Vandal men’s basketball shook off early-half flutters Sunday at Nicholls State in southeast Louisiana and stepped on the gas when in dire straits, taking home a 79-68 win over the Colonels of the Southland Conference.
Senior forward Brayon Blake, who had lived near the area for two years earlier in his life, set career highs in points and rebounds in what was an imposing homecoming. Blake netted a career-high 23 points, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and another career-high 14 rebounds.
“We rebounded the ball really well in the first half, not quite as well in the second half. BJ Blake had an excellent rebounding the game with 14 rebounds, that’s work,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said in a news release.
Idaho (5-2) was flustered early in the first half, going down 7-0 in the first two minutes of play. The offensive woes would not last long, however.
A 3-ball from Blake, quickly followed by a monster dunk from senior guard Perrion Callandret cut the lead to four and handed the momentum to the visitors.
After Idaho was unable to gain the edge for the first eight minutes, senior guard Victor Sanders dropped in his first 3-pointer of the game, putting the Vandals on top, 17-14.
The Vandals began to suffocate the Colonel offense midway through the half, stemming largely from Blake’s play beneath the rim.
Second-chance points were scarce for Nicholls (4-5) – the Colonels only had one offensive rebound in the first period while Blake, a top-10 defensive rebounder in the nation, ripped down seven defensive boards.
Idaho’s 2-3 zone defense provided the spark for the offense. Sanders and Blake took control of the game, giving Idaho an eight point advantage late in the half.
The Vandals outrebounded Nicholls 21-13 in the first and shot 50 percent from the field, four percent better than the Colonels, creating a 40-34 halftime advantage.
Blake and Sanders both reached double-figures in scoring by the break, recording 14 and 10 points, respectively. Blake was one rebound away from a double-double after 20 minutes.
In an eerily similar start to that of the first, the Colonels came out swinging in the opening minutes, going on an 8-0 run. Nicholls took advantage of Vandal fouls and turnovers to go up 46-43, forcing frustrated Idaho head coach Don Verlin to burn a timeout.
Callandret, who is shooting 41 percent from deep this season, dropped in another long-ball quickly after the timeout, instigating a slight comeback.
Idaho retook the lead, 57-55, at the free-throw line, where senior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, making his first appearance since suffering a knee injury on Nov. 12, made the most of his post-opportunities.
With just over five minutes remaining, the stingy Vandal defense handed the offense scoring fortuities.
Senior guard Chad Sherwood knocked in a long-bomb, then Blake, not to be outdone, hit one of his own. Another Colonel turnover resulted in an authoritative jam from Callandret, propelling Idaho to a 68-60 lead.
The late offensive exhibit from Idaho proved too much for Nicholls, which was in a scoring predicament as of late. A right-handed slam from Blake, followed by some late-game free-throws, capped off the Idaho win.
As has been the case recently, the Vandals spread the love offensively. Four players finished in double-figures. Along with Blake, Sanders dropped 15, Nate Sherwood added 11 and Callandret finished with 10.
Idaho connected from deep eight times on 22 attempts, compared to the abysmal five percent shooting on 1-20 from beyond the arc by Nicholls.
The Colonels were largely led by driving guard play from Tevon Saddler and Roddy Peters, who recorded 24 and 21 points, respectively.
“At the end of the day, I talked a lot about how we needed to control the tempo of the basketball game,” said Verlin. “I thought we did a very nice job of that tonight. You hold them to 26 points below their average, they’ve been putting up a ton of points, so I thought we did a good job of controlling the tempo. We did an excellent job defending the 3-point line tonight. Here’s a team that makes 12 3-pointers a night, and we hold them to one,” Verlin said.
The Vandals will return to their home on the Palouse in hopes of defending it in the Battle of the Palouse. Inter-region rival Washington State makes its way to Moscow 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Cowan Spectrum.
Colton Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coltonclark95