Idaho continues to roll in February on a 3-0 streak following a win over Eastern Washington Friday night in the Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals took down the Eagles 66-64 in Idaho’s third season sweep thus far in a game that kept both teams and the crowd on its toes.
“What a game,” Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin said. “I mean, 20 lead changes, I thought both teams were very well prepared. They were able to take away a number of our things and I thought they did a great job taking away Vic and I thought we made Bogdan work for his shots.”
Junior power forward Nate Sherwood jumpstarted the game for the Vandals with a 2-point jumper followed by a clean 3-point shot from senior forward Brayon Blake.
Despite an early 5-0 lead, Eastern Washington responded with a 6-0 run to steal the lead and go ahead in the first of 20 lead changes.
Idaho (17-7, BSC 9-3) and Eastern Washington swapped turns going on runs throughout the opening half.
The Eagles (12-13, BSC 7-5) found a way to build some momentum late in the half, bowling over Idaho on a 10-0 run, taking a 29-22 advantage minutes before the break.
A pair of free-throws from senior small forward Jordan Scott finally snapped the Eagle-streak and closed the gap to just 29-24.
Vandal freshman forward Scott Blakney sank a layup with four seconds left in the opening half, leaving Idaho trailing its rivals 29-26 at the break.
The Big Sky rivals continued to flip-flop leads throughout the remainder of the game.
The oldest Sherwood brother kicked off the second half scoring for the Vandals. Senior guard Chad Sherwood picked up a loose ball from the Eagles and converted an open 3-pointer to get the second half rolling and tie the game at 29-29.
Yet still, the game stayed tight throughout the remainder of the contest, neither building more than a four-point advantage.
The Sherwood brothers then took the game into their own hands. In a seven-minute span, N. Sherwood and C. Sherwood combined for 17 points and returned the lead to Idaho with seven minutes remaining in the contest.
A packed house of 3,192 fans did their part in the closing minutes to boost the home team. A trey from senior guard Perrion Callandret nudged Idaho ahead 63-61 and electrified the crowd more.
It wasn’t enough to close out the Eagles, no yet. EWU’s Cody Benzel hit a 3-ball of his own to jump the Eagles back in front 64-63, but a foul on Bogdan Bliznyuk put the ball back in Idaho’s hands.
Blake capitalized on the opportunity and laid it in for another two points, and once again, Idaho was back on top.
The Eagles had a last chance to save the game, but a screaming Vandal crowd helped forced two missed free-throws from Sir Washington and solidified the 66-64 Idaho win. Eastern Washington shot 81 percent from the line throughout the game, the only two missed attempts in the closing seconds of the contest.
“I love the crowd tonight,” Verlin said. “They hadn’t missed a free-throw at that point and I thought our crowd erupted and got on them and that’s what you need, to have a home court advantage and he was able to miss those two free-throws.”
N. Sherwood lead the charge for Idaho with 23 points, 19 of which came in the second half, on 9-13 shooting from the floor and 3-4 from deep. This was the most points the younger Sherwood brother has scored against a Division I opponent.
“Scoring the ball is part of the game, but really it was a team win,” N. Sherwood said. “It happened to be me tonight, tomorrow it could be BJ, or the next guy up. We are 15 strong on our team so we believe that everybody has the ability on our team to score. Tonight was my night, the ball went in for me, my teammates found me, it was a good night.”
Senior guard Victor Sanders finished with just eight points, but contributed a team-high nine assists and eight rebounds.
Idaho finished the contest hitting almost 40 percent from the floor and 37 percent from deep, boosted by 7-13 shooting in the second half.
Bogdan posted a double-double for Eastern with 16-points and 13 boards and contributed three assists, also a team high. He was the only Eagle to score more than 10 points.
“It was a great game and I have to give credit to Idaho,” said Eastern Washington’s Head Coach Shantay Legans. “They played terrific and very tough, and they made plays when they needed to. We came up one play too short. It was great game and a lot of fun. It was going back and forth and there were a lot of lead changes and ties. Players on both sides stepped up and made big shots.”
The Vandals are now 9-3 in Big Sky play while Eastern Washington drops to 7-5 in conference play.
Idaho moves forward to take on Montana State 7 p.m. Thursday in the Cowan Spectrum.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mere0415
The previous version of this article has been updated for clarity.