Overtime served the Vandals well after Idaho clenched its third overtime win against Montana with a 85-77 final score.
Idaho head coach Don Verlin said he was pleased with the spirit the team showed.
“At half time I told them to show their hearts and they sure did in the second half,” Verlin said. “I thought we had a number of guys step up and play really well. We’ve been talking a lot about playing with a purpose and with this team the purpose is defense and rebounding, and that’s what we did in the second half.”
Montana struck first within seconds of the opening half to kick off the game. Both teams fought through, shifting leads and changing the score gap consistently. Montana bested the Vandals, holding an 11-point lead with five minutes left in the half. The Vandals closed it and brought it back within single-digits and headed into halftime trailing 32-40.
On top for the Idaho offense after the first half was junior guard Victor Sanders with nine points. Junior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan followed closely behind with six-points and three assists.
Verlin said the athletes played well all weekend and their hard work in practice is paying off.
“Our post guys played good all weekend long,” Verlin said. “(Brayon Blake) had a great night on Thursday night, and (Nate Sherwood) had a good night on Thursday and he follows it up tonight.(Mkrtychyan)was very effective in there tonight. We had worked hard in practice on when they were going to double the post and passing it out of the post, making those extra passes. That really helped us offensively.”
The Grizzlies quickly extended their lead back to 11points in the beginning of the second half but Idaho fought through. Sophomore power forward Nate Sherwood propelled the Vandals ahead with a pair of free throws to take a one-point lead at 59-58,with six minutes left to play.
Both teams fought over a narrow lead held by Idaho for the remainder of regulation.. A Montana layup tied it up with 16-seconds left to play to send it into overtime.
The extended five minutes of overtime proved to be enough for the Vandals to overpower the Grizzlies and seal the win. Idaho held the lead for the entirety of overtime, leading by as many as eight-points before closing out the 85-77 win.
Sanders led the team with 28 points. Mkrtychyan finished the night with a season high 17 points.
Verlin said the win was possible because of the spirit and effort put forth by the team.
“This game was won by just being tough and showing your heart,” Verlin said. “We had a chance to fold there, down 11 at the start of the second half, but just kept fighting and kept fighting and kept fighting and found a way to win.”
Idaho hosts Portland State 7p.m. Feb 2 in the Cowan Spectrum.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org