If Idaho did not exactly play down to Bethesda, it was certainly not pushed to lofty heights by the 0-5 Flames from the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference of the National Christian College Athletic Association.
Nonetheless, the Vandals pretty much did what they were supposed to do against an overmatched opponent in picking up their first win of the season, 87-59, Sunday in Memorial Gym.
“We came in really confident. After the last two games, we were ready for a win,” Scott Blakney said. The Flames had no answer for Idaho’s big men, and Blakney was a 7 of 7 on field goals inside. He finished with 17 points and a team-leading 12 rebounds.
“I’m really happy about that,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said of Blakney’s work on the boards where the Vandals owned a 49-33 advantage. In a game where big men mattered, Cassius Smits-Francisco grabbed 11 rebounds for Idaho, and Jared Rodriguez scored seven points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots.
Idaho had built a 16-point lead by halftime and improved it to 28 in the second half before the Flames began indiscriminately launching 3-pointers and hitting enough to reduce the Vandals’ lead to 16 again.
“They went on a little run. They didn’t back down,” Blakney said.
Ian Fox hit 2 of 7 3-pointers and led Bethesda with 17 points. When the Flames cooled from the perimeter, however, the Vandals’ ability to grab rebounds and start fast breaks allowed them to extend their margin again.
Verlin said after the game the greatest service Bethesda provided Idaho was forcing it to think on the fly, since the Flames’ 1-3-1 zone was the first the Vandals have seen this year.
“That was really good for us. We had to adjust and fight through it.”
Fifteen turnovers, though, made him wince. Also, while Idaho’s starters were reasonably smooth in moving the ball and getting good shots, players off the bench often let the movement stall and settled for lower-quality shots.
“They were thinking instead of playing,” Verlin said.
“A lot of them are just starting,” Blakney said of his new teammates. “Last year, I was exactly the same way.”
Verlin drew attention to sophomore guard Geno West’s steady performance: 13 points, including 5-of-8 shooting from the floor, and eight assists against one turnover.
“Geno was really looking for me, trying to get me the ball,” said Blakney.
Vandals freshman guard Cameron Tyson continued to light up the scoreboard. He went 8 of 14, including 5 of 10 on 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 21 points. Three games into the schedule, he is the 12th freshman in Idaho’s history to hit at least 10 shots from behind the arc.
Idaho shot 35 of 64 for 54.7 percent, was 8 of 29 from behind the arc and made 9 of 13 free throws.
Bethesda managed just 23 of 72 shooting for 31.9 percent, and the Flames converted 8 of 32 3-point shots.
“This is a 3-point shooting team,” said Blakney. “We knew going in about 40 percent of their shots were going to be 3s. We were trying to take them away.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.