FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Idaho picked up the road sweep, taking down Northern Arizona 84-80 on Saturday afternoon in Flagstaff.
Idaho was ice cold to start, with NAU taking a 6-0 lead in the opening minutes. Things clicked there for the Vandals, who then went on a 17-0 run capped off by back-to-back steals and dunks from Perrion Callandret.
The Lumberjacks would recover with a run of 3-pointers, before Victor Sanders took over with eight quick points by himself. NAU again got hot from beyond the arc, taking a 36-32 lead into the break.
Both teams shot lights-out to start the second half. NAU built its lead to as many as eight before Idaho’s Brayon Blake took over, scoring six straight for the Vandals to cut the deficit. Idaho continued to put the pressure on, eventually reclaiming the lead at 54-53. The Lumberjacks stayed close for the rest of the night, but couldn’t get back to level as the Vandals handled business at the free throw line to take the 84-80 win.
Idaho shot 51.0 percent (25-of-49) from the field and 48.0 percent (12-of-25) from beyond the arc. The Vandals won the rebound battle, 32-29.
Brayon Blake. Blake followed up his tremendous performance from Thursday night with another outstanding game, finishing with 25 points and nine rebounds. Blake, the Big Sky’s leading rebounding this season, is averaging nearly 10 boards per game in conference play this season.
Blake stepped up when the Vandals needed it early in the second half. The Lumberjacks couldn’t seem to miss early on, but neither could Blake. He opened the half with six quick points, keeping the Thundebirds close before the rest of the Vandals took over to secure the win.
“BJ had a great trip, no question about it,” said head coach Don Velrin. “To score 20 points or more in each of the games. He gets nine rebounds tonight, and 12 or 13 the other night, he’s just giving us one heck of an effort. I’ve been very happy with his progress. Stepped up and made his free throws, something that he’s been struggling with a little bit this year but has been working really hard on it.”
Idaho moves to 5-2 in Big Sky play and will end the day in at least a tie for second in the league.
Sanders moved into 4th in program history in scoring, passing Kenny Luckett. He now has 1583 points, two points behind Brian Kellerman for third in program history.
Blake finished with 20-plus for the second straight night. Idaho is now 4-1 in his career when he scores at least 20 points.
Tonight was the first time that Sanders and Blake scored 20-plus in the same game.
Jordan Scott tied a career high with three 3-pointers, going 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and finishing with 11 points. “No one has worked harder on his shot than Jordan,” Verlin said. “He has been working on that thing non-stop for five years. He’s got a lot of confidence right now in it, our guys have been doing a great job of finding him, those were great passes BJ made coming out of their double-team. Couldn’t be happier for him. Couldn’t be happier for a guy that has worked extremely hard on shooting. No one has worked harder on their perimeter shot and it’s all paying off in his senior year.”
“I’m proud of our team. After taking a tough loss to Portland State, in a game we all felt like we should’ve won and we could’ve won but we didn’t take care of our ball late in the game, we have bounced back and won three in a row on the road. We looked at this point a couple of weeks ago, this was a huge part of the season for us to get us back in the conference race.
“Was the game perfect tonight? No. But we did a lot of good things. You have to give Northern Arizona credit, they shot it extremely well. I thought at times we had them guarded well, and they were able to make some tough shots.
“But I thought we were able to make some winning plays. Vic sprints his tail off and makes a block there, we have a couple guys getting on the floor, we had some big stops there at the end of the game and we did a great job of knocking down our free throws. And that’s what you have to do to win on the road.”
Next up is a pair of home games, against Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
“Vandal fans we need you. Our best game of the year was either Western Michigan or Washington State and Washington State we had that Dome packed. And that’s what we need. We need some energy in the arena, we’ve got a chance to get right back in the top of this thing. Northern Colorado coming in on Thursday, that’s a very good basketball team that beat us in a close one, and North Dakota who’s playing extremely well right now and went to North Dakota State and won the other night.”