From the friendly confines of historic Memorial Gym on the campus of the University of Idaho, the Vandal men extended their season record to 4-1 on the young season with a dominant victory over Eastern Washington University. The Vandals dominated the boards (40-23), scoring in the paint (30-10), and STEFFAN JOHNSON's 6-of-7 shooting from 3-point land was the third best effort all-time at Idaho.
They dominated play in the paint. They held a 40-23 edge in rebounds. They hit 67% of their three-point shots (8 of 12), 73% of their free throws, and 54% from the field (after sinking 16 of 24 in the first half). Put it all together in front of a capacity crowd of 1500 in Memorial Gym and you have the Idaho Vandals racking up a wire-to-wire 76-54 win over the Eastern Washington Eagles and improving to 4-1 on the season.
Last year in Cheney the Eagles ran out to a 41-23 halftime edge and posted a 69-59 win. In that game the Vandals came back hard in the second half to make it competitive, marking a turning point in the season. Since that game Idaho has gone 18-14 including Saturday night’s win. This year the Eagles came in with what, at first glance, appeared to be a so-so 2-3 record. Two of the three losses came on the road against upcoming Vandal opponents Portland (64-58) and Washington State (67-61) before the Eagles absorbed an 82-69 loss at home against BSU, their fifth game in 11 days.
“This is a solid win,” Vandal coach Don Verlin said after the game. “They played Boise pretty good, they played Portland pretty good. They’re a good, solid ball club and Kirk (EWU coach Earlywine) does a good job.”
Verlin always wants to see his teams play good defense and do an effective job rebounding. Saturday the Vandals dialed up the defensive intensity and held the Eagles to 36% from the floor. Rebounding was even more dynamic as Idaho held a 40-23 edge on the glass…yet the top rebounder for the Vandals had only seven (Kyle Barone). Guards Mac Hopson and Kashif Watson had five each. Forward Luis Toledo had five. Three others had three.
“I think that’s as dominating a performance as we’ve had inside…since I’ve been here,” Verlin said. “We’ve got a few more bodies this year, but I thought it was as good a performance inside by all four guys as it has ever been since I’ve been here. We rebounded as a team tonight. It’s amazing to get 40 rebounds and Barone leads us with seven. Kyle’s a good rebounder, and I’m real happy with his play. He’s a good freshman, but everybody rebounded it and I thought we did a good job in that area, and that’s an area that has been concerning to me; so I’m happy that we were able to take care of that area tonight.
“When you defend and rebound you’ve got a chance to win every night out, and that’s what we need to do and we did it tonight,” the coach added. Besides outrebounding the Eagles, Idaho held a 30-10 scoring edge in the paint, blocked seven shots, and got 10 second chance points leading by as many as 31 points midway through the second half.
Steffan Johnson was lights out from behind the arc hitting 6 of 7, placing him third in the annals of Vandal single-game three-point shooting accuracy at .857. It also tied nine other Vandals for third place in most three-pointers in a single game. He led all scorers with 18 points. Toledo and Marvin Jefferson had 10 points each, Hopson 9, Kashif Watson 8, Marcus Lawrence 7, Barone, Corey Stern and Shawn Ledbetter four each.
Idaho is now 4-1 on the season, their best start since the 1998-99 team also went 4-1 on their way to a 25-6 season record and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a heck of a win tonight. There were portions of this game we dominated them I thought. I thought we were really good defensively. I thought we rebounded the ball well. I thought we got out in transition in the first half. I thought we played pretty well for a long period of time there and just got a little sloppy at the end,” Verlin summarized. However, he was also quick to point out to his team that they are about to embark on a challenging three-game stretch with only one of the games at home.
“It’s on now,” he said. “We’ve got Northridge, an NCAA tournament team, on the road. We’ve got a team that’s knocking off top 25 teams left-and-right in Portland in our own building on Dec. 6 and then we’ve got Washington State (in Pullman). I told (the team) if you enjoy playing and you enjoy being competitive, the next three games are all we want.”