MOSCOW, Idaho – Brayon Blake came up huge for Idaho, tying a career high with 14 rebounds and leading the Vandals with 24 points.
He helped Idaho hang with Montana State in the first half, weather a Bobcat surge at the start of the second period and finally pull away from MSU to earn an 88-78 win in Cowan Spectrum.
Victor Sanders scored 12 of his 21 points in the last seven minutes as Idaho came back from a 72-71 deficit.
Perrion Callandret hit a 3-pointer and a lay up back-to-back, and one of his five assists was among the most consequential passes of the game.
Jordan Scott “was the most valuable player tonight,” according to Vandals coach Don Verlin. Scott played lockdown defense on MSU’s Tyler Hall in the first half and “he worked like crazy to give us about four extra possessions,” according to Verlin.
And yet with all this, Verlin came away from the victory more displeased than elated with what he saw for two-thirds of the game.
“We finally decided to play some Vandal basketball the last 10 minutes,” he said. “When we finally decided we wanted to play, we got after them.”
If unfulfilled potential drove the coach to distraction, his exhibit A for what the Vandals can be at their best occurred in a stretch at about the 14-minute mark of the second half, with Idaho trailing, 56-48. Arkadiy Mkrtychyan scored on a lob from Scott and on the next possession backed down two defenders in the lane, spun and hit another basket. He was fouled and made the free throw. Nate Sherwood followed for the Vandals by rebounding a Bobcat miss and outletting a pass to Perrion Callandret, who found Scott on a break with a long assist.
Blake pointed to that series as the point when the game began going Idaho’s way.
As for his own big night on the glass, Blake said, “I just try to find my way to get to the ball. Put myself in good position every time to grab rebounds.”
Idaho (18-7, 10-3 Big Sky) dug a hole for itself early in the first half. It saw a two-point halftime deficit quickly grow to 49-40 until Scott stopped the run with a tough basket in the lane with three minutes gone in the final period.
For the Bobcats (13-14, 6-8), Keljin Blevins matched Blakes’ 24 points, and Hall contributed 16. He had to work for them, going 6 of 16 from the floor and connecting on just 4 of 12 3-point attempts.
With Eastern Washington giving Montana its first league loss Thursday, Verlin remarked on the urgency for the Vandals to step up their play and take advantage of the opportunity when they host the Grizzlies Saturday.
“There’s a lot more in this team than we’re getting right now,” he said.
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