MOSCOW, Idaho – By the narrowest margin and with great effort Idaho overhauled Sacramento State then outlasted the Hornets 69-68 in Cowan Spectrum on Thursday night.
The Vandals came back from 11 points down midway through the second half and retook the lead 69-65 on a 15-point run. The highlight of the run came when Brayon Blake went into the stands under the Idaho basket to save a loose ball and Perrion Callandret took advantage with an explosive dunk over the Hornets’ James Herrick. It brought the Vandals within two points and brought the crowd to its feet.
“We talk about winning plays all the time and that was a winning play,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said.
“You could feel the switch of momentum,” Idaho’s Victor Sanders added. He led all scorers with 21 points but had to work for them on 4 of 12 shooting from the floor but going 11 for 14 on free throws.
As the Vandals mounted their charge, Blake said “we got in the huddle and the leaders spoke up about the situation. By that time it’s out of the coach’s hands. It’s really up to the players.”
The Vandals prevailed against a Hornets team they don’t match up with all that well. Robust Sacramento State gave Idaho a taste of the NBA, circa 1980. Every possession was a fierce battle for space.
“I told our guys all week long they would be physical, tough and grind it out,” said Verlin. The Hornets are only 4-11, but Verlin said he told the Vandals “don’t fall asleep on their record.”
Blake said “Sacramento State is always a physical team. We prepared very hard for it. We knew it was coming.”
Dealing with the Hornets in the paint was a team effort, according to Sanders.
“We just took the challenge. We told the posts keep it out. But if they throw it over your head, we’ve got your back.”
Hornets post Joshua Patton fouled out although big man Justin Strings had 17 points, nine rebounds, a block and a steal.
Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa contributed 17 points for Sacramento State and was a troublesome 5 for 10 on three pointers.
Strings launched a three-quarter-court shot after Blake missed a 1-1 with a half a second to play, but Blake got a hand on the ball to slow its momentum and prevent any closing drama. He also backed Sanders with 16 points, 11 rebounds and a steal. Nate Sherwood pulled down nine rebounds.
Jordan Scott scored 10 points for Idaho and made two blocks. He was enormously important down the stretch. With the score tied at 65, Scott blocked the Hornets’ Kevin Hicks’ shot then hit a basket for Idaho off a Callandret assist. It was the 10th lead change.
Scott also figured in another lead change that showed what Idaho could do when its passing overwhelmed Sacramento State’s physical defense. Scott hit a three from the left side after Sanders whipped a behind-the-back pass to Callandret at the top of the key, who sent the ball on to Scott. The play gave the Vandals a 28-27 lead in a game where every point counted.
“We’re happy with a win no matter how it comes,” said Sanders. “We found a way to fight back.”
Idaho is 10-5 overall, 2-1 in the Big Sky.