Despite scoring a season-high 85 points, the Idaho State Bengals fell to the Eastern Washington Eagles, 92-85, Thursday night at Reed Gym in a game that saw no shortage of offense with a limited supply of defense.
With an offense that averages over 75 point per game, the Eagles flew to a 9-0 run, taking advantage of early ISU defensive breakdowns through open threes and easy layups as Eastern’s 6’6”, 220-pound postman, Jacob Wiley, had anything and everything he wanted all night in the post.
Wiley finished the night with 27 points on 10-12 shooting, most of which were within five feet of the basket.
“Whatever he wanted to. That is what he did,” head coach Bill Evans said. “We knew that Wiley and Bliznyuk were really good players and we didn’t do a good job of guarding them. That’s the story there.”
The Bengals trailed 16-5 when Evans called a timeout to regroup his squad.
“We failed to defend their best players,” the 7’ redshirt sophomore Novak Topalovic said. “He was destroying us. Once he gets to his right hand, it was almost automatic.”
Out of the timeout, the Bengals caught fire offensively and soon found themselves back in the ball game as a Robert Jones III put-back dunk, a Topalovic swat, a Brandon Boyd step-back jumper and an Ethan Telfair three brought the Reed Gym crowd back to life. The spirt was a part of an ISU 8-0 run where the Bengals knocked down six consecutive baskets and trailed by two with 3:46 to go in the first half.
The offensive slugfest continued between the two teams as both schools went a combined 17-20 from the field to close out the half, ending with a Telfair three ball to send the Bengals to the locker room down by two.
ISU took its first lead of the night in its first possession of the second half when Topalovic completed the back end of a three-point play.
Then, shots stopped falling, Eastern Washington went on a 9-0 run and ISU never recovered.
“I feel like we were settling for shots and that hurt us in the long run,” Topalovic said. “A lot of shots we took in the second half we could have taken at any point in the shot clock. We still try to take hard shots in the first half but it went in because we moved the ball well. But in the second half, we come down, one ball screen, one pass and we try to shoot it. That isn’t how you win games in this league.”
As the offense went through its second lull of the night, the high-flying Eagle offense went to the post, relying on Wiley who despite foul trouble, ended the night with a season-high in points and a big second half performance from Bogdan Bliznyuk.
Bliznyuk finished the night with 19 points, 12 of which came in the final 20 minutes.
“That’s our big problem right now, we can’t get any stops,” Boyd said. “The goal was to stop them from the three. We can’t let [Wiley] touch the ball in the post. He is one of the best post players in the league. He showed it tonight.”
The Eagles shot 58.9 percent from the field, cashed in on 30 points off 15 ISU turnovers and bullied their way to 44 points in paint.
“You don’t need to shoot threes when you can shoot layups,” Evans said. “So, they shot layups. High percentage shots.”
The Bengals will host the University of Idaho Saturday at 7 p.m. in Reed Gym on a night where the 1976-77 team that beat UCLA to advance to the Regional Finals of the NCAA tournament, will be honored at halftime.
“We win on Saturday,” Evans said. “Win the next Thursday and the next Saturday and we keep winning. That’s my plan. My plan is not to be of the short end of the stick. My plan is to win games.”
ISU falls to 0-3 in conference play and will be trailing Weber State 13-2 when that game is picked up on Jan. 25.
“Last year we started off 1-3 in league and turned it around pretty good,” Boyd said. “We still have high hopes. As soon as we start getting stops on defense, we are going to be a really tough team because there aren’t too many teams that can guard us.”