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Eastern Washington men cruise to season-opening win over Walla Walla

That’s funny, the new-look Eastern Washington basketball team looks a lot like the old ones.

In their first home appearance of the season at Reese Court, the Eagles pushed the pace and shot a lot of 3-pointers in an 82-61 nonconference, season-opening win Friday over Walla Walla.

The Eagles hope fans will remember that during the next five weeks. That’s how long the Eagles will be on the road, trying to get better under new coach Shantay Legans.

“The crowd was awesome,” Legans said. “That’s something we’re building toward, and winning does that.

“When we go on the road and win some of the games like I know we will, it (Reese Court) will be packed all the time.”

In the meantime, Eastern plays the next 10 on the road, beginning Sunday at Washington. That played into the Eagles’ slow start, Legans said.

“Our focus was maybe looking forward to UW. It showed a little bit, but our guys played hard and that’s what we are looking for,” Legans said.

As they plan to do all year, the Eagles went with a big starting lineup anchored by 7-foot transfer Benas Griciunas at post, 6-8 Mason Peatling at power forward and 6-6 Bogdan Bliznyuk at small forward.

In the backcourt, Legans went with 6-6 sophomore point guard Luka Vulikic and 6-3 senior Sir Washington.

Predictably, the NAIA Wolves spread the court on offense and and got too many open looks in the first half.

“Walla Walla played a great game – they played really hard and switched up their defense between man and zone well,” Legans said. “They tried to spread us out and use their size to their advantage – they were a little bit smaller and quicker.”

Eastern trailed 9-8 early and led by only two with 8 minutes left in the half before pulling away to a 39-26 halftime lead.

The Eagles took control in the second half, leading by as many as 25.

“I think we need to be more vocal,” said Bliznyuk, who scored a game-high 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting. “But we did a good job on the glass in the second half.”

Besides a 45-33 rebounding advantage, the Eagles also dominated in the paint.

But for some poor 3-point shooting (10 for 35) the Eagles would have won this one by 40.

“I know we’re a better-shooting team than that, and we’ll get those same looks on Sunday and knock them down,” Legans said.

After Sunday’s game in Seattle, the Eagles are at Stanford on Tuesday and UNLV three days later. They return to Reese Court on Dec. 17 against Cal State Northridge.

“It’s going to be a great experience for our guys and will help us get ready for Big Sky play,” Legans said. “It’s a learning experience for me, too, and the first game was a learning experience.”