The Idaho men’s basketball team had a rough time early in the week, but it earned a much-needed win against Idaho State Saturday. The Vandals defeated the Bengals 77-62 in Pocatello.
“We needed this game, no question about it. No one is feeling it more in the locker room than the players. But we can’t do anything about these last five games. What we can do is take care of what we can take care of,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said in a news release.
What looked like a back-and-forth battle at the half slowly turned into a one-sided affair in favor of the Vandals.
Idaho State sits at the bottom of the Big Sky conference, but proved to be a formidable opponent. Guard Brandon Boyd put his team on his back in the opening minutes. The 5-foot-11-inch sharp shooter drilled three consecutive 3-pointers in less than 30 seconds, wiping away a 7-0 Idaho lead.
The defenses took the game over from there. After the scoring streak, Boyd made one basket the rest of the half.
Junior guard Victor Sanders, who led scoring in Idaho’s last 13 of 16 games, was held to three points in the first half.
Junior guard Chad Sherwood and sophomore forward Nate Sherwood did their best to make up for the lack of scoring by combining for 10 points.
At the half, the teams remained locked in a tight battle with the Vandals leading 31-30.
Junior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan opened the second half with a dunk, and it became Idaho’s game.
The Sherwood brothers then teamed up for an additional seven points to put Idaho up 40-34.
Mkrtychyan also made a difference on defense. Idaho held Boyd to four points in the second half. The Vandals kept Idaho State from scoring for nearly four minutes at the start of the half.
“I thought BJ (Brayon) Blake and Arkadiy Mkrtychyan and our big guys did a nice job of nullifying their big guys which allowed us not to double and we did a good job of making them take contested shots,” Verlin said.
Idaho ended the night shooting 45 percent from the field and 39 percent from the perimeter. Sanders was again Idaho’s leading scorer with 22 points, most of which came off his 14 free throws late in the game.
Verlin said the return to defensive dominance helped his team secure the victory in the second half.
“We led the league in field goal defense last year and now we’re at the bottom. That’s what the focus was between these two games, we need to get back to being who we are and that’s defending and rebounding,” he said.
The Vandals return to Moscow to face Southern Utah University 7 p.m. Thursday in Cowan Spectrum.
Brandon Hill can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill