Benzel Scores Career-High 25 as Eastern Beats Sacramento State 82-67

Benzel Scores Career-High 25 as Eastern Beats Sacramento State 82-67

It was a day for stepping up for several Eagles.

Junior Cody Benzel led four Eagles in double figures with career highs of 25 points and seven 3-pointers as the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team continued to remain unbeaten at home with an 82-67 victory against Sacramento State on Saturday (Jan. 6) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Besides Benzel – a 2014 graduate of Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash. — Benas Griciunas had a career-high 16 points, Jack Perry had 15 and Mason Peatling contributed 12. Those four players had entered with scoring averages of 4.5, 4.9, 5.4 and 5.4 per game, respectively. Senior Sir Washington chipped in 10 points after entering with a 5.3 average.

With EWU’s top three scorers – including injured forward Jesse Hunt – combining for just two points in the game – the contributions were particularly impressive in EWU’s seventh-straight victory in the series against the Hornets. Big Sky Player of the Year candidate Bogdan Bliznyuk was double and triple teamed by the Hornets and finished with just two points, but he contributed nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals. The senior was able to move into second in school history in career scoring with 1,742 points, one better than Ron Cox with 1,741 from 1974-77 and 61 away from the all-time record.

“In the wake of Jesse getting hurt, Benas played great, Mason played great and Cody played great,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans . “Bogdan had one of his best passing games of his career because he was getting triple-teamed every time he got the ball. They took Bogdan away, and he did a really good job facilitating for other guys.”

For the third-straight game, Eastern had a double-digit advantage in field goal percentage. Eastern sank 55 percent – including a blistering 62 percent in the second half when the Eagles made 8-of-14 3-pointers – while Sac State finished at 44 percent.

“A lot of teams will guard Bogdan like that, but it’s going to hurt them because our guys can really shoot the ball,” added Legans. “If that happens, Bogdan will maybe end up the all-time assist leader also.”

Benzel got hot in the second half and netted 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers in runs of 8-0 and 6-0 to give EWU a 21-point lead. The Eagles had used runs of 10-0 and 9-0 in the first half to help open a 12-point lead at halftime. The Hornets led just three times in the first half for a total of 57 seconds.

The two teams will play again in Sacramento on Feb. 1. Eastern’s next game is at home next Friday (Jan. 12) against league favorite Idaho at approximately 7:30 following the EWU-UI women’s game which begins at 5:05 p.m.

Records . . .

* The Eagles are now 8-9 on the season and 3-1 in the Big Sky, and have now won five of their last six games. The Eagles had opened their three-game homestand on Thursday (Jan. 4), taking a 13-point second-half lead against the Portland State and holding on for an 81-74 win. Unbeaten at home this season at 5-0, the Eagles are 51-9 (85 percent) at Reese Court in the past five seasons since 2013-14.

* The Hornets were coming off a narrow 69-68 loss at Idaho in which Sac State held an 11-point lead with 8:45 remaining in the game. Although just 4-12 on the season and 1-2 in Big Sky play, the Hornets recorded a huge win at home when it upset Portland State 80-75 on Dec. 30. At the time, PSU was the top-ranked Big Sky team in RPI at No. 52 and had recorded 10 preseason victories.

What it Means . . .

* The Eagles protected their home court with the overwhelming victory and kept pace in the Big Sky Conference standings with a number of other teams who entered Saturday’s action with just one loss. Eastern is 5-0 at home this season while Sac State is now 0-11 away from home (0-7 on opponent home courts and 0-4 at neutral sites).

What’s Next . . .

* On Friday, Jan. 12, Eastern will host an Idaho team picked to win the Big Sky title. The Vandals are 10-5 overall and also 2-1 in the league heading into action Saturday evening versus Portland State. The Idaho game will take place at approximately 7:30 p.m. at Reese Court following the EWU women’s game which begins at 5:05 p.m. In the eight meetings since Idaho re-joined the Big Sky Conference in the 2014-15 season, EWU is 6-2 but the average winning margin for the winning team is just 6.6 points. Included was an EWU sweep in 2016-17 versus the Vandals, with EWU winning 69-62 in Moscow and 77-67 in Cheney. The Eagles have won their last three games at Reese Court versus the Vandals, and haven’t lost there since an 81-79 overtime loss on Dec. 6, 2012, in the last non-conference meeting before the Vandals rejoined the Big Sky.