Cody Benzel took what Sacramento State gave him Saturday afternoon – and then some.
As the Hornets put the clamps on leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk, the junior from Ferris came through with a career day to give Eastern Washington an 82-67 Big Sky Conference win over Sacramento State.
“It’s about time to have one of those games,” said Benzel, who hit 7 of 10 long-range shots and finished with a career-high 25 points.
“It’s been a lot of hard work over these last four years, and it paid off today,” Benzel said moments after receiving a standing ovation when he fouled out with 37 seconds left.
By then the game was well in hand as the Eagles improved to 7-9 overall and 3-1 in the Big Sky Conference.
The win was especially satisfying for first-year coach Shantay Legans, whose second-leading scorer and top rebounder, Jesse Hunt, was on crutches after suffering a foot injury in practice on Friday. His status is “day-to-day,” Legans said.
Meanwhile, Bliznyuk, who averages 17 points a game, was double-teamed most of the night and finished with just two points. That was enough to move Bliznyuk into second place in school history with 1,742 points, passing Ron Cox.
Bliznyuk is 61 points away from breaking the record set by his former teammate, Venky Jois, from 2013-16.
On Saturday, Bliznyuk played the facilitator’s role to perfection, dishing out 10 assists and helping his teammates shoot 55 percent from the floor.
“It’s always great to have players like Bogdan,” Legans said. “He can do everything for us.”
The rest of the Eagles took it from there as an unlikely quintet of players finished in double figures.
Forward Mason Peatling, who started in place of Hunt, set the tone early with 10 first-half points and finished with 12. Freshman guard Jack Perry had another solid night, shooting 6 for 12 and finishing with 14 points and six assists. Senior Sir Washington had 10 points and four boards.
“I’ve said it all the time that when we have guys like this on the team, it’s easy to coach,” Legans said. “They are smart, they play hard, they are getting better every day and they come in with great attitudes. It makes life easy.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise was center Benas Griciunas, a graduate transfer who’d played sparingly in recent games but had his best game as an Eagle with 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting. He also had five rebounds.
It was Griciunas’ layup and foul shot that gave the Eagles the lead for good midway through the first half and sparked a 9-0 run. Griciunas also had three layups and a foul shot during a 90-second span in the second quarter to help preserve EWU’s double-digit lead.
“He gave us a great lift,” Legans said. “We challenged the bigs early because Jesse has been in foul trouble and now he’s hurt.
“Benas came in and stepped up. … He ran the floor, he caught and scored the ball and he was a great defensive player.”
The rest of the Eagles played solid defense as well, holding the Hornets (4-12, 1-2) to 44-percent shooting from the field and 17 percent from 3-point range.
Eastern led 39-27 at halftime and stretched it from there as Benzel scoring 18 of his 25 after intermission.
The Eagles led by as many as 21 in the second half.
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