The Eagles have landed, emotionally speaking.
Two days after what Jim Hayford called the best comeback he’s been a part of in 16 years of coaching, his team regrouped, rehealed and refocused Monday morning.
“I told the guys congratulations,” Hayford said of Eastern Washington’s 98-95 overtime men’s basketball win over Idaho, in which his team overcame a 17-point deficit with 8½ minutes left.
“Then I told them to work on the things we have to do to make us better,” Hayford said.
Even down by 11 with 1:33 to play, Hayford noticed the players’ body language in the huddle, which showed “a confidence that maybe they didn’t have earlier in the year, a belief in one another.”
That came despite injuries to the Eagles’ two leading scorers, forward Venky Jois and guard Tyler Harvey. In his first action since suffering an ankle injury on Jan. 15 at Portland State, Jois struggled on the offensive end; Hayford said that Jois “tweaked” the ankle on Thursday, and it wasn’t clear whether he would be able to play against the Vandals.
Jois finished with seven points and two rebounds in 23 minutes, but made a game-saving block against UI’s Mike Scott at the end of the game.
Harvey, still the national scoring leader with a 23.6-point average, suffered a contusion in his right quadricep late in the first half. He returned, but left the game for good with 7:31 to play.
Hayford said Harvey’s injury is “considerably better,” but he didn’t practice Monday morning. He’s expected to play Thursday, when the Eagles (7-1 Big Sky, 16-5 overall) visit Montana.
Meanwhile, true freshman Bogdan Bliznyuk burnished his reputation further, scoring 21 points and pulling down a game-high 15 rebounds.
Bliznyuk is an early favorite for Big Sky Freshman of the Year, but expectations are rising every day.
Said Hayford, “One coach told me he’s playing like an all-conference first-teamer right now.”
In eight conference games, Bliznyuk – technically a backup – is averaging 27.6 minutes and 15.9 points while shooting 61.3 percent (46 for 75) from the field.
Bliznyuk is 54.5 percent (10 of 18) from 3-point range while averaging 7.4 rebounds.
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