MOSCOW, Idaho – Victor Sanders became Idaho’s career No. 2 scorer and his 26 points led the Vandals to a 96-71 win over North Dakota on Saturday night in Cowan Spectrum.
Sanders now has 1,635 points, surpassing Stephen Madison by 11. He moved into second place behind Orlando Lightfoot’s 2,102 on a breathtaking drive in the second half. With the Vandals leading by seven, Perrion Callendret snared a rebound and arrowed a long outlet to Sanders, who gathered in the pass and worked his way around two Fighting Hawks defenders in the paint to get to the basket.
Idaho coach Don Verlin pointed out Sanders, a senior, only began to assert himself as a scorer as a sophomore.
“The last 2 1/2 years have been pretty special,” Verlin said.
Sanders, for his part, deflected credit to his teammates.
“It’s a credit to these guys,” he said. “We have six seniors. I’ve been with them four or five years. It’s a blessing every day.”
Before Idaho’s players and coach could begin reflecting on history, they had a game to win. As they did against Northern Colorado in a loss Thursday, the Vandals started slowly. They were trailing by 13 with just less than 9 minutes to play in the first half when Verlin shifted Sanders from a wing to the point.
“It was just kind of a feel thing,” Verlin said.
“My teammates found ways to get me the ball. Everything was good,” Sanders said.
Idaho responded by outscoring North Dakota 31-13 through the remainder of the half. Two quick baskets in the closing seconds pushed the Vandals to a five-point lead.
Chad Sherwood popped out from behind a screen for a 3-pointer. On the next possession, B.J. Blake stole the inbound pass and got off a shot from the baseline that found the net in the closing second.
Verlin noted the deflating impact of that on the Fighting Hawks. Especially on the back half of a road trip.
“Saturday nights on the road are tough,” Verlin said.
He told his team at the break to keep up the intensity against North Dakota and keep running in the second half.
“I think they wore down in the second half,” he said of the Fighting Hawks.
In the final period, North Dakota stayed within seven points of Idaho through the first 6 minutes. But the Fighting Hawks could get no closer, and the Vandals relentlessly pulled away through the remainder of the period.
The Vandals also dominated on the boards. They outrebounded North Dakota 38-20 and held a 14-4 advantage on offensive rebounds. Blake led everyone with 12 rebounds, including four on the offensive glass. On at least half of his rebounds, Blake was in such good position he was practically able to grab the ball uncontested.
Callandret and Nate Sherwood each grabbed three offensive boards.
“B.J. and Nate were extremely active. We did a good job attacking the glass,” Verlin said. “When we outrebound someone, usually we win.”
Blake backed Sanders with 24 points, and Sherwood added 13.
Verlin was heartened by Sherwood’s stat line.
“We need another post scorer,” he said. “The emphasis was to get him the ball. The emphasis for him was to get more aggressive.”
As they did in the loss to Northern Colorado, the Vandals were stung early by the opponent’s perimeter shooting. Dale Jones led North Dakota with 24 points, including a team-leading eight in the first half. Connor Avants contributed seven in opening period but was held scoreless the rest of the way.
Idaho took its first lead with just more than 2 minutes to play in the first half and never gave up the advantage.
“We started slow. There’s no denying it,” Sherwood said. “But we stuck to the game plan.”
The Vandals improved to 14-7, 6-3 in the Big Sky Conference. North Dakota fell to 7-14, 2-7.
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