MISSOULA, Mont. -- Eastern Washington shot a blistering .582 (32-55) from the field, and .600 (15-25) from the 3-point line on the way to a 91-83 victory over Sacramento State in the Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball Tournament semifinal round on Friday evening at Dahlberg Arena.
With the loss, the No. 3 seed Hornets (20-11) are eliminated from the Big Sky Tournament while No. 2 Eastern Washington advances to tomorrow night's championship game against the winner of the other semifinal featuring No. 4 Northern Arizona and No. 1 Montana. The winner of tomorrow night's championship game will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Sacramento State was making its third Big Sky Tournament semifinal appearance in school history (2003, 2006), and had hopes of reaching the championship game for the first time. Instead, the program's season will likely continue with another postseason game that is not the NCAA Tournament, potentially the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) or the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). The Hornets will find out some time in the next couple days if it qualified for either of those tournaments.
The Hornets ran into an Eastern Washington squad (25-8) that flat out could not miss. The Eagles seemingly buried shots from everywhere on the floor. In fact, EWU's 15 3-pointers were one shy of the Big Sky Tournament record of 16 made three balls, set in 2000 by Northern Arizona. The 3-pointers made (15) and 3-point percentage (.600) were season highs for any opponent against Sacramento State this season.
The Eagles made each of their first three 3-pointers of the contest, and the third one from Drew Brandon gave Eastern Washington an early 15-4 lead. Sacramento State eventually closed to within five points of that Eagle lead at 22-17 after a conventional 3-point play from Mikh McKinney, but the Hornets would get no closer the rest of the way.
Eastern Washington pushed the lead back up to 10 points (34-24) on a 3-pointer from Bogdan Bliznyuk with 4:53 left in the first half and had a double digit lead until the later stages of the contest. Every time the Hornets tried to make a run, Eastern Washington seemingly buried a 3-pointer to thwart any kind of Sacramento State rally.
Five different Eastern Washington players buried at least one 3-pointer and four of those players shot better than 50 percent from distance. That included Felix Von Hofe who finished with 23 points on 7-of-8 from distance. Von Hofe had entered the game averaging just 4.6 points per contest. Brandon (3-for-4), Parker Kelly (2-for-3) and Bliznyuk (2-for-2) also had healthy percentages from distance. The Hornets did hold the nation's leading scorer, Tyler Harvey, to just nine points on 1-of-5 from beyond the arc, but the rest of the Eagle squad couldn't miss.
Sacramento State used a 21-6 run over the game's final 4:14 to make things interesting at the end. Eastern Washington led by as many as 26 points early in the second half.
The Hornets shot the ball well, finishing .483 (29-60) from the field, .409 (9-22) from the 3-point line and .727 (16-22) from the free throw line, but could not overcome the Eagles' efforts from beyond the arc. Eastern Washington also held a 17-12 advantage in points off turnovers and 39-8 in points off the bench. Von Hofe (23) and Bliznyuk (16) combined for all 39 of those points off the bench.
"Eastern Washington deserves all the credit, they had a great game plan and executed it perfectly," Sacramento State seventh-year head coach Brian Katz said. "We certainly did not get off to a good start, and we have no excuses. They outplayed us in every phase of the game. Our season is not over yet though, and we will look to bounce back at another postseason tournament, wherever that takes us."
McKinney led a quartet of Hornets in double figures as the senior co-captain finished with a game-high 24 points, seven assists and three steals while playing all 40 minutes. He shot 9-of-17 from the field, 3-for-6 from the 3-point line and 3-of-3 from the free throw line. He was joined in double figures by senior Dylan Garrity (18 points), junior Cody Demps (14 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals) and sophomore Eric Stuteville (13 points, five rebounds and 6-of-8 shooting). All 18 of Garrity's points came in the second half.
Senior Zach Mills added six points and six rebounds, and sophomore Nick Hornsby had six points and three rebounds. Sacramento State was outrebounded, 32-29, but did outscore the Eagles, 9-2, in second chance points.
For Eastern Washington, Von Hofe's career-high 23 points led the Eagles, as Bliznyuk (16 points, three assists), Venky Jois (19 points, six rebounds, two blocked shots) and Kelly (11 points) also scored in double figures.
Eastern Washington won two of the three meetings against Sacramento State this season, as the two teams split their regular season matchups with each team winning on its home floor.
The Hornets were making their sixth Big Sky Tournament appearance in school history, which included four straight seasons from 2003-06, and last year's appearance.
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