MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho, which has come up short in seven games decided by six points or less this season, survived overtime Saturday to secure its first Big Sky Conference win, 73-72 against Sacramento State.
The Vandals’ final points came with 2 minutes, 15 seconds left in OT when Rashad Smith hit a 3-pointer from the corner for a 73-69 lead.
“He’s been shooting it so much better the past three or four weeks,” Idaho coach Zac Claus said of Smith. “I’m glad the ball found him.”
Claus said he had encouraged Smith to shoot and not pass up good looks.
“With all the time he has spent, he earned that made basket,” Claus said.
Idaho (4-14, 1-7 Big Sky) kept it tense until the end, though, as Trevante Anderson and Mikey Dixon each missed the front end of 1-and-1 chances in the final 17 seconds.
The Hornets failed on one good opportunity to score following Anderson’s miss when Bryce Fowler missed a shot in the lane and Cameron Wilbon fumbled the rebound out of bounds.
Fowler also heaved a half-court prayer following Dixon’s missed 1-and-1 with 2 seconds remaining that never came close to the rim.
Claus called Anderson and Dixon “two great players … who make a whole lot of free throws,” adding the Vandals would be happy to see them with the ball at the line in crucial circumstances.
“They will be in that situation again,” Claus said.
Zach Chappell of the Hornets (5-9, 1-6) led all scorers with 30 points on a selection of perimeter shots and floaters. Fowler followed with 22, mostly scored in the paint. Anderson and Dixon led Idaho with 17 and 14 points, respectively.
Jemeil King came off the bench and gave the Vandals a charge with 10 points, four assists and three steals.
“Whenever I get in the game, I try to give my team a spark,” King said.
The Vandals corrected a pair of glaring shortcomings from an 87-70 loss to Northern Colorado on Thursday – an offense that relied too much on Dixon trying to get to the rim against two and three defenders, and a defense that wasn’t up to guarding the quick Bears.
“The big emphasis in practice Friday was us moving the ball more and being tougher in guarding, more physical, making them uncomfortable,” King said.
Fourteen assists showed the Vandals absorbed the lesson on offense, and the 14 turnovers they created suggested they were making life tough for the Hornets on the defensive end.
Eleven of those turnovers were in the first half, when the Hornets’ inability to find their scoring stride, and a 4-of-10 effort on free throws put Idaho in a unique situation. In the majority of games this season, the Vandals have had to battle back from first-half deficits, but they led Sacramento State 33-25 at halftime.
“Hopefully, we get to experience that more,” Claus said. “It’s a different feeling.”
Claus said the lead allowed the Vandals to play “smart, aggressive basketball” in the second half.
The Vandals also got good contributions from their big men. Tanner Christensen finished with 12 rebounds and blocked three shots, and Philip Pepple Jr. tied his season high, set at Cal Poly, with four blocked shots. For the year, he has 24 blocked shots.
Claus said he was “beyond happy and thrilled for our 14 players to come out on top.”
The Vandals entered the game with seven consecutive losses, but Claus said the players continued “working, believing and trusting one another. It’s wonderful to see them rewarded.”
“I was nervous (during overtime),” King said. “We pulled it out. It was a good learning experience having a game go down to the wire.”
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