If the Idaho men’s basketball team had any uncertainty about sliding Victor Sanders into the point guard position, the junior guard silenced those doubts Thursday night.
Sanders poured in 40 points against his hometown college to lead the Vandals to a 89-72 drubbing of Portland State in a conference matchup at the Cowan Spectrum.
“I didn’t realize that Vic had 40 tonight until we got into the locker room,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. “That’s just kind of who Vic Sanders is.”
For the first ten minutes of the game, Sanders did not miss a shot. The junior guard went 5-for-5 from the field, 3-for-3 from the charity stripe and 3-for-3 from beyond the arc to help his team take a 23-22 lead midway through the first half.
“Once the first one went in, I just felt the stroke coming,” Sanders said. “My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball when I was open. It’s all the credit to them.”
Sanders missed his first attempt at the 8:32 mark, a deep 3-pointer that rattled around the rim before bouncing out of the hoop. But the Portland native did not cool down. On the following possession, he wrapped around a screen from junior small forward Jordan Scott and launched a fade-away jumper from the corner that went straight through the net.
“We’re starting to figure out Vic at the point, and we are starting to play a little better offensively,” Verlin said. “It was nice to see that tonight.”
Sanders wasn’t the only Vandal to make some noise on the hardwood Thursday night. Junior guard Chad Sherwood ended a four-game cold streak by drilling a pair of 3-pointers from long range to give Idaho a 36-27 advantage.
“I was struggling, so I got in the gym and was working,” Sherwood said. “It feels good for it to pay off.”
On the other end of the floor, the Vandal defense held the Vikings scoreless for an eight-minute period to carry a 10-point lead into the break.
“I really liked the way we defended after the first four or five minutes of that basketball game,” Verlin said. “They jumped out and made some early 3’s on us, but then we locked them down.”
Sanders shot 86 percent from the field in the first half and led all scorers with 19 points. Sherwood added 12 points with a perfect 4-for-4 performance from beyond the arc.
Guard Deontae North stood out for the Vikings with 18 points, while forward Brandon Hollins collected five boards in the first period.
Portland State used a full court press to slow the Vandal offense in the opening minutes of the second half, but Sherwood’s sharpshooting abilities helped Idaho maintain the lead.
“He got a lot of wide open looks and he knocked them down,” Verlin said. “I think he’ll continue to knock them down.”
Guard Bryce Canda hit a 3-pointer to pull the Vikings with five early in the second half. But Sanders answered back for Idaho on the ensuing offensive series, weaving his way through a pair of defenders to catch a pass and launch a deep ball from the perimeter to give the Vandals a 59-51 lead.
Free throws plagued Portland State down the stretch, as the team converted 63 percent of its attempts from the line. Sanders finished the game with 40 points, which is the second best single-game performance at Idaho since Verlin took over coaching duties in 2008. Sherwood added 23 points in the win, including six 3-pointers.
Sanders said he encouraged Sherwood to continue shooting the ball, despite a 4-for-24 performance from the floor in the previous four games. He said sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement from a coach or teammate to boost someone’s confidence.
Idaho returns to the court 7 p.m. against Sacramento State Saturday at the Cowan Spectrum.
Josh Grissom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GoshJrissom