Redshirt freshman Cody Benzel scores career-high 23 to lead seven Eagles in double figures
The youth movement was in full force Sunday afternoon (Dec. 6) at Reese Court.
With eight of its 10 players who played consisting of either freshmen or sophomores, the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team tuned up for a difficult upcoming road trip to the East Coast by romping past Great Falls 104-64 in a non-conference game in Cheney, Wash.
Redshirt freshman Cody Benzel scored a career-high 23 points 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 improved to 5-3 with the win, while the game counted as an exhibition for the Argos (also 5-3 in games that count).
"We wanted to use today as an opportunity to develop depth and get some guys game experience," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford, who rested senior starters Venky Jois and Austin McBroom. "I was really pleased with what those players did with the opportunity, and it made us a better team."
Won-Lost Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 5-3, and have played teams from six different conferences thus far, picking up victories against four of them. Eastern has won two games in a row after winning two of three games in a four-day stretch in Northern California. Eastern held off San Francisco 81-77 on Dec. 1, beating the Dons on the road for the second-straight season and giving EWU a three-game winning streak versus foes from the West Coast Conference. Prior to that, Eastern had a split at the Sacramento State Invitational, defeating the University of the Pacific from the West Coast Conference 70-63 on Nov. 28, then falling to South Dakota from the Summit League 77-71 the next afternoon in the "pseudo" title game.
* The Argos are a NAIA team out of Great Falls, Mont., and are 5-3 on the season. The game versus the Eagles was an exhibition game for them. Two of their most impressive performances came in exhibition losses to NCAA Division I opposition. The Argos lost at Idaho State 78-72 on Nov. 13 and 58-48 at Seattle on Nov. 25 in games that were exhibitions for Great Falls but counters for SU & ISU. The Argos led the Bengals 42-28 at half and by seven with 5:13 left, but Idaho State outscored them 17-4 the rest of the way. Great Falls led Seattle 29-27 at halftime. A year ago, Great Falls was 17-12 overall and 6-8 in the Frontier Conference under first-year head coach Anthony Owens.
What It Means . . .
* Sunday's game is one of only two games in December at Reese Court for EWU. The other will be on Thursday, Dec. 17 to end a four-game stretch in which games are a part of the Gotham Classic presented by the Gazelle Group.
What's Next . . .
* The next four games EWU will play between Dec. 9-17 are part of the Gotham Classic presented by the Gazelle Group. The list is headlined by Davidson, the defending Atlantic-10 Conference regular season champion who will host the Eagles on Dec. 9. The Eagles will next play at Pittsburgh from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Eastern then plays Dec. 14 at Western Carolina from the Southern Conference. A year after playing – and winning – at college basketball legend Indiana, the Eagles will make their first-ever trip to play twice in another mecca of basketball -- the state of North Carolina. Following the East Coast swing with three games in six nights, Eastern then returns home to face Morehead State of the Ohio Valley Conference on Dec. 17.
Keys to Game . . .
* 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.
Top Performers . .
* Redshirt freshman Cody Benzel nearly doubled his previous career high of 12 points, scoring 23 for the Eagles. He made 7-of-14 3-point shots in the game.
* Sophomore Sir Washington made 6-of-8 shots from the field and finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and a pair of steals.
* Junior Felix Von Hofe, Eastern's third-leading scorer with an average of 14.8 points per game, finished with 15 with a trio of 3-pointers.
* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk added 13 points and seven rebounds after entering the game with a 14.9 average. He ranked only behind the 15.9 average of Austin McBroom, with Venky Jois averaging 13.6 points and a team-leading 6.6 rebounds. Both McBroom and Jois sat out the game.
* 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.
Turning Point . . .
* The Eagles led by as many as 10 early in the game, but Great Falls was still within four with 6:16 left in the first half. But Eastern outscored the Argos 14-4 the rest of the half, with four different Eagles scoring in the run.
Key Stats . . .
* Eastern entered the game ranked 22nd in NCAA Division I with an average of 10.0 per game, and finished the game making 17-of-40 for 43 percent. Eastern sank eight in the first half alone on 24 attempts. The school record for 3-pointers made is 18 against New Hope on Dec. 4, 2010, while the record for attempts is 44 set last year against Idaho on Jan. 31, 2015.
Team Highlights . . .
* Five freshmen were inserted into the starting lineup by head coach Jim Hayford, including redshirt freshmen Bear Henderson, Will Ferris and Cody Benzel, and true freshman Jesse Hunt and Ty Gibson. Ferris, Benzel and Gibson made the first starts of their careers.
Notables . . .
* Despite their geographic proximity, Eastern has never played Great Falls on the basketball court. In fact, of EWU's next five opponents (Great Falls, Davidson, Pittsburgh, Western Carolina, Morehead State), four of them will be 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.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On Practicing Sunday Morning Before the Game: "We practiced really hard this morning, so this was like a double-day. But our guys played really well and with good energy. I was really pleased with the outcome. We just need to get tougher. We came back from San Francisco and gave them extra rest. Then they kind of got all their finals and papers finished this week because we're leaving Monday (for the East Coast). We saw some things we had to work on and had to come home from San Francisco and take care of academics first."
On Resting Venky Jois and Austin McBroom: "Going into this week I thought there was no reason to put minutes on them. It allowed them to get rest while others gained valuable experience."