BOISE, Idaho - Looking to avenge an overtime loss two weeks ago, the Idaho men's basketball team stormed into Taco Bell Arena, jumped out to big lead and never looked back in handing Boise State its second-worst loss in series history with a 79-55 road win on Saturday.
The Vandal men broke open an 8-8 tie early in the first half with a 14-0 run, keyed by senior Luciano de Souza's three 3-pointers, and cruised to the team's biggest win of the season. The victory puts Idaho at 11-11 overall and 3-7 in the Western Athletic Conference, while bumping BSU to 11-12 overall and 2-8 in WAC play.
Idaho head coach Don Verlin told the team after the game that they "removed a huge softball out of my stomach," with the win, referring to Idaho's 77-67 overtime loss at the Cowan Spectrum two weeks ago in which Idaho led by seven with less than three minutes to go in regulation.
"We just got hot," Verlin said of the quick start. "De Souza got hot, Johnson made a couple, and then away we go.
"I looked up and we're up 20 and it was like, ‘Oh my.'"
De Souza connected on four of his six attempts from the 3-point line and all four free throws to give him a career-high-tying 16 points. Fellow seniors Kashif Watson and Mac Hopson contributed 14 and 11 points, respectively, while Hopson also added a team-high five assists. Sophomore Luiz Toledo, the WAC's most accurate shooter, hit five of his six attempts and scored 11 points, along with seven rebounds.
Idaho scorched the nets from the perimeter in hitting 10-of-20 from 3-point range, while also outscoring the Broncos 28-18 in the paint and 10-3 on fast break points. Idaho's bench contributed its most points (33) since scoring 43 in the team's season-opening win at Utah.
While Idaho's shooting offense was impressive, its defense was equally strong. The Vandals held BSU's leading scorer, Ike Okoye, to just one made field goal and five points, while holding the Broncos to just 28.6 percent from the field. The Broncos shot 45.2 percent from the floor, but made nine fewer field goals than Idaho after turning the ball over 19 times.
"We did a great job early in the game," Verlin said. "Our posts did a great of getting around and not letting them get close post seals near the basket like we did last time, and then our perimeter guys did a great job of keeping them out of the middle of the floor."
Idaho broke open an 8-8 tie by scoring 14 unanswered points from the 12:40 mark to the 8:59 mark of the first. BSU's Paul Noonan broke the streak with a 3-pointer to pull Boise State within 11 at 22-11, but Idaho's Steffan Johnson knocked down a pair of triples and Idaho answered by scoring the game's next 11 points to go up 33-11 at the 6:24 mark of the first.
The Vandals went into the break with a 45-19 lead, their largest halftime lead since Nov. 28, 2008, when they took a 42-16 edge into the half against UC Irvine. The 26-point edge at the half is also the team's largest over a WAC foe since joining the league in the 2005-06 season.
Boise State outscored Idaho 36-34 in the second half, but it didn't matter, as the Broncos never got closer than 18 points in the second half as Idaho held on for the big win.
"I thought we did a good job of finishing it up and finding a way to win," Verlin said. "It's always good to win a game against your in-state rival on their floor by 25 – you don't do that very often."
Combined with last year's 56-54 win at Taco Bell Arena, Idaho has now won back-to-back road games at Boise State for the first time since the 1989 Big Sky Tournament Championship game and the team's 1990 Big Sky Conference opener. The 26-point win is the second-largest for Idaho in series history and the most for Idaho ever in a road game against BSU.
While the game was played in the unfriendly confines of Taco Bell Arena, there was still a hefty Vandal influence in the crowd, which totaled 7,734.
The Vandals will savor Saturday's victory, but Verlin said that for the team to keep its momentum, it must focus totally on next week's upcoming home game against Nevada on Wednesday. That game, which tips off at 8:05 p.m. (PST) will be televised nationally on ESPN2.