RENO, Nevada – By the end of the night, every basketball fan in the Big Sky Conference had to wonder:
How much more history can Bogdan Bliznyuk and Eastern Washington make in one year?
Or one game?
In a remarkable performance Friday night, Bliznyuk became the leading scorer in conference history and the Eagles held off Southern Utah 82-70 to reach the Big Sky Tournament title game for the second time in four years.
Their opponent on Saturday night at the Reno Events Center will be top-seeded Montana, which survived a scare against Northern Colorado in the first semifinal.
Then the Griz had to watch Bliznyuk go on to become the leading scorer in tournament history. The guy he passed? Griz legend Larry Krystkowiak.
Want some more payback, Griz fans? The last time Eastern made it this far was in 2015, when Tyler Harvey and the Eagles knocked off another top-seeded Griz team – in Missoula, no less.
Bliznyuk was a freshman on that magical night, part of the supporting cast.
“I’m always thinking about going back to the NCAA Tournament, and I’m hoping that this one is as good as the first one,” Bliznyuk said.
That should be plenty of motivation for the Griz, who lost to the Eagles in their lone meeting this year, but they’ll need to figure out how to stop Bliznyuk.
Southern Utah had no answers, as Bliznyuk hit 13 of 17 shots for a game-high 32 points.
“Bogdan was great today,” said EWU coach Shantay Legans, who also got 16 points from Jacob Davison and 14 from Benas Griciunas.
For the game, Eastern (20-13) shot 31 for 48, or 64.6 percent.
Eight days after rolling to a 23-point win over the Thunderbirds in Cheney, the Eagles almost did the same in the semifinals.
A double-digit lead shrank to six points with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left, but Eastern closed out the T-Birds at the foul line.
Bliznyuk set the tone on the first possession with a flawless spin move for a floater that found only net, and Mason Peatling outhustled the bulkier Southern Utah defenders for a pair of layins.
Southern Utah opened 3 for 4 from long range to earn an 11-all tie, but Sir Washington capped a 14-5 run with a jumper to make it 25-15.
The lead grew to 32-18 late in the half as Eastern hit 13 of its first 17 shots. Southern Utah closed to with eight, but Jack Perry’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Eagles a 43-31 halftime lead.
Like most teams, Southern Utah had no answers for isolation plays by Bliznyuk, who had 17 points at halftime on 7-for-9 shooting.
Needing eight points to become the leading career scorer in Big Sky history, Bliznyuk claimed the record with a free throw 6 minutes into the game.
Bliznyuk has 2,127 points, surpassing the record of 2,102 set by Orlando Lightfoot of Idaho in 1994.
“It’s definitely an honor, because there’s been some great players to come through the Big Sky,” Bliznyuk said.
The lead would have been greater, but the Thunderbirds were 5 for 11 from beyond the arc.
Bliznyuk was guarded for most of the game by James McGee, who stifled Idaho star Victor Sanders, but Bliznyuk didn’t seem bothered.
In came Dre Marin, only to be victimized by a half dozen fakes and finally a fadeaway from Bliznyuk that gave the Eagles their biggest lead to that point, 60-45 with 11:35 left.
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