FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – It wasn’t pretty at the end, but Idaho (16-12, 11-6 BSC) topped Northern Arizona (8-22, 5-12 BSC), 77-75, on Thursday night, behind a balanced scoring effort. With the win, the Vandals move into a three-way tie for third in the Big Sky standings with one game to play.
Idaho got up big, early. The Vandals took a 48-28 lead into the break after shooting 9-of-12 from deep in the opening frame. Victor Sanders made his return to the lineup, going 4-of-4 from beyond the arc in the first half, while Brayon Blake went 3-of-3.
It was much of the same to start the second half, with Idaho taking a 60-35 lead after a 3-pointer by Arkadiy Mkrtychyan and a pair of free throws from Jordan Scott. But Northern Arizona wasn’t going to go away quietly.
The Lumberjacks held the Vandals without a field goal for the next nine minutes, going on a 27-5 run to get things within three in the closing minutes.
Idaho found a difficult time getting buckets to fall down the stretch, but the Vandals were solid at the free throw line during the late comeback effort. The Lumberjacks cut the deficit to just one after a desperation 3-pointer with about five seconds to play, but, after a free throw from the Vandals, their half-court heave at the buzzer was blocked by Scott, giving Idaho the 77-75 win.
Sanders was excellent in his return to the court, finishing with 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He made his first five 3-point attempts. Blake added 16, while Arkadiy Mkrtychyan and Scot each added 10.
The Vandals shot 69.6 percent (16-of-23) from the floor in the first half and 75 percent (9-of-12) from deep. They would cool down in the second half, but still shot better than 50 percent from the field and beyond the arc. Idaho won the battle of the glass, 31-28.
Brayon Blake. Blake entered the game shooting 36 percent from the floor and averaging 8.8 points per game over his last five turned up his game on Thursday night. The junior went 4-of-5 from the floor, including 3-of-3 from range, to finish with 16 points in just 19 minutes.
“We had a couple guys step up and make big plays, and none bigger than Jordan Scott getting a piece of that last play,” said head coach Don Verlin. “I thought he was very effective in making the winning plays, making his free throws, he came up with a big rebound or two. It’s never easy to get a road win. We played so well for about 25 minutes, the best we’ve played offensively all year. And then they caught fire and we lost our focus. That probably disappoints me as much as anything, but we got a win. It’s the first time I’ve won here as a head coach for the University of Idaho, so you have to feel good about that. We’ll figure out how to get better, but it was great to get out of here with a win, we did what we needed to do. Now we have to focus in and go get us another one on Saturday.
“Vic’s not going to say anything, he never says anything. He was just happy to be back out there. That’s specifically what I was talking about with subbing, I played him way too many minutes in the second half coming off that injury. I just have so much confidence and faith in him that I thought I needed him out there to keep going.”
· Victor Sanders moved into 13th on the all-time scoring list. He now has
· Four Vandals scored in double-figures for the first time in conference play this season
· Idaho now sits in a three-way tie with Weber State and Montana State for third in the Big Sky Conference. Montana is close behind in sixth, just one game back. The Vandals can finish anywhere from 4-6.
Fans can stay up-to-date on all things Idaho men's basketball by following the team on twitter, @VandalHoops.
For more information on Idaho Athletics, visit GoVandals.com. Fans can also find Idaho on Twitter and Instagram, @Idaho_Vandals, or on Facebook by searching Idaho Vandals.
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