MOSCOW, Idaho — If Montana State was thinking “again?” it wasn’t for long.
In last year’s COVID-reduced season, played without fans in ancient Memorial Gym, Idaho won its only game, beating Montana State, 74-69.
In their new ICCU Arena Thursday, also as quiet as a church after a day-long winter storm closed the campus to the public, the Vandals met the Bobcats again. This time, though, MSU got on top early, established a nine-point halftime lead and built that to a 92-72 Big Sky Conference victory .
The Bobcats (11-5 overall, 3-2 Big Sky) exposed Idaho’s defense from the beginning. Vandals’ leading scorer Mikey Dixon, with 24 points, said Idaho was trying to trap the Bobcats’ post Jubrile Belo, and as a result MSU was able to take advantage of Idaho’s slowed defensive switching.
“You’re playing at a disadvantage when you are doubling the post,” he said.
Xavier Bishop led MSU with 20 points, Belo followed with 15, Amin Adamu 14, and Abdul Mohammed and Tyler Patterson 10 apiece.
In the second half, Idaho (3-9, 0-2) also lost its way on offense, and the game for the Vandals fell into a series of individuals going against as many as three defenders.
“Unfortunately, we had some selfish play offensively,” Idaho coach Zac Claus said.
Idaho also failed to gain any consistent presence inside and was outscored in the paint, 46-26. The Vandals also committed 18 turnovers to just 9 for MSU.
Idaho was without one of its top rebounders and shot blockers, Philip Pepple, who ran into travel difficulties on a return to campus, according to Dixon and Claus. In Pepple’s absence, Ethan Kilgore contributed seven points and some spirited interior defense for Idaho before fouling out in the second half. Tanner Christensen looked for shots in the lane early but made only 1 of 5 and finished the night with just two points for the Vandals.
“We tried to get some positive looks (in the post). “But it wasn’t available,” Claus said.
Dixon attacked the Bobcats relentlessly. He was 5 of 9 from the field and 13 for 13 at the free-throw line.
“You’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to be ready to take the hits,” he said.
Montana State’s field-goal percentage was the difference in the game. The Bobcats were an impressive 34 of 61. Idaho managed to convert only 23 of its 51 shots.
Montana State is back in action Sunday against Montana in Bozeman, and Idaho travels to Eastern Washington on Saturday for a men’s and women’s doubleheader.
All the shortcomings Idaho experienced against MSU need to be fixed between now and then, C;laus said.
“Conference play waits for nobody.”