MOSCOW, Idaho – For an Idaho team with four wins heading into its Big Sky Conference home opener, success has been tenuous and temporary.
So when Portland State turned a four-point halftime deficit into a six-point lead early in the second half, dread and maybe a sense of resignation was in the Cowan Spectrum atmosphere.
A Vikings full-court press sped up the Vandals and goaded them into taking bad shots.
“It felt a little like we were playing with our hair on fire,” Idaho interim coach Zac Claus said.
But in a mark of a maturing team, the Vandals regained their timing and over the next 4 minutes. They caught up with PSU and took the lead 53-52 when Marquell Fraser grabbed an offensive rebound, drew a foul and made a pair of free throws. Quinton Forrest followed a PSU empty possession by reaching out and putting up a shot from under the basket that improbably hit all net.
From there, the Vandals (5-9, 1-2 Big Sky) steadily pulled away for a 72-61 victory.
Coming off back-to-back, one-possession losses, Claus lauded his team for “the fight to compete down the stretch the way they did.”
Portland State (7-8, 1-2) pressed from the opening possession and continued all game. That quickly resulted in Chance Garvin getting trapped in a corner and committing a backcourt turnover that Alonzo Walker converted for a 4-0 PSU lead.
A flurry of nervous fouling early by both teams, Idaho fast-breaking at every opportunity, and the Vikings attacking the rim with Matt Hauser (13 points), Holland Woods (10 points) and Rashaad Goolsby (10 points) were dominant impressions from the early going.
Idaho settled down and began to break the Vikings’ press efficiently. The Vandals overtook the Vikings 15-12 when senior guard Trevon Allen jumped a Vikings pass, made a steal, took off on a successful solo break, drew a foul and hit the free throw.
Garvin got caught in one more backcourt miscue when he inbounded the ball to PSU’s Kyle Greeley, who converted to give the Vikings a 32-31 lead. But Garvin atoned by dropping a 3-pointer on Idaho’s next possession. On the Vandals’ subsequent trip down the court, he hit a 12-foot runner to put Idaho ahead 36-32.
Allen led all scorers with 20. The frontcourt of Scott Blakney (13 points, 11 in the first half), Forrest (eight points) and Jack Wilson (seven points) gave Idaho an inside presence that should serve it well the remainder of the season.
Blakney was successful around the rim.
“He did a lot of productive things in the first half. He’s got a great touch,” Claus said.
Wilson, at 7-foot and nearly 250 pounds, was a shot-altering presence against the PSU attack, but Claus wants to see more.
“I tell the guy to go through guys,” he said of Wilson. “He’s the biggest, strongest guy on the court. I want him to use that strength.”
After the comeback against PSU, all the Vandals were probably feeling a little bigger.
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