EWU excited about challenge of facing No. 17 Xavier (Dec 20, 2016)

CINCINNATI — Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford realizes the challenge before his team when the Eagles play at No. 17 Xavier on Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 fans at Cintas Center.

“We are playing in a little deeper water than we are used to,” Hayford said.

Especially since they are facing a Musketeers team that has not yet hit its stride, which could happen soon.

Xavier (9-2) committed 15 turnovers Saturday in a win over Wake Forest, resulting in 18 points for the Demon Deacons. Standout point guard Edmond Sumner had six of those giveaways, raising his team-leading total to 34.

Musketeers coach Chris Mack said Sumner is dealing with a hand issue that is only partly responsible. Sumner is playing with his pinky and ring fingers taped.

“He needs to handle the ball better,” Mack said. “They all do. Turnovers haven’t been a huge issue for this team. We just have to correct them.”

There has been no issue with junior guard Trevon Bluiett who was named to the Big East Conference weekly honor roll for the second straight week after having a team-high 20 points and seven rebounds in the win over Wake Forest.

Xavier is hoping to get J.P. Macura hot again from the perimeter. He was 5 of 7 from 3-point range in a win over Utah, but that was sandwiched between four games in which the junior guard was just 3 of 20 from long range.

What has pleased Mack most recently is the development of big man RaShid Gaston, who held Wake Forest’s John Collins to just 9-of-16 shooting on Saturday. Gaston is averaging nine rebounds and 13 points over his past three games.

“He took his opportunity and made the most of it,” Mack said of Gaston. “It’s really good to see. He’s never been the best finisher around the basket. This is who we thought RaShid would be. He’s done a really good job since we inserted him in the starting lineup.”

Eastern Washington (8-3) had a seven-game winning streak snapped in a 70-48 loss at Northern Kentucky on Sunday. The Eagles were averaging 82 points per game before the defeat.

Sophomore guard Bogdan Bliznyuk, a Ukraine native, leads the Eagles with an average of 21.7 points per game. He shoots 37 percent from 3-point range.

Eastern Washington plays at Colorado, a team that beat Xavier, on Thursday. Hayford said he is looking forward to the challenges this week.

“What’s fun is when you go and represent your school and teammates well,” he said. “It’s about whether we can use these opportunities to make us a better team. We are going to give these guys a game plan that if they execute it they could win. If we coach them with the belief they are going to play to the best of their ability and execute the game plan, we’ll be satisfied with our performance. It’s not always that easy.”

The Tuesday game is the first meeting between the two schools. It will be the fifth sellout this season at Cintas Center and the 142nd since the building opened in 2000. Xavier has a 29-game home nonconference winning streak.