For too large a lump of the Vandal men’s 88-78 win over Montana State Thursday night in the Cowan Spectrum, Idaho aptly paralleled a sailor without his spinach, or the Looney Tunes without their “secret stuff.”
The Vandals never fell behind by double-digits, and came back to win by 10 points, but there were moments where the contest plainly felt as if it were slipping through their grasp.
Beginning as late as the latter half of the second, Idaho, a heavy favorite, seemingly rediscovered its all-around savvy and proceeded to show-out, as had been anticipated.
But, for approximately 30 minutes, the Vandals looked hard-pressed in stifling a Bobcat team with almost no discernable characteristics, save its preseason conference-MVP in guard Tyler Hall.
Idaho Head coach Don Verlin’s demeanor post-game wasn’t an ecstatic one. No, rather than pleased with a win, he appeared relieved and slightly frustrated.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, I’m happy we won,” Verlin said. “I just think there’s a lot more in this team than we’re getting right now and those guys in the locker room know that. They’re all good people.”
The first-half aura was a near dead-on comparison to Idaho’s back-and-forth, Feb. 9 win over Eastern Washington, besides the fan support, that is. There was no apparent advantage, in fact, even though the Bobcats only held a two-point lead at the break, the Spectrum looked like it could be under their jurisdiction.
We all know that the Tune-Squad rejuvenated at the half in “Space-Jam,” and from that point on, the Looneys were an absolute dominant force. But for Idaho, the invigoration would not come until several minutes into the second.
Bobcat guard Keljin Blevins took a lazy perimeter dump-off from senior forward Brayon Blake all the way for a simple scoop-in. Subsequently, a Blake pass, intended for guard Victor Sanders whizzed behind the senior and toppled a few beverages on the media table.
Now, the Bobcats were running the table. Sanders misfired from way-deep, and thereupon slammed the floor in severe frustration. Just like that, Montana State had taken a nine-point lead two and a half minutes into the second, its largest of the night.
What are the virtuosos to do when all seems lost? Sanders looked to reinstate some morale in his team and the crowd, which had thus far offered little more than a peep or confused murmur. When free pizza was suggested, a largely uninterested fan-base hooped and hollered louder than they had throughout the entire game.
Apparently, senior forwards Arkadiy Mkrtychyan and Jordan Scott were the first to ingest their greens. The forces in the shadows enlivened everyone with their hardworking defense and nearly three-minute stretch of individual scoring.
It was like that post-rejuvenation Tune-Squad run in “Space-Jam.” These were the Vandals that’d been absent in the first. Their plates had been cleaned of metaphorical spinach, and they had guzzled a few extra droplets of “secret stuff.”
The confidence was back, and it was oh so evident in every touch. Sanders and senior guard Perrion Callandret put on a show of ball-handling artistry, and Blake knocked in back-to-back, two of the most unblemished 3-balls imaginable around the 11:00 mark.
It wasn’t quite the potential MVP battle I was expecting. Blake put up the outright high-caliber performance for the night, tying the lead in scoring with 24 points and matching his career-high in rebounds with 14, but Sanders and Hall battled it out down the stretch, and Sanders won the encounter.
Sanders went on a scoring rampage over about the last six minutes. He dropped 12 points in that span, including consecutive 3-pointers within just 17 seconds of each other.
If the Vandals were the Tune-Squad, than the Bobcats were the Monstars. Remember how their proficiency began to dwindle late? Montana State duplicated that process. In vain, the Bobcats began jacking up errant 3-pointers, and they were incapable of earning second-chance opportunities.
Idaho took its largest lead of the game with 37 seconds left. The box score is inadequate in games like these. The Vandals by no means handled Montana State, just as Popeye is considerably roughed around before his bland-faced can appears from his coat, or how the Tune-Squad went into the half literally wrapped in bandages.
Colton Clark can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @coltonclark95.