MOSCOW, Idaho – For an inaugural game, this will do.
Idaho came up short in overtime to Long Beach State 95-89 in its first official game in its new Idaho Central Credit Union Arena. But a crowd of several thousand, including a packed and raucous student section, was reminiscent of Vandals games 40 years ago when Don Monson’s Idaho teams brought heaping loads of drama and often victories to Kibbie Dome crowds pushing 5,000 and more on Palouse winter nights.
A tortured grimace was often his signature then, even in games when Idaho enjoyed comfortable leads. It was replaced by a grin in the new arena as Monson, accompanied by a half-dozen members of his storied 1981-82 team that finished 27-3, made the NCAA Sweet 16 and finished eighth in the final Associated Press poll, was honored before the game. Two banners commemorating that team and that season were unfurled by UI president Scott Green and athletics director Terry Gawlik. These will be the first to hang in the new building.
Idaho’s Trevante Anderson, who scored 26 points in the loss, including making 7 of 9 3-point attempts, said he appreciated the atmosphere.
“It’s a great environment. Great energy. They definitely brought it,” he said of the crowd.
Vandals coach Zac Claus echoed him.
“It’s just silly nice,” he said of the arena. “I’m the luckiest person on campus. I have the best job. This building is off the charts. Hopefully, one day we’ll have both ends full of students. I wasn’t mincing words when I said we could have the best student section in the Big Sky Conference.”
Long Beach State is coached by Monson’s son, Dan, an Idaho alum and former Gonzaga coach. Long Beach State seemed to borrow liberally from the old man’s strategies. It kept up an energetic press and aggressive trapping against the Vandals throughout. Idaho turned up the intensity of its defense, resulting in each team making 17 turnovers and six steals.
After leading 45-43 at the intermission, the Vandals were able to fend off Long Beach State through much of the second half and extended their lead to 12 points with about 7 minutes to play. But Long Beach State methodically cut into the Vandals’ edge with an inside game, and it regained the lead, 82-81, on Jordan Roberts’ 3-pointer.
With the score tied 85-all with 20 seconds to play, Idaho made a bid to win in regulation as Mikey Dixon, at the point, motioned Philip Pepple Jr. to come out from the lane so he could use him as a screen. Pepple was called for a foul, however, and Long Beach State got the ball back with 7 seconds to play. The game’s leading scorer, Joel Murray, with 28 points, got off a last shot but could not sink it, and the game went to overtime.
Long Beach State took a quick four-point lead in the extra session. Idaho, though, cut the margin to 91-89 on a Dixon drive with 18 seconds remaining. But the Vandals were forced to foul to try to get back the ball, and Long Beach State finished out the scoring with four free throws.
While the visitors controlled the paint with 50 points to the Vandals’ 26, Idaho shot an impressive 15 of 31 on 3-pointers. Four Vandals were in double figures. Dixon backed Anderson with 16 points, Rashad Smith had 12 and Pepple 10.
“It feels like a waste when you knock down that many and don’t come out victorious,” Claus said of Idaho’s shooting.
The Vandals got close enough to a win in their noisy new building to make Anderson hopeful.
“I think it’s going to be a fun year,” he said. “We’re definitely going to turn it up and turn things around.”
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