CEDAR CITY, Utah – A late push helped propel Idaho (17-12, 12-6 BSC) past Southern Utah (5-26, 3-15 BSC), 84-75, on Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Vandals lock up a first round bye in Reno, and will finish in a tie for third in the Big Sky Conference standings.
Idaho will get the No. 4 seed in the Big Sky Tournament due to tiebreakers. The Vandals await the final games of the night to see who their first opponent will be. Due to Northern Colorado not playing in the Big Sky Tournament, the top-five teams will receive a bye, with four and five meeting in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
The first half was a game of runs, with neither team really able to take over at any point. Idaho would come out on top in the first half, taking a 37-29 lead into the break.
It was close for most of the contest, with 14 lead changes and seven ties, but the Vandals pulled away late behind some exceptional shooting in the second half. Southern Utah would take a 49-48 lead with 9:15 to play, but then Idaho took over.
The Vandals went on a quick 7-0 run from there to reclaim the lead. Southern Utah was able to stop the run with a free throw, but the damage had been done. With the momentum on Idaho’s side, the Vandals continued to build their lead, going on a 26-9 run over a 5:18 stretch, going from down one to up 16 with under four minutes to play.
Idaho would cruise from there, with Southern Utah making a late push before running out of time.
Idaho knocked down 26-of-58 shots from the field (44.8%) and 10-of-28 from deep (35.7%). The Vandals were stout defensively, holding the Thunderbirds to 39.3 percent from the field (22-of-56) and 34.5 percent from range (10-of-29). Idaho dominated on the glass, winning the battle of the boards, 42-31.
Arkadiy Mkrtychyan had an exceptional night, scoring a career-best 21 points and adding eight boards. Victor Sanders did Victor Sanders-type things, finishing with 22 points, seven boards, five dimes and three steals. Chad Sherwood also scored in double-figures, knocking down three 3’s on his way to 13 points.
Arkadiy Mkrtychyan. Mkrtychyan scored a career-high 21 points on the night, giving Idaho a presence down low when the outside shots weren’t falling early. He was also incredibly active on the glass, grabbing eight boards, including two offensive.
His efficiency is something to behold. He went 8-of-12 from the floor and 5-of-5 from the line. Over his last five games, Mkrtychyan is now shooting 53 percent from the floor and averaging 13.6 points per game.
“I thought our defense finally wore them down,” said head coach Don Verlin. “I was really proud of our guys. This is a tough road trip, it’s a long bus trip. Just really proud of our guys. First and foremost we played a defense we hadn’t seen in a while, I thought that kind of threw us out of our rhythm a little bit, but that’s where this team is maturing. We didn’t lose our defense. You look at the stats after the game, we hold them under 40 (percent shooting), they did make a few too many 3’s, but again it was down there at 34 percent. We outrebound them by 11, and I thought a number of guys stepped up. I thought Jordan Scott and Pat Ingram did a really good job on Randy Onwuasor. They had a couple seniors step up and make some big shots, but I thought our defense was solid tonight, to say the least.
“I thought our ball moved extremely well. We did a good job of moving the ball, we did a great job of sharing the ball. I could not be more proud of these guys. When we started this deal at 1-3, you would’ve never thought we’d be 12-6. We had one heck of a run and it’s just a tribute to the guys in the lockerroom. They’ve gotten tough, they’ve gotten together, they’ve worked like crazy. The thing that I like about this team, probably better than any team I’ve had here, is that they really like each other. They care about each other, and that’s going to give us a chance to win the Big Sky Tournament.
“Great game for Ark. We knew he had to be really good tonight. We knew in that zone, and in that man-to-man that they couldn’t guard him inside. Our guys did a good job of getting the ball down low to him. I thought Ark did a very nice job of scoring the basketball, no question about it.
· Arkadiy Mkrtychyan scored a career-best 21.
· With the win, the Vandals secure a tie for third in the Big Sky standings. Idaho loses the tiebreaker, however, and will play as the No. 4 seed in the Big Sky Tournament.
· The Vandals will play Montana if the Grizzlies beat Idaho State, or the loser of Montana State/Weber State if Montana falls to Idaho State.
· Victor Sanders moved into 12th in program history with 1148 points.
· Sanders moves into fifth for 3’s in a season with 89.
· Sanders moves into a tied for eighth all-time with 90 career steals.
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