An icy sidewalk in Bozeman likely decided Idaho's fate on Saturday when the Vandals took on Montana State at Worthington Arena.
But, Idaho coach Don Verlin isn't making any excuses about it.
Victor Sanders slipped on the ice on Friday night just as the team was returning from dinner, injuring his hand as it slammed into the ground, Verlin said. It's unclear which hand was injured.
Idaho struggled to maintain consistent offense without the presence of its sophomore scoring machine and fell 70-68 to the Bobcats in Big Sky Conference play. Idaho is now 12-8, 4-3 in conference play.
Sanders had put up 89 points in his last three contests combined, shooting 23 of 40 from the field.
"We iced it, we wrapped it, we did everything we could do. We brought him here (to the arena) and had him try to go, he just couldn’t go," Verlin said. "He felt awful about it. It’s a freak deal, we’ve all slipped on the ice before and he slipped on the ice and got his hand hurt. And obviously that’s a big loss because Vic has been playing so well."
The Portland native dropped 27 points on Montana on Thursday night, masterminding the 63-58 upset of the defending regular season conference champions.
Sanders was already trying to offset the loss of junior point guard Perrion Callandrent, who suffered a mid-foot sprain on his right foot against Eastern Washington. Making matters worse, sophomore forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan re-tweaked his left knee during practice on Monday, the same knee he dislocated prior to the season.
"What are you going to do? We have to play the game, nobody is going to feel sorry for us," Verlin said. "I thought our guys really competed hard because this is a pretty good basketball team."
True freshman Nick Blair poured in a career high 16 points, hitting four 3-pointers in the first half. Walk-on and former scholarship-forward Ty Egbert led the Vandals with a career-high 18 points.
"I thought Ty played extremely well when he got the ball down low, we did a nice job getting it to him, he did a nice job scoring it," Verlin said. "That was a whale of an effort for him, I thought he was real physical. He got tired there in stretches.
"When we recruited Nick (Blair) we were real excited to have him and Nick is just finding his way, it was great to see him come out and play well when he got his opportunity," Verlin added on the Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) product. " ... A few things here or there he can do better but I was happy with the way he played."
Post Falls native Marcus Colbert made a 10-point Idaho lead nonexistent soon after halftime. He hit three treys shortly after the break and followed it up with back-to-back layups to give Montana State a 3-point lead. Colbert finished with 23 points, 21 of them in the second point to make his home-state school pay. Colbert, a high school teammate of former Idaho standout Connor Hill, wasn't recruited by the Vandals.
"Marcus is a good player. We made a few mistakes there late when fatigue got to us, I thought he made some good shots," Verlin said. "But some of those 3s he made came off offensive rebounds and that’s one area that frustrates me. If and when we play them again we have to make sure we keep them off the backboards because that’s the strength of this team. They get 13 second shots, what that tells you is we got them to miss, we just didn’t rebound the ball well enough."
Compounding the lack of strength on the boards was Idaho's insecurity with the ball, giving it away 17 times and allowing Montana State 63 shots to Idaho's 46 shot attempts.
- Jordan Scott received his fourth career start in the stead of Victor Sanders. Chris Sarbaugh, Chad Sherwood, Nate Sherwood and Ty Egbert were the other four starters.
- Nahshon George was noticeably absent after starting 15 games this season. He only played 10 minutes in Idaho's Thursday-night win at Montana.
- Mkrtychyan played 12 minutes off the bench, scoring six points on 3-of-4 shooting.
- Colton, Wash. native Jake Straughan played 13 minutes off the bench but wasn't able to find an opening to shoot the ball. He turned it over twice and dished out an assist.
- How about some good news? Idaho commit Trevon Allen scored 31 points on Friday night for Clarkston in a league win over Cheney, including five 3-pointers.