This was no time to fret over tournament seeds and first-round byes.
Saturday afternoon at Reese Court was all about saying bye to a trio of seniors, including career scoring leader Bogdan Bliznyuk, Sir Washington and Benas Griciunas.
Then the Eagles went to work, dispatching Northern Arizona 85-68 in front of an appreciative Senior Day crowd of 2,032.
There was a lot to appreciate – all the way back to the 2014-15 season, when Bliznyuk and Washington helped the Eagles reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time in school history.
Since then, they’ve won a record 85 games as Eagles, with the chance for more next week at the Big Sky Conference tournament in Reno, Nevada.
With the win, the Eagles (18-13 overall and 13-5 in the Big Sky) finished third in the conference, and will play a quarterfinal game Thursday night at the Reno Events Center.
But that’s five days away – almost an eternity amid the emotion of Senior Day. Fans rose from their seats as family and friends joined the seniors at center court.
“Today is a special day,” said Washington, whose parents flew up from Las Vegas.
Dozens more will be back in June for an even bigger event – Washington’s graduation.
“Last night I was talking to my mom and dad and they were telling me how proud they were for me graduating,” Washington said.
Bliznyuk’s family was there too, from Federal Way, Washington, where he lived after emigrating from Ukraine at the age of 7. Cheney was his next stop.
“It was very special, all the memories flooding in at the same time from four years,” Bliznyuk said. “I got caught up in the emotions a little bit.
“I love playing here and playing in front of our fans, and it feels that much better that we won.”
Yes, there was a game to play, and the last-place Lumberjacks (5-26, 2-16) hung around for about 25 minutes before succumbing to one of Eastern’s best shooting efforts of the season.
It was Senior Day, but the underclassmen stole the limelight. Freshman guard Jack Perry had a career-high 18-points on 6-for-9 shooting – all of them from beyond the arc.
Another freshman, Jacob Davison, drilled four more 3-pointers and finished with 14 points. As a team, the Eagles hit a season-high 16 3-pointers, out of 34 attempts.
NAU held a brief 8-7 lead , but went almost 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal as Eastern surged to a 22-11 lead.
The advantage grew to 38-25 at halftime and stayed in double digits the rest of the way.
Eastern took its biggest lead (79-56) on Bliznyuk’s record-setting 74th consecutive free throw with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left.
Frequently double-teamed, Bliznyuk didn’t hit double figures until the last 6 minutes of the game. Still, he posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 assists.
Washington added 11 points and Mason Peatling had 11, along with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Corey Brown led NAU with 22 points.
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