MOSCOW, Idaho – In a game that counted, Idaho played like the score mattered.
The Vandals had dropped a pair of season-opening exhibitions to Central Washington and Lewis-Clark State College. But in their first official game they beat Evergreen State College in Memorial Gym, although the Geoducks made the final 2 minutes interesting before falling 88-82.
“We needed a regular-season game, I guess, to get us going,” Idaho coach Zac Claus said.
A 3-pointer from Geoducks leading scorer Gloire Biongo cut Idaho’s lead to 84-80 with just less than a minute to play. The Geoducks cut the deficit to two on Lucas Kelly’s basket in the paint with 15 seconds left.
Biongo fouled Trevon Allen on the next possession, though, and Allen converted a 1-and-1 to give Idaho a cushion.
With 9 seconds to play, Idaho’s BJ Simmons got a hand on Evergreen’s final shot, a 3-point attempt from Elijah Fuller, and forced a turnover that Simmons finished for the Vandals with a pair of points from the line after he was fouled.
Idaho used an early second-half run to push a six-point advantage to 13. When the Geoducks began to cut into that, the Vandals were steadied by Quinton Forrest’s three consecutive baskets inside.
“He is a load on the glass every day in practice,” Claus said. “That’s what we need from him. Create havoc and finish.”
After trailing early, Idaho took its first lead at 11:29 as Ja’Vary Christmas finished a fast break with a jam.
“We’re not that big,” Christmas said. “We have to outrun everybody.”
The Vandals played well in transitions but could not pull away from the Geoducks in the opening period. Idaho led by no more than six points and finished the first half up 43-38.
Fuller’s perimeter shooting kept Evergreen in contact through the half. He led the Geoducks with 14 points. But Simmons and Allen shared the defensive responsibility and held Fuller to two points after the break.
“He was definitely a focal point coming into the game,” Claus said of Fuller.
Biongo paced Evergreen with 17 points. Allen led all scorers with 23 for the Vandals. Christmas added 17, Forrest 15 and Simmons 11.
Christmas said the difference between the exhibition losses and the regular-season win was “getting back to the basics.”
“When we play as a team, we’re very hard to beat,” Christmas said.
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