Even with a pair of their best scorers sent to the bench with four fouls, the Idaho Vandals managed to pull away in the final 10 minutes of Thursday night’s game against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
Combining for 19 of the team’s 41 points through the first 30 minutes, Victor Sanders and Arkadiy Mkrtychyan committed their fourth fouls just seconds apart and hit the bench with 10:24 left. The Vandals (21-8, 13-4 Big Sky) proceeded to roll to a 14-0 run as the Lumberjacks missed 12 straight shots from the field, leading to a 66-52 final in Moscow.
The scoreless run for Northern Arizona (5-25, 2-15) lasted 5:06, while the Lumberjacks also went nearly nine minutes between field goals. Both Mkrtychyan and Sanders re-entered the game during Idaho’s run, with each committing their fifth foul just seconds after returning to the game.
However, their absences mattered little in the final result, as Brayon Blake carved up the Lumberjacks just as he did in mid January in Flagstaff. Blake scored nine points on what ended up as a 26-2 run between Northern Arizona’s field goals.
Blake finished with 25 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting, and the senior was just as effective in Thursday’s game. Blake led all scorers with 22 points and added 14 rebounds in 34 minutes, hitting 7 of 14 from the field and 7 of 9 from the free-throw line.
Northern Arizona finished 28.8 percent from the field, as a 2-of-17 finish to the game mirrored its poor start. Prior to the ice-cold shooting stretch, Northern Arizona led 34-30 with 14:38 left and trailed 39-38 with 12:08 remaining.
Despite missing their first 10 shots of the half and shooting 7.6 percent from the field in the opening seven minutes, the Lumberjacks led going into halftime thanks to JoJo Anderson.
Scoring all nine of his first-half points in the final 2:34 before the break, Anderson connected on six straight free throws to tie the game at 20-20 with 1:37 on the clock. Coming off the bench in the game, Anderson missed his first four shots from the field before drawing a foul on Nate Sherwood and two on Trevon Allen.
Idaho answered Anderson’s 6-0 run with a pair of free throws by Blake and a layup from Mkrtychyan before Northern Arizona scored five points in the half’s final 12 seconds. Brooks DeBisschop found Isaiah Thomas under the basket for a layup with 12 on the clock, leading Chad Sherwood to sprint down the floor looking for a basket to end the half.
However, Sherwood missed his layup and the ball fell into the hands of DeBisschop, who looked ahead and found an open Anderson. Taking a quick dribble before heaving the ball at the basket, Anderson connected on the shot and gave the Lumberjacks their first lead of the game, 25-24, going into the locker room.
Both teams struggled from the field in the first half, combining to hit 18 of 59 including 2 of 16 from 3-point range, with the two makes starting and ending the half. While Northern Arizona’s cold shooting to start the night kept its scoring low, Idaho never took a lead of more than seven points, allowing the Lumberjacks to constantly remain within striking distance.
Idaho hit 12 of 26 from the field in the second half, leading to a 38.9 percent finish while Northern Arizona’s two halves ended nearly identical. Anderson finished with 11 points, scoring his lone second-half points early on, while Torry Johnson added 11 points, four coming at the free-throw line in the final 2:15 with the game decided.
Two fouls on Sanders sent Idaho’s leading scorer to the bench just five minutes into the game; however, the senior still played 15 minutes in the opening half. He ended his day with 12 points in 24 minutes, scoring nine of Idaho’s first 13 points in the second half.