Vandals top Sacramento State, 75-61

Tuesday night the University of Idaho men's basketball team took control of the home opening tipoff in Memorial Gym and never trailed against Sacramento State, posting a commanding 75-61 victory. The Hornets came into the game with a 3-2 record and a victory over Oregon State under their belts, but the Vandals were too much for the visitors and improved to 3-1 on the season.

The Vandal men opened the 2009-10 home season with a lightning-quick blitz controlling the opening tap and scoring 11 seconds later on a lob pass from Kashif Watson to Marvin Jefferson who threw down a monster slam, drew the foul, and converted the free throw. Eight seconds later Luiz Toledo grabbed a defensive rebound. Nine seconds after that Mac Hopson fired a pass to the top of the circle for Steffan Johnson who hit nothing but net from outside the 3-point arc to make it 6-0 Idaho. Summary: 28 seconds, six points, and all five Idaho starters were on the stat sheet with either a field goal, a rebound or an assist.

The Vandals never let visiting Sacramento State get closer than six points the rest of the game and posted a 75-61 win Tuesday night in Memorial Gym to improve to 3-1 on the season. However, the visiting Hornets did not exactly fold up their tents and give up either. The Vandals never led by less than six, but also never led by more than 14 points on the night. Every time Sacramento mounted a threat the Vandals stepped on the gas and pulled away. Sacramento is now 3-3 on the season, including a 65-63 win over Oregon State at Corvallis Saturday night. The Hornets led the Beavers by 22 at the half.

As expected after an early season game with a young team, Vandal coach Don Verlin saw some good things but also compiled a list of things to address before Idaho hosts Eastern Washington Saturday night.

On the plus side Idaho put four players in double figures, led by Toledo with 15, Jefferson and Watson with 12 each, and Luciano de Souza with 11 points. Johnson finished with 9 points, 4 assists and a steal and Hopson had 6 points, 8 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot. Idaho also held a 42-38 rebounding edge led by Watson and Hopson with seven each, and Johnson, Toledo, Jefferson and Kyle Barone with five each. All 11 Vandals who saw action grabbed at least one rebound.

"I thought we played pretty hard," Verlin said. "I have pretty high standards for this team. Defensively our defensive field goal percentage was very good from the 2 and the 3; so defensively we're getting better and I'm pleased with that." The Vandals limited the Hornets to 36% from the field and 26% on three-point shots.

The coach was also pleased with the Vandals in the paint. "Inside play was good," he said. "When we got the ball inside we scored. I think our post guys missed four shots all night. I thought (Luiz) Toledo was a big factor early in the game as well as Marv (Jefferson) with his size, and Luciano (de Souza) came up and made some shots early and so did Kyle (Barone). I thought inside we were pretty solid tonight on the offensive end."

The fact that four players besides talented guards Hopson and Johnson scored in double digits also pleased Verlin who commented, "I think that's one thing you'll see with this team. This basketball team is deep. We've got a number of weapons. A number of guys can score the basketball for us. It's not just Stef and Mac."

On the other side of the ledger, Verlin was disappointed to see the Vandals seemingly lose focus in the second half. After shooting 52% from the field, 42% from three-point range and 86% (12 of 14) from the free-throw line in the first half, the Vandal shooting tailed off in the final 20 minutes. "I thought we executed poorly especially in the second half from an offensive standpoint," Verlin said. "We turned it over 10 times and shot 37%, 28% and 47%. We have to play better than that. We have to execute better than that. I thought we were sloppy with the ball. I thought we did a poor job running our offense.

"On matchups they gave us problems…They're a little bit awkward to play. Early in the first half they kept spreading us out and they hit a couple of three pointers, (but) in the second half I thought we just got a little unsolid, and when we got unsolid they were able to drive the basket a little bit, and then that broke down our rebounding."

Idaho did finish shooting 44% from the floor, 37% from three-point range and 65% from the line. In another important area the Vandals finished with 17 assists and only 13 turnovers, although in the first half the margin was much greater, 12 assists and only 3 turnovers.

Verlin, however, was not all that displeased with the win. "This team is young. It's early in the season. It's the fourth game. I've got to figure out combinations and they've got to learn to concentrate for a little longer period of time, but we're 3-1 right now. We're off to a good start. We've got to clean a few things up for Saturday's game, obviously."

The Vandals will host Eastern Washington at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Gym. The Eagles lost at home Tuesday to BSU 82-69. The first 500 fans in attendance will receive a free 2009-10 Vandal Men's Basketball key chain.

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