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Benjamin Zack, AP
Eastern Washington's Bogdan Bliznyuk (32) gets around Weber State's Zach Braxton, right, during an NCAA college basketball game in Ogden, Utah, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Benjamin Zack/Standard-Examiner via AP)
It’s tough because when you are not mentally ready at the beginning of the game, if you’re not locked in the way you are supposed to be you make mistakes and that’s what happened tonight. —Weber State's Ryan Richardson

OGDEN — With an opportunity to tie Montana atop the Big Sky Conference Standings, the Weber State Wildcats blew a golden opportunity, dropping a 75-70 home game to Eastern Washington. The Wildcats led 46-40 before a 17-3 run from the Eagles changed the momentum and ultimately the outcome of the game.

Eastern Washington point-forward, Bogdan Bliznyuk, needing 31 points to become the fifth Big Sky player in history to crack the 2000-point barrier, nearly got there. The 6-foot-6 senior finished with 27 points, including nine-in-a-row during the decisive run.

“Give Eastern Washington credit, they came in here and played a lot better than we did and they came in here and they beat us and they deserved to win the game,” Randy Rahe, Weber State coach said.

Both Rahe and players Zach Braxton and Ryan Richardson concurred during post-game interviews that Weber State didn’t have the energy and focus they normally do.

“We came out flat and they came out aggressive and they came to play,” Braxton said.

“It’s tough because when you are not mentally ready at the beginning of the game, if you’re not locked in the way you are supposed to be you make mistakes and that’s what happened tonight,” Richardson said.

Were it not for some stellar 3-point shooting in the first-20 minutes, Weber State might have been in big trouble. Eastern Washington jumped out to an 8-0 lead and the Wildcats didn’t get on the board until the 15:50 mark when Brekkott Chapman knocked down a 3-pointer. Chapman was the Wildcats only offense early, as the 6-foot-9 junior buried three, early long balls, yet Weber State trailed 19-9.

Jerrick Harding got on the board at the 10:20 mark with a 3-pointer and the Wildcats scored their first, two-point basket on a Zach Braxton left-hand jump hook in the post.

Late in the half, Eastern Washington’s leading scorers, Bliznyuk and Mason Peatling picked up their 2nd fouls and the Wildcats took advantage, clawing their way back into the game. Dusty Baker hit a 3-pointer and Michel Kozak and off-balanced triple. All told the Wildcats made eight, first-half 3-pointers with Ryan Richardson and Harding making late first-half 3-pointers.

Eastern Washington led 32-31 at intermission as Weber hung around by making 8-13 from behind the arc.

The Wildcats looked to swing the game’s momentum back into their corner with solid play to start the second half. Chapman drained a 15-footer then found Braxton with a feed for a dunk to give Weber State only their 2nd lead of the game, 35-34. Braxton got loose in the post and Chapman hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night to extend the Wildcat lead. Richardson’s 3-pointer at the 13-minute mark gave Weber State their biggest lead of the night, 46-38.

And then, Bliznyuk, the 6-foot-6 Ukrainian senior took over.

Bliznyuk scored in the paint, hit a 3-pointer, scored again in the paint and then again off dribble-drive penetration. Nine consecutive points put the Eagles on top, 47-46.

“He’s athletic, he’s got size for a guard and handles the ball really well,” Richardson said. “He’s crafty and when he gets in the lane there is not much you can really do.”

The Wildcats took their last lead of the game, 49-47 on a Dusty Baker 3-point make but Eastern Washington continued to find the basket and led, 65-57 with 4:00 remaining. Weber State cut it to 71-68 with 20-seconds remaining but could get no closer as the Wildcats lost for the first time in ten games to drop to (19-8, 12-3).

With Idaho coming to town Saturday Rahe expects his squad to be ready.

“For whatever reason we just didn’t have it tonight,” Rahe said. “It happens, teams lose, I don’t want to lose any games and the kids don’t like it but I trust this team and I trust that we will play better on Saturday night.”

NOTES: Prior to the game, Weber State coach Randy Rahe, in his 12th season as coach of the Wildcats, was honored and received the game ball from last Saturday’s Sacramento State game. In that game, Rahe became the winningest coach in Big Sky history by recording his 247th win.