falls turnovers, while committing a season-low six turnovers themselves. Sophomore Sir Washington made 6-of-8 shots from the field and finished with a career-high 15 points, a career-high nine rebounds and a pair of steals, and junior Felix Von Hofe also had 15 with a trio of 3-pointers. Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk added 13 points and seven rebounds and three other Eagles scored 10 points – redshirt freshman Bear Henderson, redshirt freshman Will Ferris and senior Kyle Reid. Ferris also had four assists, Reid had three and Henderson had a pair with six rebounds.

* Propelled by hot shooting during a trio of scoring runs, Eastern beat San Francisco from the West Coast Conference for the second-straight year, winning 81-77 in a non-conference game Dec. 1 at War Memorial Gymnasium. Eastern used runs of 10-0 and 13-2 in the first half to forge a 17-point lead on sizzling 13-of-16 shooting from the field. The Eagles hit five-straight shots to regain a 17-point bulge in the second half with a 14-4 run, then held on for EWU's fourth win of the season. A late 9-1 run by the Dons cut the lead to three with 50 seconds to play, but USF missed its last three shots. Eastern's Austin McBroom clinched the victory with a free throw with seven seconds to play, but six missed charity shots in the final 58 seconds made the Eagles sweat it out. Eastern made 14-of-30 3-pointers for 47 percent, just four makes from the school record of 18. Junior Felix Von Hofe made 8-of-11 field goals, including 4-of-7 from the 3-point stripe, to finish with 20 points. Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom scored 19, making 5-of-9 3-pointers. He also had five assists. Senior Venky Jois finished with 11 points and a pair of blocked shots to give him 201 for his career. The preseason Big Sky Conference MVP made 5-of-6 shots from the field after entering the game ranked fifth in NCAA Division I in field goal percentage at 71.2 percent.  Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk was the fourth Eagle in double figures with 13, and also had four assists. After leading by as many as 17 in the first half, the Dons made their first six shots of the second half and cut EWU's lead to 49-42. But the Eagles responded with a 14-4 run, making five-straight shots of their own to regain a 63-46 lead with 13:37 left. Von Hofe (6), Jois (4) and McBroom (4) accounted for all of EWU's points in the run, with Von Hofe hitting a pair of 3-pointers and McBroom sinking one. The Eagles forced 17 San Francisco turnovers, and turned them into 25 points. In the first half alone, 12 USF turnovers were turned into 20 Eastern points. The Eagles finished with just nine turnovers, but were out-rebounded 36-22. Eastern opened the first half by making 13 of its first 16 shots, and began the second half 8-of-10. Collectively, those starts equaled a 21-of-26 performance (81 percent), compared to 8-of-31 for the rest of the game (26 percent).

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