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Young EWU Eagles pick up experience in 104-64 win over Great Falls

If it had the feel of a junior varsity game, well, that’s because it occasionally was a JV game.

The visitors brought only four members of the “A” team, the hosts started five freshmen and no one drew any definitive conclusions from Eastern Washington’s 104-64 basketball romp over the University of Great Falls on Sunday at Reese Court.

Well, except maybe EWU coach Jim Hayford, who proclaimed getting his youngsters some run “made us a better team.”

It certainly didn’t hurt Cody Benzel. The redshirt freshman from Ferris High School was the epitome of efficiency, scoring a career-high 23 points in just 14 minutes of action _ thanks to 7-of-14 shooting from 3-point range.

“Once you make a couple, you think they’ll all go in and you just want to keep firing,” said Benzel, “especially in this program. We get a lot of opportunities for 3s, so you want to make the most of it when you get the chance to shoot them.”

Opportunities? The Eagles (5-3) shot 40 and made 17 – both season highs – against the Argonauts. Makes by Benzel and fellow freshman Will Ferris helped Eastern ease away from UGF late in the first half for a 48-34 lead, and four more in six trips down the floor midway through the second half made the blowout official.

The Argonauts (5-3) have four NCAA Division I opponents on their schedule this season, all designated as exhibition games. This was just a little more of an exhibition than most.

UGF played a Frontier Conference game Saturday night in Billings. Only four Argos who played in that loss to Rocky Mountain College made it to Cheney. The others stayed in Great Falls to prepare for 8 a.m. finals today, the rest of the uniforms filled by players from the junior varsity program.

“I didn’t mean for it to be like that,” said UGF coach Anthony Owens. “When I was scheduling, I got this game first and then our conference schedule came out. This was something I had to honor. Our guys love playing these games anyway – some of them think they’re D-I players, so they get a chance to see what it’s about.”

One Argo looked like a D-I player – guard Lamar Falley ringing up 23 points and six assists.

Knowing his opponent’s handicap, Hayford took the unusual step of running a “hard” practice Sunday morning (”We just need to get tougher,” he said) and then sitting seniors Venky Jois and Austin McBroom in advance of an eastern swing that will take the Eagles to Davidson, Pittsburgh and Western Carolina.

“Going into this week, I thought there was no reason to put minutes on them,” Hayford said. “It allowed them to get rest while others gained valuable experience.”

As a result, six teammates would join Benzel in double figures – including regulars Felix Von Hofe and Sir Washington with 15 points apiece. Washington, recently swapped out of the starting lineup for freshman Jesse Hunt, also led the Eagles with nine rebounds.

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