This was no triple-overtime classic.
In some ways it was even better.
In the closing moments of Eastern Washington’s 81-74 win over Portland State on Thursday night, Bogdan Bliznyuk raised his arms in triumph and the Reese Court crowd responded in kind.
Then he sank two game-clinching foul shots on a night that saw him become Eastern’s all-time free-throw leader.
If that sounds a bit pedestrian – Bliznyuk scored 45 in triple OT the last time these two teams met at Reese Court – consider what this game meant.
Facing the darlings of the Big Sky Conference – a week ago, PSU was 10-3 and ranked 52nd in RPI – Eastern didn’t flinch in Shantay Legans’ first big homestand as a head coach.
They did it the hard way, overcoming 20 turnovers with hard-nosed defense and a 25-for-27 night at the foul line. They also shot 49 percent from the field and 38 percent from long range.
Legans wasn’t getting those numbers in November and December, and that was the whole point: After a brutal early schedule, the Eagles are just 7-9 overall, but they’re 2-1 in the Big Sky and looking better every game.
“Our (season stats) aren’t inflated,” Legans said after his first Big Sky home win. “I think our schedule had us ready for this game. We’ve played against some really good players and against a lot of great teams and we built toughness.”
In a game with 10 ties and 14 lead changes, toughness mattered more than ever. Facing an unrelenting press, the Eagles shrugged off every turnover and made the most of their half-court offense.
“We haven’t played a team like that this year,” Legans said. “Teams have pressured us, but this team is 40 minutes of straight pressure. They speed you up and don’t allow you to get into your sets.
“We didn’t have too many sets we could run tonight – it’s really tough to try to make plays,” Legans said.
When the Eagles did, the key was Bliznyuk, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds along with a 13-for-13 night at the line.
That gave him 391 career free throws, breaking the record set from 2006-07 by 10-year NBA veteran Rodney Stuckey.
Bliznyuk also is within sight of becoming EWU’s leading career scorer. He now has 1,740 career points, one behind Ron Cox (2005-18) for second on the school’s scoring list and 63 behind the record of 1,803 set by Venky Jois (2013-16).
But on Thursday, the biggest points came from freshman point guard Jack Perry, who carried most of the ball-handling against PSU’s press.
With Eastern’s 12-point lead down to two with 20 seconds left, Perry had the ball on the left wing.
“I knew the shot clock was running down and we needed a bucket,” said Perry. “They were denying Bogdan pretty well, so I had to come off and make a play.”
Finding open space at the top of the arc, Perry pulled up and drilled a 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 79-74 lead with 15 seconds left.
“That was a big-time win,” Perry said.
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