Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Down 11 with 1:27 to go EWU surged back to win in OT against Idaho, without Tyler Harvey

Bogdan "The Blizzard" Bliznyuk; photo from goeags.com
Head Coach Jim Hayford's Eagles had one of their worst nights shooting but played tough down the stretch to win 98-95 in overtime over the visiting Vandals.

Eastern star Guard Tyler Harvey injured his knee in the first half and it affected his shot.  The Eagles second leading scorer star Forward Venky Jois played despite a still recovering ankle sprain.  The two average 42 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists per game.  Saturday they combined for 20 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists.

Earlier I decried the Eagles lack of production from anyone beyond those two and begged for them to somehow get some bench production.  Saturday the Eagles needed both and got both.

Eastern finished the game just 47.2% from the field, 38.6% from beyond the arc and a shockingly bad 52% from the charity stripe.  For a long time, it looked like the result was going to be their first loss at Reese Court this season.  With 1:27 to go, Idaho's Sophomore Guard Sekou Wiggs drained a pair of free throws to put the Vandals up 81-70.  That was when the Eagles locked down and came roaring back to seize victory over their old rivals in dramatic fashion.

Led by Senior Point Guard Drew Brandon, Eastern Washington outscored the Vandals 16-5 over the final 1:27.  Brandon showed up everywhere, all night for the Eagles and without argument willed his team to victory.

Drew was ever so close to that triple-double, but the most important thing he did was help his team win an important conference game.  He finished with 18 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal and only 1 turn over.

As much as Drew Brandon played a critical role throughout the game, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the tremendous performance of Eastern's Freshman Forward Bogdan "The Blizzard" Bliznyuk.  In the final 1:27 of regulation and overtime, the Blizzard collected 5 rebounds, scored 10 points and grabbed a steal.  In his post game interview with Larry Weir of EWU Radio, Coach Hayford said, "[Bogdan] doesn't know he's a Freshman."  Bliznyuk finished with a team high 21 points, a game high 15 rebounds, and added 3 assists and 1 steal.  He has certainly played himself into the conversation for Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year.

If you read the play by play of the final several minutes of the game, it is stuffed full of Drew Brandon, Bogdan Bliznyuk and... Ognjen "OG" Miljkovic.  OG dropped 6 points and grabbed a rebound to help his team down the stretch, but on a night when the Eagle stars were slowed by injury OG was strong.  He drained 4 three pointers en route to 17 points and 5 rebounds.

Senior Guard Parker Kelly was clutch again draining 4 of 8 shots from beyond the arc and both of free throws as he finished with 14 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists.  Felix Von Hofe gave the team 21 big time minutes and finished with 8 points including a 3 pointer during the Eagles rally to end regulation.

Tyler Harvey finished with a season low 13 points, 1 rebounds and 1 assist.  He was just 3 of 10 from beyond the arc and 4 of 13 overall.  His game was badly affected by a knee on knee collision in the first half.  The Eagles need Harvey to heal quickly because his threat to shoot and score from literally anywhere in the half court makes their offense click.

Venky Jois was only able to play 23 minutes and had an atrocious night from the free throw line going just 1 of 7.  He played strong down the stretch including a block to thwart Idaho's final chance in overtime.  Venky's first night back should be remembered for the team win and his efforts definitely helped them get there.  As I tweeted after the game, when you win by 3 in OT, 7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 blocks are certainly important in securing the victory.

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