The Idaho men’s basketball team did not disappoint the home crowd in Cowan Spectrum Saturday night, defeating Sacramento State 81-67.
Junior guard Victor Sanders led the charge of Idaho, scoring 31 points and sinking five 3-pointers. Sanders became the sixteenth player in Vandal history to earn 1,000 career points.
Sanders said the landmark, while important, did not distract him from the current goal.
“It’s a blessing to be the sixteenth person in Idaho’s history to reach that plateau. But I’m never satisfied,” Sanders said. “Right now, I’m just focused on my teammates and winning a Big Sky Championship. That’s the only thing on my mind.”
The Idaho offense took the court with a vengeance right from the start. Junior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan went 5-5 in the opening minutes, scoring the Vandals’ first 10 points. A 3-pointer by junior guard Victor Sanders forced the Hornets to call a timeout.
A dunk from sophomore power forward Nate Sherwood put the Vandals up by 19, their largest lead of the first half.
The Hornets began to fight their way back in the game to close out the half. Forward Justin Strings drained a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the half. The shot capped off a 15-1 run by the Hornets.
“The momentum of the game kind of changed. We turned the ball over a few times, we made some defensive errors,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. “I thought our guys really did a nice job of listening to what we had to say at halftime and going out and executing those things.”
At halftime, Idaho led 38-35.
The Hornets kept the Vandals on edge to start the second half. Center Eric Stuteville put Sacramento State within one point after sinking two consecutive layups.
However, the Vandals kept the Hornets from gaining the lead. Junior forward Brayon Blake swung the momentum back in the Vandals’ favor after landing a contested dunk and getting the foul.
Sanders continued scoring, landing a handful of 3’s and the final basket for Idaho to close out the game.
The Vandals shot 42 percent from the perimeter and 54 percent from the field. The Idaho bench stepped up late in the game, scoring a combined 24 points.
Verlin said he was pleased with the overall direction the team has been going in recent weeks.
“The one thing I like is that we’re getting better and better. Our offense is getting better, our defense is getting more solid, and that’s the kind of play we need in February and March,” Verlin said.
Idaho’s win over Sacramento State concludes a second consecutive home sweep for the Vandals. Idaho will take the road for two more games before returning to Moscow for the last two home games of the season.
Idaho will tip off against Northern Colorado 6 p.m. Feb. 9 in Greeley, Colorado.
Brandon Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill