CHENEY, Wash. — Eastern Washington shot a blazing 8-of-14 from the 3-point line in the second half, and Cody Benzel led all players with 25 points as the Eagles defeated Sacramento State, 82-67, on Saturday afternoon at Reese Court.
After shooting just 2-for-11 from long range in the first half, Eastern Washington caught fire in the second half and finished the game 10-for-25 (40 percent) from the 3-point line. Sacramento State connected on a season-low three 3-pointers, finishing just 3-for-18 (17 percent) from long distance. The Eagles led for nearly 35 minutes of game clock, and did not trail the final 28:49 of the contest.
For the second straight game, Sacramento State had a tough time closing halves. This time, it was a 12-3 Eastern Washington run over the final 5:41 of the first half that allowed the Eagles to take a 39-27 lead into halftime. The Hornets never really challenged in the second half as EWU led by at least nine points the entire second half, opening up a lead as large as 21 points with 8:44 to play.
With the loss, Sacramento State dropped to 4-12 overall and 1-2 in the Big Sky Conference. The Hornets opened the brief road trip with a heartbreaking one-point loss at Idaho on Thursday. Sacramento State will return home next week for games against Montana on Thursday and Montana State on Saturday.
Eastern Washington, which finished second in the conference standings a year ago, improved to 8-9 overall, 5-0 at home and 3-1 in the Big Sky. The Eagles are 34-14 all-time against the Hornets, including a 21-3 mark when the two teams play in Cheney. Sacramento State has now lost seven straight games against the Eagles, the longest losing streak against any team in the Big Sky.
Overall, the Eagles shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, followed by 62 percent in the second half, and finished the game shooting a very proficient 55 percent (32-58) from the field, 40 percent (10-25) from the 3-point line and 80 percent (8-10) from the free throw line. Eastern Washington became just the second team all season to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor against the Hornets. Benzel was a huge factor as the junior guard scored 18 second-half points and finished the game 7-for-10 from the 3-point line and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. All 10 of his field goal attempts were from long range and the 25 points were a career high.
Both teams finished with 31 rebounds, and Sacramento State held a 15-8 edge in points off turnovers, but Eastern Washington's shooting from the field proved to be too much. After scoring just 27 points in the first half, the Hornets did have 40 points in the second half.
Sacramento State shot 44 percent (26-59) from the field and 75 percent (12-16) from the free throw line, but the 3-for-18 from distance really hurt the team's chances. Inside the 3-point arc, Sacramento State shot 56 percent (23-41).
For the Hornets, senior Justin Strings scored in double figures for the 36th consecutive time, and now has at least 14 points in 11 straight games. Strings finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal in 37 minutes. Strings has now led the Hornets in rebounding in five straight, and six of the last seven games. Joining him in double figures was Jeff Wu who finished with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field. Ten of those points came in the second half. Sophomore Joshua Patton had 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go along with four rebounds. Jordan Tolbert added nine points and three assists, Kevin Hicks had seven points and Jiday Ugbaja posted six points, three assists, no turnovers and two steals in 13 minutes.
Eastern Washington had five players in double figures, led by Benzel's 25 points. Benas Griciunas had 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting, Jack Perry had 14 points and six assists, Mason Peatling 12 points and six rebounds, and Sir Washington 10 points. Bogdan Bliznyuk, who entered as the third leading scorer in the Big Sky at 19.5 points per game, was limited to a season-low two points, but had seven rebounds, nine assists and three steals.
Sacramento State's next game will be Thursday against Montana inside the Nest at 7:05 p.m. The Hornets are 4-1 at home this year, and have defeated the Grizzlies inside the Nest each of the last three years.
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