For Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans, this really was the best of both worlds.
The Eagles won comfortably, 94-66, in Wednesday’s nonconference men’s basketball game against Providence of Montana. But even with Christmas around the corner, they never looked too comfortable while doing it.
“I’ve been in their shoes – it’s Christmas time and they are ready to go home,” Legans said after the Eagles won their second consecutive game to improve to 5-8. “But we clamped down and played really good in the second half.
“I was proud of how we played.”
With Big Sky Conference play one week away, there was a lot to like, even if the victim was an NAIA team. The Eagles shot well for the fourth consecutive game, made some highlight-reel plays and led by as many as 30 points late in the second half.
EWU guard Ty Gibson reflected on the team’s recent 10-game road trip,
“It took us a while to find our flow offensively,” said Gibson, who scored 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting from long range. “The guys are more confident now. We’re moving the ball better and getting guys in the right position.
“The confidence, it’s contagious.”
On Wednesday, that was reflected in a 57 percent shooting night, the Eagles’ fourth consecutive effort of more than 45 percent.
As they did against Cal State Northridge three days earlier, the Eagles made the most of their size advantage inside. Forward Bogdan Bliznyuk scored a game-high 24 points, while Jesse Hunt had a double-double with 16 points and 11 boards.
Eastern outrebounded Providence 42-27.
“Offensively, we’re starting to hit our peak and defensively, we know what we need to do,” Legans said. “When we are locked in and we do a good job with penetration, I think we have one of the better defensive teams in the league because of our size.”
Eastern won this one with more than brute force.
Eastern almost had a double-digit lead in the first 3 minutes, as Gibson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 12-3. A few minutes later, post Benas Griciunas made a nice leap for a putback and a foul off a missed 3-pointer by Sir Washington.
The Eagles went cold from long range, finishing 7 for 20, but they made up for that with some big hustle plays in the second half.
Leading by 12 shortly after intermission, Washington drove the baseline before sending a sharp pass that Jack Perry knocked down for 3. Twenty seconds later, Bliznyuk fed Gibson for another open look and suddenly the lead was 58-40.
Eastern never led by less than 14 the rest of the way.
The prettiest play was Bliznyuk’a spin and layup that made it 73-53 with 9 minutes left. Not long after, Bliznyuk and the other regulars yielded the floor as 11 Eagles scored.
Steven Daho-Clark led the Argos (7-5) with 14 points.
Eastern opens Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 29 at Northern Colorado and two days later at North Dakota. A three-game homestand begins Jan. 4 against Portland State.