BOISE – Trevon Allen did everything he could to extend his brilliant Idaho career.
The former Clarkston High star scored a career-high 35 points in the first round of the Big Sky Conference Tournament on Wednesday, giving the 10th-seeded Vandals a chance.
But No. 7 seed Southern Utah, which handled Idaho by margins of 32 and 28 points during the regular season, pulled away down the stretch in a 75-69 win at CenturyLink Arena.
The Thunderbirds (17-15) advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal round against No. 2 seed Northern Colorado (22-9).
Idaho, a program that experienced a mass exodus last summer after the firing of head coach Don Verlin, finished the season 8-24.
The Vandals lost their third consecutive first-round tournament game, but it gave transfer-heavy Southern Utah some fits and put themselves in position for an upset.
Allen, a senior guard, hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 69 with 2:18 left, but Southern Utah’s defense buckled down and the Thunderbirds scored the game’s final six points
Allen, the two-time All-Big Sky selection, ended his career with three consecutive 30-point games.
“As the buzzer went off, I tried to soak in the end, for sure,” said Allen, who grew up in Lapwai, Idaho. “I played in the state of Idaho, coming from Idaho, going to the University of Idaho, finishing in Idaho. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Ja’Vary Christmas’ big second half boosted the Vandals.
Christmas scored all 10 of his points in a 6-minute stretch, which included a putback dunk and a pair of 3-pointers, cutting Southern Utah’s lead to 56-54.
First-year Idaho coach Zac Claus, whose interim tag was removed last month, thought his team was much more physical with the Thunderbirds in their third matchup.
“We played a whole lot tougher. We had some want-to in us today,” said Claus, a former assistant under Verlin.
Dre Martin (19 points) and John Knight III (16) led the Thunderbirds.
EWU opens with Sacramento State
No. 9 seed Sacramento State downed eight-seeded Weber State 62-54 in the first round and will face No. 1 seed Eastern Washington in a Thursday quarterfinal.
EWU (23-8) downed the Hornets (16-14) twice during the regular season, a 59-44 win in Sacramento, California, and a 77-76 win in Cheney.
EWU, the outright Big Sky champion, had brief second-half deficits in both wins.
Idaho State upsets Northern Arizona
No. 11 seed Idaho State upset No. 6 seed Northern Arizona 64-62 in the first round, the Bengals’ first postseason win since 2009.
Idaho State (8-22) faces No. 3 seed Montana (18-13) in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
First-year head coach Ryan Looney, a Central Valley graduate, guides the Bengals.
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