MOSCOW, Idaho – After he fouled out in the closing minute, Idaho’s Victor Sanders untucked his jersey and made his way to the second-to-last seat on the Vandals’ bench.
Next to him, at the far end of the sideline, was injured point guard Perrion Callendret. The pair shared a few words and a knowing glance.
If only they could share a moment on the court.
The injury-decimated Vandals again struggled with Sanders trying to carry the load, absorbing a 70-57 loss to Montana on Thursday night in front of an announced crowd of 813 at Cowan Spectrum.
Playing without Callendret (out for the season with a knee injury) and second-leading scorer Brayon Blake (back), Idaho dropped to 5-8 and 0-2 in the Big Sky Conference.
The Vandals have lost three straight and seven of their last nine.
Idaho’s last win against a Division I opponent came on Dec. 3 against UC Davis.
“It’s adversity and we’ve got to overcome it,” junior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan said of the injuries to Callendret and Blake. “We’ve got to play no matter. And we’ll get there, I’ll promise you that.”
The Grizzlies (7-9, 2-1) won for the fourth time in five games despite shooting 34.5 percent from the field. They made the same number of field goals as Idaho (20), but they were much more careful with the ball – and much more productive from long range.
Montana was 12 of 32 from the 3-point line and had just six turnovers.
Idaho, on the other hand, hit 3 of 12 from beyond the arc and racked up 20 turnovers.
“You can’t turn the ball over 20 times and beat an upper-level team in this league,” Vandals coach Don Verlin said.
Sanders led all scorers with 20 points, but he was the only Vandal in double digits – Mkrtychyan was next with nine points – and he battled foul trouble in the second half.
Blake, who averages 10.3 points slipped in practice on Tuesday and injured his back. It was his first practice after returning from his brother’s funeral, Verlin said.
The ninth-year coach wasn’t sure when Blake, a junior transfer from North Idaho College, will return.
“We haven’t had any luck with injuries the last couple years,” Verlin said.
Montana’s Brandon Gfeller, a senior guard from Colfax, stopped any momentum UI could conjure with three timely 3s in the second half.
He hit back-to-back 3-pointers after the Vandals got within six points on a Ty Egbert dunk with 9:45 remaining.
Gfeller started for the first time this season. After going 4 of 8 from the 3-point line and scoring 14 points, he inched closer to Montana’s career 3-point record. (He has 194, 24 shy of Kevin Criswell’s program-best 218.)
“It was great to come back home and play a good game,” Gfeller said.
Gfeller estimated that he had 40 friends and family in attendance, a contingent that could be heard at times with few students on hand.
Idaho is still on holiday break, and the Vandals’ last two crowds against Eastern Washington and Montana have suffered because of it.
Idaho hosts Montana State on Saturday night, then travels to preseason favorite Weber State and Idaho State next week.
“It’s tough because we dug ourselves a hole,” Verlin said, “but we can’t quit doing what we’re doing. We’ve got to stay the course. We’ve got to continue to work hard.
“We know this team can be one of the best teams in the league. What we’ve got to continue to do is not feel sorry for ourselves, not hang our heads, not make excuses and go out and fight every day and find a way to get some wins.”
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