What are the major components of a rivalry?
Perhaps it’s the bitterness — pure disdain between squads. It could simply be proximity, or maybe a parallel between talent on teams which exhibit hard-fought skirmishes in contested bouts. Likely, it’s the pure, comprehensive, human-desired factor of drama.
While Idaho’s 66-64 defeat of Eastern Washington in the Cowan Spectrum demonstrated little plain hatred between regional adversaries, the theatrical fundamentals that’d rival even the best of cinematic experiences were out and about Friday night.
It had all of the makings of a Vandal classic. The Eagles flocked to Moscow in hopes they could win the part of regional antagonist and avenge their defeat at the hands of the Vandals on Jan. 12. A heavy underdog, yet only one game back of Idaho in conference play, EWU had the chance to thrust itself onto even playing field in the Big Sky.
Upon hearing of the upcoming spectacle, like some cutting-edge movie had just hit the silver-screen, Idaho fans mobbed to a venue where they hoped to see a demonstration of athletic aptitude and, preferably a blowout.
The only crowd to rival the one at Idaho’s Dec. 6 whooping of Washington State was provided with more than it bargained for.
Vandal admirers galore refused to go silent for all but the halftime break. The only hint of a commotional pause came when Eagle forward Bogdan Bliznyuk led EWU to a seven-point advantage late in the first, its largest lead of the game.
Although its opening had the makings of a Vandal tragedy, the contest quickly mutated into a different genre in the second.
Some maniacal director must have concocted this masquerade of madness. Mind-blowing curveballs and plot twists were perpetually sprinkled throughout — no one had an advantage, and no one could’ve predicted the climax or conclusion.
It was truly anyone’s game from the opening tip. Like any outstanding action flick, advantages were fleeting, and the hometown protagonists only really enjoyed any solace when the clock hit zeros.
But that was 20 lead changes, five ties, heaps of stomach drops, gasps and forehead sweat droplets later. The Eagles were leaning on their star in Bliznyuk, who knocked in a double-double but led the game with five turnovers, but Idaho’s actor in a leading role, guard Victor Sanders, found himself hard-pressed in finding any scoring congruity.
While the senior was just two rebounds, two points and an assist away from a triple-double, he shot just 23 percent from the field. Sometimes, the supporting cast embraces the spotlight and assists the lead — junior forward Nate Sherwood played the part of that helping hand.
In a seven-minute span in the second half, between the 14 and seven minute marks, only players with Sherwood screen-printed on their backs netted any buckets. N. Sherwood dropped 16 points in that span and finished with a clean-23 on 69 percent shooting from the field.
It wasn’t graceful, considering both teams shot below their averages, but the finale was a gift for the spectators who decided to show up.
As if the twists and turns weren’t prevalent enough as it was, EWU guard Sir Washington was fouled on a congested attempt from the paint and was sent to the line, down one, with 13 ticks on the clock.
The crowd erupted to disturb. Only media members remained in their seats, but the natural enjoyment of the sport was evident on all of their faces.
Washington’s first free-throw bumped the front of the iron, took a complete roll around the rim, and like Tiger Woods’ famous Nike ball-drop at the 2005 Masters, hovered between pay dirt and failure.
Unlike Woods’ make though, the ball dropped off the front-iron, adding to the pandemonium in the Cowan. In an ignoble manner, Washington missed his second freebie.
Seconds later, Blake swatted away a last-ditch lay-in effort from Bliznyuk. As Blake flexed in delight, the crowd joined in his glee.
It was like a cinematic finale, where after hours of toil, the protagonist finally smites the adversary. A beat-down would’ve been preferable for the near-3,200 in attendance, but a photo finish in objectively Idaho’s most entertaining game of the year assuredly filled the fans’ desire to indulge in plenty of drama.
Colton Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coltonclark95.