Eastern returns to Cheney for quick turnaround, facing George Fox Sunday afternoon and Seattle on Tuesday in home openers at Reese Court
It was a promising first 25 minutes to the 2015-16 season for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team, but Mississippi State came alive in the final 15 to win 106-88 in a non-conference game Friday (Nov. 13) in Starkville, Miss.
The Eagles of the Big Sky Conference led the Bulldogs of the Southeastern Conference 60-50 with 18:35 left in the second half, and 68-62 at the 14:49 mark. But EWU went 8 1/2 minutes without a field goal as MSU went on a 33-6 run, including one stretch of 18 unanswered points.
"This was a tough environment to come into, and we handled it well in the first half and at the start of the second half," said Eastern head coach Jim Hayford. "But Mississippi State answered the bell and then we had trouble. They went on one of the biggest runs we've ever had against us."
With sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk and junior Felix Von Hofe each having 21-point nights for the Eagles, the game also marked the EWU debut for point guard Austin McBroom. The graduate transfer from Saint Louis finished with 15 points, and also had five assists -- all in the first 25 minutes.
Won-Lost Records . . .
* The game was the season opener for both schools. The Eagles are coming off their best season as a member of NCAA Division I, closing the 2014-15 season 26-9 after finishing 14-4 in the Big Sky Conference to share the regular season title with Montana. Mississippi State finished 13-19 overall last year and 6-12 in the SEC. Their first-year head coach is Ben Howland, a former head coach at EWU's fellow Big Sky Conference member Northern Arizona, as well as UCLA and Pittsburgh.
What It Means . . .
* Eastern head coach Jim Hayford wanted his team to get "tougher, better and tested" by making the long trip to Mississippi. The Eagles have only played the powerful SEC conference just once before, and now play teams from 10 other conferences in the coming weeks.
What's Next . . .
* Following a return trip to Cheney on Saturday, the Eagles open their home schedule by facing George Fox and Seattle in a pair of games at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The game versus George Fox takes place at about 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15, right after the EWU women's game against Air Force. Eastern hosts Seattle on Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 6:05 p.m. Fans can listen to Eagle men's basketball on 700-AM ESPN and via the web at www.700espn.com, with pre-game coverage starting a half-hour prior to tipoff.
* George Fox, a member of NCAA Division III, was 5-20 a year ago and 3-13 in the Northwest Conference. The afternoon matinee will feature the presentation of championship rings to the 2014-15 squad and unveiling of Big Sky championship and NCAA Tournament banners at Reese Court.
* Two days later, in the first of back-to-back games against Seattle, Eastern takes on a Redhawks team that was 18-16 overall and 7-7 in the Western Athletic Conference last season. Seattle advanced to the semifinals of the College Basketball Insider (CBI) Tournament, falling to Loyola Chicago 63-48. The Redhawks, who host the Eagles Nov. 23 in Seattle, lost to New Mexico State in the championship game of the WAC Tournament.
Keys to Game . . .
* The Eagles made 28 of their first 46 shots from the field for 61 percent, but missed their next 11 during MSU's big run. The Eagles finished the game making 42 percent in the second half after a 59-percent performance in the first 20 minutes.
Top Performers . . .
* Junior Felix Von Hofe scored 21 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the 3-point line.
* Sophomore Bogdan Bliznyuk had a big first half, scoring 15 of EWU's first 19 points. He finished with 21.
* Senior Venky Jois, the preseason MVP in the Big Sky Conference, added 12 points and a team-leading seven rebounds.
* Senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom, making his Eagle debut, finished with 15 points and five assists.
* Sophomore guard Sir Washington made 5-of-7 shots from the field to finish with a career-high 11 points in just his second start as an Eagle. His previous high was nine last season against Walla Walla.
Turning Point . . .
* Leading 68-62 on a dunk by Venky Jois on an assist by Austin McBroom with 14:49 left in the game, Eastern didn't get another field goal until 5:25 remained. The six-point lead turned into a 21-point deficit during MSU's 33-6 run when all that EWU managed were six free throws.
Key Stats . . .
* The Bulldogs made 58 percent in the first half, but were even hotter in the second half with a 66 percent performance. For the game, MSU sank 41-of-66 shots for 62 percent and at one point in the second half had two stretches in which it made eight-straight buckets. Eastern had eight turnovers in the second half after having just three in the first 20 minutes.
Team Highlights . . .
* After leading by as many as 10 points in the first half and 51-48 at intermission, the Eagles used a 9-2 run to start the second half to open a 60-50 advantage with 18:35 left. Austin McBroom started the run with a driving layup, and after a pair of baskets by Sir Washington, Felix Von Hofe capped the run with a 3-pointer – his fourth of the game.
Notables . . .
* Five Eagles made their college basketball debuts against MSU, including redshirt freshmen Bear Henderson, Will Ferris and Cody Benzel, as well as true freshmen Ty Gibson and Jesse Hunt. Making his NCAA Division I debut was Rico Nuno, and making his Eagle debut was senior graduate transfer Austin McBroom..
* The Eagles have never played Mississippi State or George Fox, and only once previously have played a current member of the Southeastern Conference. That was an 81-68 loss at Missouri on Dec. 16, 1988.
More Comments from Head Coach Jim Hayford . . .
On EWU's Debut: "We are a good team, and we are where we need to be (at this point of the season) offensively. But we have a whole lot to do. Fortunately, it's going to be awhile until we have to match-up with a team with this kind of offensive skill. I was pleased with some of our performances out there and there are a lot of things to fix. This is one out of 31 games and we know what we need to do to get better."
On MSU: "Credit Mississippi State – they wanted to run a lot more than we thought they would and they played transition basketball very well."