MOSCOW, Idaho – Nearly midway through the second half, this was looking like the next installment in a dismal line of Idaho’s recent defeats – a pair of double-digit losses in which the Vandals struggled to compete. They trailed Sacramento State by 19. Untimely turnovers, missed shots and rebounds that caromed to the Hornets killed any momentum Idaho generated.
“You have to have the mindset to move on to the next play,” UI senior guard Trevon Allen said. “That’s tough to do” when a glance at the scoreboard disclosed how far down they were, he acknowledged.
But Ja’Vary Christmas hit a pull-up jumper, then grabbed a defensive rebound and launched a court-length pass to Quinton Forrest breaking to the basket. After an Allen miss, Forrest muscled his way to the glass for an offensive rebound and putback.
Over the next 8 minutes, Idaho put the Hornets back on their heels and cut their lead to eight. Sacramento State held to win 67-56 after Idaho fouled five times in the last 1:06 to gain possessions, sending the Hornets to the line for seven points. However, the Vandals must have left the Cowan Spectrum court feeling considerably better about themselves.
“It felt like we were able to execute. We got clean looks,” Idaho coach Zac Claus said.
The final flourish wasn’t enough to overcome a lack of sharpness and inability to close out plays early, as Idaho shot just 28% for the first half, 7 for 25.
“We have our runs where we play good basketball. We have to extend those stretches,” Claus said.
With four games left, the Vandals (7-20, 3-13 Big Sky) are playing on an upward trajectory heading into the conference tournament.
“We want to win, get on a roll,” Forrest said.
Sacramento State (14-12, 7-10) avenged its 67-53 home loss to Idaho early this month and turned the corner on a 77-76 loss at Eastern Washington on Thursday night.
Against Idaho, the Hornets were aided in large measure by an unlikely contribution from Osi Nwachukwu. He has averaged just under 5 points a game, but scored 20 against the Vandals on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor and a 6-of-6 effort at the line. He also grabbed five rebounds and made four steals, including snagging Idaho’s final possession, an attempt to roll the ball into play in the backcourt, allowing Sacramento State to dribble out the final 19 seconds.
“He had a terrific game,” Claus said. “He did a really nice job establishing himself in the post.”
For the Vandals, Allen, held to seven points against Northern Arizona on Thursday, returned to form with a 21-point effort, mirroring his 20.6 season average. He broke free for 17 in the second half, getting the better of the Hornets’ Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa, who is fourth in the Big Sky in steals at 1.7 per game.
“It was tough to try to get the ball,” Allen said. “Their help defense was huge. His main assignment was not to leave me.”
The Vandals did make 19 turnovers, though, and Allen accounted for five of them.
Forrest came off the bench to score 10 points for Idaho and led all rebounders with nine.
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