Idaho men’s basketball was able to pull away late against Northern Arizona to secure the second seed in the upcoming Big Sky Conference tournament.
The Idaho Vandals avoided a scare from the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks by finally waking up after a dreadful first half.
The game felt off from the start. After the first two possessions, it was clear this game was going to be a defensive battle and with Idaho holding the best defense in the Big Sky, the Vandals were ready.
While Idaho gave themselves opportunities to score thanks to lockdown defense, on the offensive side of the ball the Vandals struggled to find ways to score. Early turnovers for Idaho allowed the Lumberjacks to stay in the game. For nearly eight minutes of the first half neither team could find a way to break the 20-point mark.
Northern Arizona brought an intensity to the Cowan Spectrum Thursday that caught the Vandals off guard. While the scoreboard may have not shown how intense the game was, fans could surely see it on the faces of the players on both the Vandals and Lumberjacks.
Northern Arizona guard JoJo Anderson drained a deep buzzer-beating three at the end of the first half to give the Lumberjacks a 25-24 lead at halftime. After the shot, Anderson quieted the crowd with one finger up against his mouth. It looked as if the Vandals were in trouble and Northern Arizona wanted more.
The second half was an entirely different story.
With around 12 minutes to go in the second half, Idaho finally woke up and decided to play some basketball.
Senior guard Victor Sanders drove under the basket and made a miraculous up and under layup to start to extend the lead. The following possession, Sanders came back up the court, gave an ankle breaking crossover and nailed a deep 3-pointer.
Eventually the lead made it to six points, then ten points then eventually a 20-point lead. A game in which it didn’t seem like 50 points was realistic, Idaho finished the night with 66 points, 42 of which came in the second half.
The defensive intensity continued for the Vandals as well, holding NAU with no field goals for nearly eight minutes in the second half and being 2-17 from the field to end the game.
Idaho finally regained the Vandal edge we have seen for most of the season.
The Vandals are now the second seed in the Big Sky, and since positioning means everything for the Big Sky tournament next week, Idaho has now proven itself as one of the best teams in the Big Sky.
If there is any big takeaway from this game, it’s which Idaho squad wants to show up for the tournament in Reno. Will it be the head scratching team in the first half of Thursday’s game, or the dominant force we saw towards the end of the game? Hopefully, fans get to see the ladder side of the Vandal squad.
As Vandal fans prepare for one of the most important weeks in Idaho basketball history next week, there is still one more game to go.
The six seniors on the Vandal squad have a chance to cement their legacy here with a win on senior night Saturday and a conference championship run late next week.
March is finally here, and let’s hope that Idaho can get in on the madness.
Chris Deremer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @CDeremer_VN