Riding high on a six-game winning-streak, Idaho trekked about 530 miles south to Pocatello Thursday night, carrying a metaphorical duffel chock-full of morale and down-the-stretch momentum — it was a trap.
The Vandals were ambushed with efficiently taken 3-pointers, and built only scattered outbursts of duress on their Gem State rivals, Idaho State, in an 86-83 loss in Reed Gym.
Foreshadowing reared its mug in the first three and a half minutes of the second half. Senior guard Chad Sherwood canned his first and only triple of the game with 30 seconds left in the first, and the Vandals found themselves down only seven. They had suffered four double-digit disadvantages in the first and only led for 1:21 up to that point. It’d happened before, a complete second-half recovery wasn’t yet out of the question.
Until the Bengals came out in the second and nailed four consecutive triples, that is.
Idaho State would eventually answer and overthrow Idaho on its 16th and final 3 with two seconds left, but about 17 minutes before then, they stoked the fire.
On three-straight possessions, Bengal guard Balint Mocsan lined up on the left-baseline. Time and again, he caught transition dishes, and like clockwork, hoisted and swished each with relatively little pressure in his face.
The Bengals knocked in 58 percent of their 3-pointers, while the Vandals managed just 39 percent on 28 attempts, one more try than ISU.
Despite Idaho’s (19-8, BSC 11-4) standing as the top 3-point shooting defense in the conference and No. 2 rank in 3-point percentage offense, the Vandals were hard-pressed in limiting Bengal misfires, and connecting on their own, except when it was just too late.
A near-three minute Idaho State (13-13, BSC 8-7) field-goal drought during three of the last four minutes, derived from a way-late Vandal defensive rejuvenation, nearly admitted a last-ditch Idaho comeback.
Senior forward Brayon Blake ended the first half with two points and two boards, he finished with 18 and eight. With 1:15 on the clock, he charged into the paint, drew a foul on a dunk attempt, and knocked in both of his freebies to cut ISU’s lead to three.
About a minute later, senior guard Victor Sanders jacked-up a long-ball, but it clanked hard off the iron. C. Sherwood came up big with a rebound, dished it back out and watched Sanders knock in the final trey of his 19 points and tied it up at 83 with 13 ticks left.
Bengal guard Brandon Boyd had been outstanding all night. The sub-6-footer dropped a game and career-high 32 points on 61 percent from the field, including the game-clinching, defense-blanketed 3-pointer that sealed the win.
Both teams pulled in 30 boards. The Bengals currently sit as the conference’s eighth-ranked rebounding team in margin, but they were the first to tie or out-board Idaho since Northern Colorado did when it drubbed the Vandals, 80-63 Jan. 25.
A portion of that came thanks to ISU’s 7-footer in Novak Topalovic. The big man owned the glass in the first, deteriorated down the stretch, but still finished with a game-high 11 rebounds.
However, Idaho’s own paint-presence, junior forward Nate Sherwood, perhaps turned in the Vandals’ most exceptional performance on the night in his 100th career appearance. N. Sherwood finished 8-11, dropped 17 in the second, and tied the team-high in scoring with 19 points. Despite Topalovic’s four-inch height advantage, Sherwood was able to maneuver down-low and acquire just enough room to drop floaters and lay-ins in.
The Bengals led for over 36 minutes. Idaho’s offense got caught in a trap game. The first half manifested as a shooting match, but the Vandals enjoyed little to no consistent momentum, save slight spurts early on from Sanders and senior guard Perrion Callandret, who suffered an undisclosed injury midway through the second.
The Vandals managed to pull it to within two points twice, two minutes apart, a little over midway through the second, but constant, responsive, and sometimes tightly covered, 3-point Bengal spouts stretched the advantage.
Idaho State finished with four players in double-figures, and its 16 3-pointers marks the second-most ever made against a Don Verlin coached Idaho team.
“Shoot, they made 16 3-point shots. Shooter’s chance game, we talked about that in the pregame,” Verlin said in a news release. “We needed to take away rhythm 3’s but we didn’t do that early in the game and they got the rhythm going…We were never able to make them uncomfortable tonight.”
Idaho State finished with four players in double-figures and shot 52 percent from the floor, three higher than the Vandals.
Along with his 19 points, Sanders also registered five rebounds and a game-high six assists.
Idaho continues its final road trip of the season with the Big Sky’s second-seeded team, Weber State, 6 p.m. Saturday, in Ogden, Utah.
You can reach Colton Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org