Turnovers hurt UND in Big Sky loss to Eastern Washington
GRAND FORKS — The good news was that the University of North Dakota shot the basketball better, shooting 43 percent overall and 37 percent on 3-point attempts.
That's still not great, but it was considerably better than the Fighting Hawks' showing two nights earlier against Idaho and for much of the season as well.
However, there was bad news, too. UND committed 21 turnovers—a handful at crunch time—and that was the difference in Eastern Washington's 77-64 win over the Hawks on Sunday, Dec. 31, in a Big Sky Conference game before 1,548 fans at The Betty.
The loss dropped UND to 0-2 in the conference and 4-9 overall. Losing two home games to start the league season isn't the best way to start, especially for a young team that has been struggling to find its shooting touch for much of the year.
"We can't hang our heads; it is what it is," said UND coach Brian Jones. "There is a lot of growth going on. There will be a lot of tough moments, but in the end it'll help get us get to where we want to go."
Eastern Washington led most of the way and held a 47-33 lead with 15:44 to play. UND, however, began to hit shots from the perimeter and a Tray Buchanan 3-pointer with 10:55 left cut EWU's lead to 50-47.
The crowd was finally into the game and the Hawks had momentum.
But EWU's Bogdan Bliznyuk then showed why he's one of the top players in the league. The 6-foot-6 guard from Lutsk, Ukraine, scored the game's next 12 points—scores coming on 3-point shots, short jumpers and smooth drives to the rim.
His 12 straight put EWU up 62-47 with 5:17 to play. UND's Conner Avants broke that streak with two free throws, but Bliznyuk scored again at 4:49 for a 15-point lead with 4:49 left.
"He did a good job of going downhill," said EWU coach Shantay Legans. "He's hard to guard."
But UND also committed a handful of turnovers after cutting the deficit to three points.
"Committing turnovers against a team that doesn't turn you over is the frustrating part," said Jones. "We were executing and playing good defense. Then, we came down and had multiple possessions of turnovers or taking the quick shot.
"It's not about making the home run play. It's about making the easy plays that get you back into the game."
Bliznyuk finished with 29 points, making 12 of 18 from the field. The Eagles (1-1, 6-9) shot 54 percent. Bliznyuk created a lot of his shots, evidenced by EWU's nine assists on 27 field goals.
Dale Jones led UND with 20 points, while Geno Crandall and Avants finished with 13 and 11, respectively.
"We definitely showed we had some fight," said Avants. "But we had too many turnovers. If we erase half of those, maybe even five, we would have been right in the game.
"But it was a step in the right direction for us."