Shantay Legans probably won’t need any motivational speeches this week.
Inspiration will practically ooze from the floor at Reese Court, where the Eagles close out the regular season against Southern Utah and Northern Arizona.
Besides the chance to build on a four-game winning streak, the Eagles have a chance to earn a first-round bye in next week’s Big Sky Conference Tournament and send three players out in style for their final two home games.
There’s even a chance for some payback Thursday night against Southern Utah, which sits in 10th place in the standings but owns an early-season win over the Eagles.
“I just want us to get a bye,” Legans said. “If we can get all the way to second or third place, with our schedule and all the injuries we’ve had, that would be terrific.”
Last week, Eastern posted its first road sweep in two years, knocking off Weber State and Idaho State to improve to 16-13 overall and 11-5 in the Big Sky.
That paves the way for an exciting final weekend, with Eastern needing to win both games to clinch at least a fourth-place finish and the bye.
The Eagles, who are one game ahead of fifth-place Northern Colorado, also could finish fourth with a split – provided UNC loses at least once. Eastern owns most tiebreaker advantages over the Bears, though it’s complicated.
Eastern set up that scenario last weekend with the road sweep capped by senior Bogdan Bliznyuk’s 17-point effort and clutch 3-pointer that gave the Eagles the lead for good with 1:31 to play.
Along with Sir Washington and transfer Benas Griciunas, Bliznyuk will be saying goodbye to Reese Court on Saturday.
“You try not to think about it, but it still gets in your head,” said Bliznyuk, the Eagles’ leading career scorer with 2,013 points and the fifth player in the 55-year history of the Big Sky to hit the 2,000 mark.
“The good thing is our seniors have been playing great for us,” Legans said. “Benas has stepped up and played well the last few games. Bogdan has been playing lights-out, and Sir has been playing terrific.
“I’m going to miss these guys, and the younger players are understanding what it means to be a senior. It’s an exciting time for those three seniors.”
First up, though, is Southern Utah, which took a 66-62 home win over the Eagles on Jan. 20, a game that saw Bliznyuk in foul trouble and Legans second-guessing his decision-making.
“That was a good learning experience for me,” Legans said.
The Thunderbirds (11-16, 5-11) have three players scoring in double figures but rank last in scoring defense (81.6 ppg) and have the second-worst rebounding differential (minus 2.5) in the Big Sky.
On Saturday, the Eagles host last-place NAU (5-24, 2-14). Tipoff for Senior Day is at 2:05 p.m.
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