Senior guard Victor Sanders hit a long 3-point shot smiled.
It was a moment of genuine bliss and it showed on the senior’s face. Anyone who watches basketball knows that a smile following a big play is not necessarily the normal reaction. Sometimes it’s a hand gesture, other times it’s a menacing expression, as if to remind the other team who is in charge.
It’s rare that an athlete will let a moment of true glee shine through in their expressions.
Idaho’s 78-76 win over Southern Utah had no shortage of moments like this, beginning the moment the six seniors set foot on the hardwood.
Senior night takes place each and every season in all sports across campus, yet there was something different about this night. Senior night for the 2017-2018 season marked the send-off of nearly half of the current Vandal basketball squad, all of whom have more then left their mark on the program. The senior-six pulled together the sixth-best three-season stretch in the history of Idaho basketball and now look to blaze a new path through the Big Sky tournament.
A broken knee cap may have kept senior guard Perrion Callandret from playing on senior night, but broken bones did not take away his senior experience. He crutched out to greet Head Coach Don Verlin and accept his framed jersey regardless before reclaiming his spot on the sideline, ready to resume his most recent role as “Coach P.”
Senior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan came out surrounded by his family before walking up to coach and shedding tears on his shoulder in an emotional moment felt throughout the Cowan Spectrum.
Sanders, senior guard Chad Sherwood and senior small forward Jordan Scott all made their way to the court to accept their accolades in front of an excited and emotional home crowd.
After all six seniors accepted their framed jerseys, they held them high above their heads for all 3,219 fans in attendance to start off their final hurrah.
The game may not have been the blowout many expected it would be, but despite the close game, it never felt like anyone’s game other than the home team’s. Southern Utah kept Idaho on a short leash, making it just a two-point game with seconds left to go, despite the Vandal’s double-digit advantages earlier in the contest.
Yes, it was close. Yes, technically speaking, the contest could have easily swung the Thunderbirds way. Yet it always felt like Idaho’s game to win.
The Vandals stayed composed and played Idaho basketball, all while letting the seniors shine. A missed 3-pointer from Sanders was momentarily heartbreaking, with all wanting to see him nail the deep ball to seal the game. This panic only lasted a quick second, as senior guard Brayon Blake grabbed the rebound and drained the long jump shot to steal the victory right out from under the opponents.
From start to finish, it was their night.
With their sizzling finish, the senior squad and the rest of the team will now turn their focus toward what Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin calls the third season – the Big Sky tournament. Idaho will face the winner of Tuesday’s Southern Utah-Idaho State contest.
Idaho defeated the Southern Utah both times out, but the opponents never let Idaho get away without a fight.
Idaho State is one of the few teams that has beaten the Vandals this season and the Bengals will look to repeat its last performance against its in-state rivals.
Idaho is far from done. The road to Reno is long and the road to the Big Sky Championship may be longer, each opponent the team faces will be hungrier than before.
The senior-six have showed their talent and composure throughout the season and will be forced to step up now more than ever.
What better stage to remind everyone of the senior talent than the Big Sky tournament. Reno, get ready.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mere0415