MOSCOW – Tie game, 41 seconds left and Idaho had the ball with a full shot clock. Victor Sanders, who had shot dreadfully all night, could have dribbled the ball out and set up a play.
Instead, he received an inbounds pass and immediately willed in the biggest shot of the game.
Sanders’ 3-pointer proved to be the decisive blow in Idaho’s 62-58 upset of Big Sky-leading Weber State on Thursday night at Cowan Spectrum.
With the stirring win in front of 1,476 fans, the Vandals (19-11, 11-6) clinched a first-round bye in next week’s Big Sky tournament in Reno. They’re guaranteed a top-four finish in the league, and they can wrap up the third seed by beating Idaho State in the regular-season finale on Saturday.
Weber State (22-8, 14-3) had won six consecutive games.
“To get that bye is huge,” UI guard Chris Sarbaugh said. “Already playing three games in three days is tough on the body. To play four games in four days or four games in five days would be tough to win that tournament.”
Sanders was 3 of 15 from the field before his go-ahead 3-pointer circled around the rim and fell in. Despite his shooting woes, he called his own number before the play, signaling to coach Don Verlin that he wanted the shot.
“Big players make big shots in big-time situations,” Sanders said. “My teammates needed me to be that big player – within the team, of course. The shot was there and I shot it.”
Sanders, the Vandals’ leading scorer, finished with a team-high 14 points as well as eight rebounds and three assists. The 6-foot-5 guard also did a solid defensive job against the Wildcats’ top scorer, Jeremy Senglin, who had 17 points but was 6 of 16 from the field and 2 of 9 from long range.
The Vandals, coming off a home win over Eastern Washington, shot 29 percent from the field. They were stone-cold most of the first half, and somehow shot worse in the second half (23 percent).
But UI made up for its woeful shooting by overwhelming Weber State on the boards 50-30 and outscoring WSU 21-13 at the free-throw line.
“This game came down to rebounding, and we rebounded like men tonight,” Verlin said.
The Wildcats came in having converted almost more free throws than their opponents had attempted. But during key stretches of the second half, WSU went cold from the stripe. That was especially the case for star big man Joel Bolomboy, who at one point missed four straight foul shots.
Bolomboy’s shakiness from the line made it a no-brainer for Verlin to call for UI to foul the 6-9 junior with 7.6 seconds left and his team up by 3. Bolomboy missed the first free throw, and Perrion Callandret sealed the win by making both free throws on the other end.
Montana 71, North Dakota 46: Walter Wright scored 18 points, Martin Breunig added 17 with 12 rebounds, and the Grizzlies defeated the Fighting Hawks in Missoula.
Montana took the lead for good during a 14-3 run midway through the first half and carried a 36-26 advantage into the break. The Grizzlies poured it on in the second half, opening with a 20-2 run that took nearly 10 minutes off the clock and included 3-pointers from Wright, Jack Lopez, Michael Oguine and Mario Dunn.
Oguine finished with 12 points for the Grizzlies, who shot 40 percent from the field (24-60) and forced 18 turnovers to get the season sweep over North Dakota.
Conner Avants led the Fighting Hawks with 14 points and nine rebounds. North Dakota’s leading scorer, Quinton Hooker, was held to a season-low four points on 2-for-11 shooting.
Portland State 89, Northern Arizona 81: Cameron Forte had 20 points, 15 boards and 10 assists, Isaiah Pineiro had a career-high 31 points and 12 rebounds and the Vikings defeated the Lumberjacks in Portland.
Montana State 81, Northern Colorado 63: Marcus Colbert scored 24 points and the Bobcats defeated the Bears in Bozeman.
Sacramento State 69, Southern Utah 63 (OT): Nick Hornsby stole the ball and drove for a layup and Cody Demps and Marcus Graves made four late free throws in overtime to secure the win for the Hornets over the visiting Thunderbirds.
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