Idaho men’s basketball came into its Monday night contest against the Western Michigan Broncos as a five-point underdog according to ESPN, but the Vandals silenced any impressions of inferiority with an 82-52 statement shellacking of the preseason Mid-American Conference favorites in Kalamazoo.
The Idaho (8-3) defense put on the clamps, and the Vandal offense, led by senior guard Victor Sanders, showed out in front of NBA scouts from the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers. Sanders dazzled and moved into sixth place on Idaho’s all-time scoring list, dropping 25 points on 9-14 shooting from the field and firing home six 3-pointers on 11 attempts.
Idaho head coach Don Verlin said in a news release he is satisfied with his team’s superb performance against an exceptional team.
“We played extremely well, and obviously we shot the ball very well,” Verlin said. “We got a number of good looks. I thought our ball moved really well tonight, we made the extra pass. I thought that was the key.”
It would be impossible to predict such a performance based on the opening of the game. Both the Vandals and Broncos (6-5) exemplified imposing defense, further limiting lousy offensive starts.
Five minutes in, it was knotted up at 2-2, but Idaho’s offense would soon be sparked by buckets from Sanders and senior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, pushing the Vandals to an 11-5 lead midway through the opening half.
Defense led to offense in the first, made most obvious by the play which hinted at Sanders’ upcoming performance. After a swipe, the senior rhythmically trotted down-court on a fast break and concluded with a high-rising lay-in.
A lethargic offensive start was bypassed as the half wound down.
An 11-0 run over two minutes late in the half put Idaho up 31-14, and despite both teams ending the period on a 2:30 drought, the Vandals captured the momentum.
Western Michigan’s star guard Thomas Wilder failed to score in the first and committed three fouls. Idaho’s offense exploded late, knocking down six 3-pointers while its defense limited the Broncos to just 24 percent shooting from the field on 6-25.
The Vandals immediately built upon their commanding lead out of the locker room. In just over a minute, Idaho had already put together an 8-0 run, developed from consecutive 3-pointers by senior forwards Jordan Scott and Brayon Blake.
The Idaho offense did not take its foot off the gas as the game progressed. The 3-pointers kept coming, one after another. Five minutes in, the Vandal lead was pushed to 48-23 after Mkrtychyan got involved from beyond the arc.
Idaho had already hit seven shots from downtown only seven minutes into the second. Any signs of relative energy from Western Michigan were instantaneously crushed by near-perfect second-half shooting, especially from Sanders and Blake.
Late in the half, the Bronco offense assembled a 6-0 run, but a wide-open, deep trey from C. Sherwood silenced the crowd’s slightly excited murmur and put a stamp on the blowout.
University Arena in Kalamazoo was practically dead-silent with 9:00 still on the clock. The fans were checked out, as were the players. Idaho’s defense had bled out all Bronco life, and the sharpshooting Vandal offense was as well-oiled as ever, perhaps even more than in its sensational performance against Washington State on Dec. 6.
Blake shot a perfect 5-5 from deep, ending with 19 points to go along with seven boards. Scott was a force under the rim and on defense. The senior recorded his first career double-double, dropping a season-high 10 points and matching his career-high in rebounds with 13.
Idaho shot 50 percent from the field and was well-versed from deep, netting 17 3-pointers on 57 percent shooting, the most made 3-pointers against a Division I program in school history.
The Broncos were limited to 34 percent shooting from the field and 21 percent from deep. Wilder, one of the best players in the MAC, finished with only eight points on 4-18 shooting, largely thanks to rigid defense from senior guard Perrion Callandret and sophomore guard Trevon Allen.
Although the Vandals committed 15 turnovers, four more than the Broncos, Idaho’s presence under the rim was considerable. Idaho grabbed 45 boards compared to 29 for Western Michigan.
Coming off perhaps their best all-around performance thus far, the Vandals will return to Idaho for their final non-conference contest of the season against the Anteaters of UC Irvine 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Boise’s Centurylink Arena.
Colton Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coltonclark95