MOSCOW, Idaho – It was the win the Vandals had been waiting for, a home-court exposition of the work they’ve been putting into this season.
Only Idaho’s fourth overall and its first in the Western Athletic Conference this season, the 85-78 victory Thursday night came against fellow conference-basement dweller Louisiana Tech (3-11, 0-2 WAC) at the Kibbie Dome.
“It’s a win, and it was hard-fought,” Vandals coach George Pfeifer said. “I think the thing that was impressive to me tonight was that every time they made a run at us, we answered that run.”
The Bulldogs hung with the Vandals (4-10, 1-2 WAC) for most of Thursday’s game. It was a shooting exhibition, with eight players – four on each team – scoring in double figures.
Vandals forward Clyde Johnson started his first game this season and hit a career-high 19 points. The Vandals got 21 points apiece from Jordan Brooks and Mike Hall.
With 11 of his points coming at the free-throw line, Brooks registered Idaho’s first double-double in nearly a year with 10 rebounds. Brandon Brown scored 12 points off the bench.
The Bulldogs were led by 21 from Kyle Gibson and 17 by Dwayne Lathan.
“Offensive game. It was just definitely somebody trying to outscore somebody,” Pfeifer said. “You look at the stat line, that’s basically it.”
He was impressed with the performance of Johnson, who, the coach said, maintained his poise and shot with patience.
Johnson echoed his coach.
“It feels good. The buckets felt good,” Johnson said. “You see, I made off-balance shots, I was making everything.”
With about 15 minutes left in the game, Johnson made a left-corner 3-pointer to put his team ahead by seven. One possession later, he broke his previous personal best of 15 points with another shot from the same spot.
Then, seconds later, he stole the ball from Louisiana Tech’s Keith Smith and scored another 3 – for an 11-point lead.
Not in the starting lineup Thursday was Darin Nagle, who was out with an undisclosed injury. Pfeifer said that while Nagle could have played a few minutes Thursday if the opportunity arose, he is still day-to-day and might not play Saturday at Fresno State.
Trevor Morris, another of Idaho’s stars, was still out with a foot injury. He had an MRI Thursday, but the results were not available, Pfeifer said.
But the Vandals were able to handle the Bulldogs without two of their leading scorers.
Still playing in a relatively empty Kibbie Dome – even though students are back from their holiday break – the Vandals now have twice as many wins as they did this time last season. Their only regular-season WAC win last season came against Hawaii.
Still, Idaho’s defense needs some work, Pfeifer said.
The Bulldogs came back from 12 down late in the first half to close the Vandals’ halftime lead to four, 40-36. Louisiana Tech continued its drive after the break to cut it to one.
It wasn’t until Johnson’s trio of 3-pointers that the Vandals again found some breathing room. But the visitors bounced back to 73-71 with less than 4:30 to play – then they ran into foul trouble.
Brooks and Hall traded chances at the line as time ran down and the Bulldogs missed a series of jumpers.
“We won the battle of the boards, we won the battle of the turnovers tonight,” said Pfeifer. “We made our 3s, made our free throws.”