FARGO, N.D. – A red-hot shooting day gave Idaho its second win over a 2009 NCAA Tournament team in three games, as the Vandal men stormed into Fargo and left with an 81-69 victory over North Dakota State on Saturday.
"This was Vandal basketball tonight, they way I like it," Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. "We were tough and we competed, and I was really happy with the outcome."
Idaho (2-1) shot a blazing .571 (32-56) from the field – 16-of-28 in each half – and hit its long range shots at a .462 (6-13) clip. North Dakota State (1-2), by contrast, hit 32.9 percent of its shots and was just 5-of-23 (.217) from 3-point range.
"Obviously, by looking at the numbers, it was a good team effort," Verlin said. "Finally, we got clicking offensively and executed more like the Vandals should execute."
Senior guard Steffan Johnson showed why he was picked as the Western Athletic Conference's Preseason Newcomer of the Year, as he poured in a game-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-4 from long range, to go along with six assists, six rebounds and three steals and no turnovers.
Sophomore Luiz Toledo scored 18 on 8-of-11 shooting and snatched eight rebounds, while senior Mac Hopson dropped in 16 points and dished eight assists. Senior center Marvin Jefferson had nine rebounds, four points, one block and one assist, and red shirt freshman Kyle Barone grabbed seven rebounds in 12 minutes of play.
It was a strong effort across the board for Idaho, as the team had a season-high 18 assists, out-rebounded the Bison by a 41-38 margin, and got the transition game going with 18 fast break points, compared to just two for NDSU.
Verlin said he was still disappointed in Idaho's turnover numbers, because the Vandals gave it away 16 times, which led to 17 NDSU points. The Vandals also gave up 17 offensive rebounds, but only let the Bison convert those into 11 second-chance points.
"I thought we did a great job of making some adjustments at halftime," Verlin said. "Quite frankly, they kicked our tails on the boards in the first half. I'm really disappointed in our turnovers, but we played extremely hard, and we showed some toughness in the second half."
The Idaho defense came up big, too. NDSU's Michael Tveidt and Josh Vaughan entered the game averaging 21.0 and 18.0 points, respectively, on combined 30-of-61 (.492) shooting, but the duo scored just 29 total points and hit 9-of-32 (.281) from the field on Saturday.
"I challenged Kashif Watson and Shawn Henderson on guarding Tveidt," Verlin said. "Those guys have to be our lockdown defenders if we're going to make some noise in the WAC, and I thought both of them did a good job."
Verlin also said he was happy with the job Johnson and Marcus Lawrence did to slow down Vaughan.
Idaho exploded out of the gates in the second half with a 7-0 run to take a 46-36 lead at the 18:07 mark, then, after giving up back-to-back baskets, poured in seven more unanswered points, four of which came from Johnson on the fast break.
Idaho extended its lead to 13 points on three separate occasions before the Bison responded with a 7-0 run of their own, starting at the 12:46 mark. NDSU got within six points at 57-51 with just under 11 minutes remaining, then switched to the full-court pressure, but the Vandals broke the pressure with ease and held on to the lead.
Idaho's final big run of the game came after a Michael Tveidt jumper brought North Dakota State back within six at 61-55 and 8:10 left to play. A Hopson lay-up and a Johnson 3-pointer sandwiched between two Jefferson slams gave Idaho a 70-59 lead with 5:03 remaining and the Vandals didn't let the lead drop below eight from then on.
Kashif Watson's fast-break dunk with three seconds remaining put the exclamation point on Idaho's first win at Fargo in four tries. It also gave Idaho back-to-back wins for the first time in the series, after the Vandals 78-69 win last year at Memorial Gym.
Toledo led the way in the first half with 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting, while also grabbing three rebounds, but eight different Vandal players contributed in the scoring column in the opening stanza. Hopson was in top form, as he scored seven points and added five assists and one rebound.
The first five minutes of the game saw both teams exchange baskets, until the Bison went on a mini-run to take a 13-9 lead at the 14:50 mark. Idaho responded and tied it up at 16 on a Watson jumper with 10:36 remaining in the half.
A Hopson 3-pointer at the 8:12 mark gave Idaho the largest lead by either team of the first period, as the Vandals went up 23-18. The teams continued to trade baskets for the rest of the half, though, and Idaho went into the break with a 39-36 lead on the heels of a Hopson jumper with 23 seconds remaining.
Idaho will return to Moscow for its home opener next week, when the Vandals host Sacramento State (3-2), which upset Oregon State 65-63 at Corvallis on Saturday. The Vandals and Hornets will tip off at 7:05 p.m. at Memorial Gym on Tuesday.
University of Idaho Athletics