MOSCOW, Idaho – The difference between a team with 10 upperclassmen versus a team with one is apparently about 17 points.
That was Idaho State’s victory margin in a 72-55 victory against Idaho in the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball opener for both. The Bengals went on a scoring run in each half that the Vandals could neither match nor stop.
The first allowed them to turn a 21-all tie into a 33-21 advantage. After Idaho drew within six points early in the second half, ISU stepped up its intensity again and built a 19-point advantage (67-48) over the next 10:32.
“When we could get some defensive stops, we could play them pretty close,” Vandals coach Don Verlin said.
But sustaining intensity was a huge challenge for an Idaho team (3-9) with six freshmen and four sophomores.
Suffocating defensive pressure forced the Vandals into 14 turnovers and a 33.3 shooting percentage (18 of 54).
Matching the Bengals inside was a problem made worse when Jared Rodriguez picked up his fourth foul 2 minutes into the second half and subsequently fouled out at about the 7-minute mark. Idaho’s two most-experienced players, junior Trevon Allen and sophomore Scott Blakney, were also playing hurt.
Allen, who gave the Vandals seven points and four rebounds, was a game-time decision as he recovered from an infection, according to Verlin. Blakney, who scored five points and grabbed five rebounds, has been battling a sprained ankle.
The Bengals’ Gary Chivichyan made six 3-pointers on the way to a game-high 24 points. Chier Maker and Kelvin Jones grabbed seven rebounds apiece as ISU (5-5) won the battle of the boards 42-36. The highlight of junior guard Brandon Boyd’s defensive performance on Idaho’s guards was his four steals.
“Their pressure bothered us up front,” Verlin said.
Two freshmen stepped up for the Vandals. Cassius Smits-Francisco got nearly 27 minutes of playing time with Rodriguez in foul trouble and Blakney ailing. Smits-Francisco responded by scoring six points, grabbing eight rebounds and making a block and a steal.
Cameron Tyson shot himself out of a slump and returned to his early-season sharpshooting. He lifted a long 3-pointer from the wing for the Vandals’ first points and led them with 19 on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers, and he made all three of his free throws.
“My teammates kept on believing in me and finding me,” Tyson said. “I kept on shooting.”
Getting stops, rebounds and scoring in transition – all things the Bengals did better than Idaho – are the key to the rest of the season, Tyson said.
But getting that kind of performance consistently from a young team slowed by injuries as the Big Sky season begins is Idaho’s challenge.
“It’s a big work in progress being able to sustain our intensity,” Verlin said. “We’ve got to continue to work, fight through, teach them and grow them up on the fly.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.