BOULDER, Colo. — After a first half which saw Eastern Washington’s Bogdan Bliznyuk explode for 21 points, the Colorado Buffaloes limited the Eagles’ leading scorer to just four second-half points, eventually toughing out a 76-68 victory.
Bliznyuk, who came into tonight’s matchup averaging 20.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting from the field, scored 15 of the Eagles’ first 19 points as it looked like the junior was going to have his way with the Colorado defense, which he did over the course of tonight’s first half where he scored 21 points on just 12 shots.
“He’s a good player, hard matchup,” Tad Boyle said of Bliznyuk. “Didn’t do a very good job on him in the first half but did a much better job in the second half. We had to make some adjustments on the high ball screen and how we’re maybe guarding him and our guys did a good job of executing that in the second half and it showed with our defensive numbers.”
The second half, as Boyle eluded to, was not so kind to Bliznyuk, mainly because of Colorado’s defense.
Helping that cause was Derrick White, who led the way for Colorado scoring a team-high 17 points to go with seven assists. Boyle sent White, along with Wesley Gordon, George King, Thomas Akyazili, Deleon Brown and any other wing he could find at the sharpshooter.
“Don’t help,” Boyle said of the adjustments Colorado made on Bliznyuk in the second half. “Unless he’s deep in the corner and they have the ball deep in the corner, we’re fronting the post and you’re in help-side, but other than that you’re not letting him catch it. No help responsibilities. He can’t score if he doesn’t catch it.”
It was White who was really able to get into Bliznyuk defensively and limit him throughout the final 20 minutes.
“Derrick’s really really important to us, we need him on the floor,” Boyle said. “He’s probably our best perimeter defender and certainly our best playmaker.”
For Colorado, tonight’s first half started off as poorly as possible.
The Buffs began 0-5 from the field, which included two fouls on Xavier Johnson that limited the senior to just four first-half minutes as Eastern Washington opened up 19-2 advantage off the opening tip behind Bliznyuk.
“We talked about chipping away and the way you chip away is not by trading baskets,” Boyle said. “You have to get stops and the stops hopefully can lead to some transition baskets, which it did in the first half a little bit.”
The Buffs’ first field goal, a Deleon Brown three at the 12:19 mark of the first half, got Colorado on the board. Then, the Buffs’ bench started the see the ball go through the net. That momentum was all Boyle’s starting five needed after bringing little energy or effort on either end of the floor to start tonight’s game.
“We came out super slow,” Josh Fortune said of tonight’s opening minutes. “Our bench players gave us a big spark when we needed it. It helped a lot.”
White’s three brought Colorado to within eight at the 12:19 mark of the first half, then a Fortune layup with a little over two minutes remaining cut the Eagles’ margin to five. Two Fortune free-throws brought the Buffs to within a basket, but Eastern Washington took a 35-32 lead into the half.
White’s mid-range jumper fell to tie things at 37 two minutes into the second half and a rhythm three from Fortune put Colorado on top for the first time at 40-37.
Colorado was hitting shots at a much higher clip than they did in the first half and getting into Eastern Washington on defense by the way of White and Brown. The Buffs were eventually able to put the Eagles away for good.
“We knew the only way to get back in this thing is to get some stops and try to get some easy ones,” Boyle said. “Get to the foul line, which I thought we did a good job of.”
Elsewhere for Colorado, Fortune scored 13 points and hit 3-7 from three-point range. Gordon recorded a double-double; 11 points and ten rebounds and Johnson finished with ten points in limited minutes due to foul trouble as the Buffs moved to 10-3 on the season.