Another day, another game too close for comfort for the Vandals and their fans. Based on the spurts of consistent offense the Lumberjacks exhibited, especially from beyond the arc, Idaho may have had some questions to answer if it wasn’t for an 84-80 win Saturday night over Northern Arizona.
The possibility of an uproar of discontent was prevented by a display of experience and authority demonstrated by Idaho’s stars – seniors Victor Sanders, Perrion Callandret and Brayon Blake.
Blake finished with 25 points and nine rebounds and Sanders knocked in 21. Callandret contributed 15 points to go along with eight rebounds and a game-high five assists. The Vandals are now 3-0 when multiple players score 20-plus points.
Although Idaho’s three notable elders combined for 12 turnovers and 10 personal fouls, their capability of revamping a drowning offense and giving the Vandals much-needed sparks was undeniably felt. Each shot over 50 percent from the field.
Blake is assuredly one of the Big Sky’s most underrated talents. He leads the conference in rebounding and is 15th in scoring, averaging just over 14 points and nine boards per game. The forward has a natural ability to turn the tides of any game at any time, on either side of the court.
The preseason all-conference team is composed of four guards and one guard/forward rotator. Based on Blake’s play against NAU – his hustle, presence under the rim and competence in scoring from any part on the floor – he absolutely should be in the discussion as an all-conference forward.
Exemplified at the beginning of the second half, Blake has the ability to jolt Idaho in the most dire situations – the Vandals are 5-1 when he puts up a double-double, which leads me to believe the ball simply needs to be in his hands.
After NAU jumped out to a 40-32 lead, it’s largest of the game, early in the second, Blake decided the Vandals had had enough. In just over six minutes in the half, Blake added 11 points to his total, exploiting lazy Lumberjack defense with crossover step-back jumpers, cut-in layups and spot-up 3-pointers.
Aside from BJ’s hustle-factor, Callandret provided the means of facilitation, coupled with the ability to put up points.
Aside from his clamp-down defense and knack of setting up the offense, Callandret has at times proven his capability as a scorer – an aspect of a point-guard’s play which isn’t always seen (take Lonzo Ball for example).
Callandret hit two much-needed 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the second half, which constructed a bit of an opportunity for Idaho to take an advantage. In a time of Vandal anxiety, when a game appears to be tumultuous, the presence of a scorer/facilitator is a must, and Callandret administered that double-duty.
Of course, Sanders put up another exceptional scoring performance and passed Kenny Luckett, Idaho guard from 1984-88, for fourth on the all-time Vandal scoring list.
It’s become almost expected at this point that Sanders will finish each contest in double-digits. When he has the desire to take control and try his shots, trailing long-balls on the run, which some would see as unthinkable, he routinely straightens out the doubters.
Sanders finds ways to score, which is the ideal factor for shooting-guards and potential professional players. Opposing teams are never safe – whether it be from 30-feet out or right under the basket, he finds a way.
Watching this game brought on a plethora of mixed emotions. On one hand, the players I expect day-in and day-out to perform did their jobs. But on the other, NAU nearly pulled off the most substantial Big Sky upset of the season and put the conference’s top 3-pointer defense to the test by knocking in a commendable 14 triples on 45 percent shooting.
Callandret is the facilitator, who can absolutely score if need be. Sanders is the offensive star and Blake rounds out the crew as the x-factor, as he provides the hustle-presence on both ends. Add a little all-around consistency, and this team is dominant. But as scoring droughts have been prevalent this season, forcing natural scorers to take on the load of compensation, there’s still work to be done.
Colton Clark can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @coltonclark95.