After Idaho’s Thursday night win over Montana State, Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin cited effort and consistency as aspects of the team that needed to improve.
But he said he was more than pleased with his Vandals’ response in their 79-77 overtime win over the Big Sky’s top-seed Montana Saturday night in the Cowan Spectrum.
“I thought they turned in one heck of an effort tonight. We did a lot of really good things tonight against a very good basketball team,” Verlin said. “One of our big keys in this basketball game was rebounding. We felt like we had to out-rebound them and what’d it do, it came down to a rebound to win the game, and what a play there by Nate Sherwood.”
With about five seconds left in overtime, senior post Brayon Blake ducked into the paint through a hodgepodge of Grizzly defenders, as he had done dozens of times already. His flip-in attempt sprung too hard off the backboard, but junior forward Nate Sherwood reached over the jumble of Grizzlies, stuck out his right arm, tapped the ball back with just four-tenths of a second remaining, and watched it fall into the hoop as the horn sounded.
Effort and stability were unquestionably present on both sides of the ball. Idaho (19-7, BSC 11-3) confirmed its place as the top-rebounding team in the conference by out-boarding the Grizzlies, the Big Sky’s second-best, by three.
Blake finished with 27 points, just one shy of his career-high, and added 11 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season.
Blake took the reigns on Idaho’s offense from the get-go, and finished with 23 shot attempts, more than double that of anyone else, including senior guard Victor Sanders, who was the Vandals’ second-highest scorer with 21 points on only seven shot attempts.
Idaho came into the contest as the No. 7 scoring offense in the Big Sky, but looked nowhere near a mediocre offensive presence throughout. The Vandals shot 52 percent from the field, and were notably dependable from deep. They canned 12 of their 19 3-pointers, finishing with a season-high 63 percent from beyond the arc.
“I thought we were as good offensively tonight versus their pressure as we’ve ever been,” Verlin said. “When you shoot 52 percent, 63 from 3, you’ve got some guys step up and make some shots and obviously your ball moving very well and you execute well.”
Idaho’s largest advantage, 10 points, came just over six minutes in, and was matched three minutes later. However, Montana (20-7, BSC 13-2) regularly found means to keep the game close, if not snatch the lead.
Both teams mirrored each other defensively and each played well enough to win on both sides. Perimeter defense was a key-factor in Montana’s constant catch-up acts. The Grizzlies recorded nine swipes, often resulting from in-face tactics on Vandal guards and posts waiting on high-screens.
“That’s what we do,” Montana Head Coach Travis DeCuire said. “We get up into people, and when we do that we do a better job defending everywhere else, but I thought we could’ve done a better job of it.”
Consequently, the Vandals were held to two nearly three-minute scoring droughts down the stretch in the first half. The Grizzlies sprouted the first around the 10:00 mark, and proceeded to an 11-0 run over the next two minutes.
The next came about seven minutes later. The double-digit lead that had set the Vandal crowd afire had dissipated. The Grizzlies took their largest lead of the game, 35-31, with 1:30 in the half on a turnaround lay-in from the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Jamar Akoh.
Blake reestablished Idaho’s lead early in the second, scoring its first eight points within the first three minutes.
Yet Montana, even after an Idaho momentum surge, refused to flounder offensively. The margin was never out of reach, and allowing even the slightest instability, as Idaho did during its first-half droughts, was detrimental to advantages.
Idaho owned a 71-67 lead with two minutes left in regulation after N. Sherwood tripled from the corner, but Grizzly preseason all-conference guard Ahmaad Rorie answered right back, as had been the case all night in this give-and-take battle.
Sherwood was rejected by Akoh on a mid-range jumper with 22 ticks on the clock, but found his vengeance five minutes later.
The Grizzlies’ offense was constituted by four double-figure scorers. Rorie led Montana with 19 points, while guard Michael Oguine totaled 17. Oguine and Akoh got into foul-trouble early, forcing both to play limited minutes in the first.
Sophomore guard Trevon Allen compensated down the stretch, especially after Sanders fouled out early in overtime. The sophomore dropped in 12 points, including a clutch 3-pointer with 1:33 left in the overtime period.
Idaho will look to extend its winning-streak to seven and continue to build on its perfect February away from home, starting with an in-state matchup against Idaho State, 6 p.m. Thursday in Pocatello, Idaho.
Colton Clark can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @coltonclark95.