The Vandals hit the Cowan Spectrum to face off against Southern Utah Thursday night.
Idaho head coach Don Verlin said he was pleased with the effort and energy he saw in his team in the win.
“I thought Vic (Sanders) did a great job tonight,” Verlin said in a news release. “Vic’s obviously in a position change here where we are asking him to do a lot of things but I thought he stayed the course all night long and did a great job just staying in it, not getting frustrated, just playing as hard as he can. I thought BJ (Brayon) Blake came off the bench and gave us great energy tonight.”
The first half was a tough fight for both teams — neither team made it onto the scoreboard until several minutes into the game. Many lead changes and a close score marked the initial 20 minutes of play.
Following a close few minutes in the half, Southern Utah went on a 12-0 run to best the Vandals by nine.
It took about four minutes for the Vandals to respond with a pair of free throws from junior forward Brayon Blake to tie the game followed by a steal for a layup from freshman guard Trevon Allen to claim the lead.
Idaho held a narrow lead of just one point through the final minutes of the half and headed to the locker room 28-27.
Spotlighting for the Vandal offense was junior guard Victor Sanders with 10 points in the opening half. Idaho bench stepped up to contribute eight points.
Leading the way for the Thunderbirds was Randy Onwuasor with 13 on the night.
Verlin said he saw room for improvement after the first half but liked the attitude his team carried out.
“In the first half, I didn’t think we executed poorly, it will be interesting to watch the tape,” Verlin said. “I thought we missed a lot of makeable shots, I mean we start off by missing a dunk and I thought our guys did a good job of not hanging our heads and staying in it.”
Idaho took control of the second half.
Junior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan came out in the opening seconds with a made layup to spark Idaho’s fire. Idaho held the lead for the entire 20 minutes of the second half.
The Thunderbirds pulled it within two points early in the second but it quickly slipped away, allowing the Vandals to grab as many as a 12-point lead.
Sanders had a big night with a season high 33 points along with five rebounds. Blake also contributed to the win with 14 points and eight rebounds followed by Jordan Scott with 10 points.
Idaho outscored Southern Utah 36-16 in the paint and 19-10 from the bench, both big contributors to the Vandal victory.
The Vandals had a rough start in conference play, but Verlin said he noticed improvements in his team following the win.
“We are getting a little bit better,” Verlin said. “The key for this team is defense. We didn’t defend it well the first three games in conference or four games, throw Weber in there. This team is built to defend and rebound. And that’s what I was really proud of our guys tonight.”
Idaho takes on Northern Arizona 7 p.m. Jan. 21 in the Cowan Spectrum.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at email@example.com