Vandals victorious in home opener
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 11/24/2009
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MOSCOW - Balance was key yet again for the University of Idaho men's basketball team, as four Vandals scored in double digits and the Vandals held off Sacramento State for a 75-61 victory in their home opener on Tuesday.

Idaho (3-1) hit .444 from the floor on 24-of-54 shooting, while Sacramento State (3-3) hit a .358 clip on 24-of-67 shooting. Idaho was .368 from the 3-point line, while Sacramento State was .263 from long range.

Surprisingly, none of Idaho's double-digit scorers in the game were Mac Hopson or Steffan Johnson, a duo that combined to average 31.0 points entering the game. Sophomore Luiz Toledo led Idaho with 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting, while seniors Kashif Watson and Marvin Jefferson added 12 each and Luciano de Souza hit 3-of-4 from long range and scored 11.

"I think that's one thing you'll see with this team," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "This basketball team is deep - we've got a number of weapons and a number of guys who can score the basketball for us."

Hopson and Johnson weren't absent from the box score by any means, however. Hopson dished out eight assists, grabbed seven rebounds, scored six points, grabbed two steals and blocked one shot. Johnson scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and had four assists.

Idaho even saw great balance on the boards. The Vandals out-rebounded the Hornets by a 42-38 margin and six Idaho players have five or more rebounds, led by Hopson and Watson with seven apiece.

The telling statistic came from the free throw line, where Idaho made 31 trips and converted them into 20 points, compared to just eight points on eight trips for Sacramento State. The Hornets earned just two free throw attempts in the second half. Idaho was whistled for just 12 fouls and Sacramento State committed 24.

"I thought we did a good job of attacking the basket and making them foul us," Verlin said. "Maybe we weren't quite as aggressive as we should have been defensively, but we did do a good job of not fouling them. They are a very good free throw shooting team, so obviously that contributed to the win tonight."

Verlin said he wasn't as happy with the team's second-half performance as he was with its first half of play. Idaho had 12 assists and three turnovers, shot .519 from the field and hit 12 of their 14 free throws in the first, but followed it up in the second with 10 turnovers and five assists, .370 shooting and nine missed free throws.

"I thought we executed poorly, especially in the second half from an offensive standpoint," Verlin said. "I thought we were sloppy with the ball, I thought we did a poor job running our offense and I think we did a poor job of recognizing when we had numbers on the break and making a solid play to score the basket.

"It's the fourth game and I've got to figure out combinations and they've got to learn to concentrate for a longer period of time, but we're 3-1 right now and we're off to a good start, we've just got to clean up a few things for Saturday's game."

Idaho started things out with a bang, as Jefferson slammed a dunk with a foul and free throw on the game's opening possession. After a Sac State miss, Johnson coolly knocked down a triple to put Idaho up 6-0. After a Hornet basket, Johnson came right back down and hit another 3-pointer to put Idaho up 9-2. The Vandal defense forced a shot-clock violation on the next possession, then went up 11-2 on a Jefferson put-back.

Sacramento State would battle back to 13-10 at the 14:39 mark, but, as was the trend all night long, Idaho answered with a run of its own and scored the next eight points to go back up 21-10 two minutes later. The first half was a see-saw of runs, as Sacramento State would get back within five or six, then Idaho would stretch it back to double digits.

The Vandals eventually stretched their lead to 14 at the 3:10 mark of the first half on a Toledo dunk to make the score 41-27. The Vandals would settle for a 45-34 halftime lead.

The second half started out almost exactly like the first, as Jefferson opened the second stanza with a slam on Idaho's first possession. Once again, every time Sacramento State threatened, Idaho came right back. The Hornets scored four points to get within seven at 51-44 at the 17:19 mark, but Idaho scored the next three to go back up 10.

When Sacramento State got back within six points at 54-48, Idaho knocked down seven in a row to go back up 61-48 with 12:51 remaining. Idaho held Sacramento State scoreless for four minutes, 12 seconds from 15:05 to 10:53. The Hornets broke the slump with back-to-back buckets to get the score to 61-52 at the 10:34 mark, but again, Idaho responded with five points of its own.

Idaho extended its lead to as many as 14 points three times over the remaining 10 minutes, which featured 20 missed shots and six makes between the two teams. Sacramento State made just one field goal in the final 6:36 of the game.

With a chance to finally sleep in their own beds between games, Idaho will host the Eastern Washington Eagles, which lost 82-69 against Boise State on Tuesday, at Memorial Gym on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. (PST).

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