ISU MBB: Bengals open home slate Thursday vs. Pacific
POCATELLO — Idaho State’s week that started with disappointment ended in triumph.
ISU (1-1) opened its season Nov. 6 with a historic 120-79 loss at No. 3 Gonzaga, before rallying from an 18-point deficit to beat Boise State on a pair of last-second free throws Saturday in Boise.
Gonzaga’s 120 points are the most scored by an ISU opponent since the 1960s, and tie for the third-most points allowed by the Bengals in program history.
But ISU’s comeback victory against the Broncos snapped a six-game losing streak against BSU, and gave the Bengals a signature win early in the 2018-19 campaign.
Fox Sports college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb coined ISU’s up-and-down start as the “craziest week for a college hoop team.”
“We’re pretty resilient,” ISU coach Bill Evans said Monday. “We played a real good Gonzaga team, and I think we competed really hard. … Even though they got us pretty good, we came back to practice, worked really hard, go to Boise, we’re down 18 in the second half, and we kind of just hung in there, hung around, started playing a little bit better as time went on and ended up winning a really close game.”
LAST TIME OUT
Idaho State shot 12 of 25 from 3-point range (48 percent), including 8 for 12 in the second half, en route to a 72-70, come-from-behind win at Boise State.
The Bengals overcame being out-rebounded (39-36) and losing the turnover battle (12-9), as well as a 37.9 percent shooting clip from the field thanks to timely outside shooting.
ISU made five consecutive second-half 3s to trim BSU’s lead from 55-37 to 61-56, and made 3 of 6 after that to get within 70-69. Boise State shot 27.6 percent from the floor in the second half, and missed six of its final seven shots over the final 3 minutes, 54 seconds of the game.
The Broncos also went 12 for 23 from the free-throw line. Their final two tries from the stripe were misses with 47 seconds to play and the scored tied 70-70.
Jared Stutzman and Chier Maker each scored 16 points to lead ISU, and each went 4 for 8 from downtown. Chidi Udengwu made two free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining to give ISU the two-point win.
ISU SUCCEEDING AT FREE-THROW, 3-POINT STRIPES
Through Monday’s Division I games, ISU ranked 36th in Division I in free-throw percentage (78.1) and 51st in 3-point shooting (41.9 percent). Both marks were good for third in the Big Sky Conference through Monday.
Stutzman and Maker are a combined 11 of 23 from the arc (47.8 percent), and seven players have connected from deep this season.
ISU had no trouble scoring the ball from outside last season, setting single-season school records with 252 3-pointers made and a 3-point percentage of 39.6. The Bengals added to their list of deep threats with Maker, who scored 153 of his 322 points last season from the 3-point line, when he played at Palm Beach State College.
ISU has scored 54 of its 151 points this season from 3.
“I think the game is changing, and I think the 3-point line is a big deal,” Evans said. “So when you can make baskets from behind the arc, I think that’s a bonus. I believe in shooters.”
Idaho State’s free-throw line turnaround is much-needed, after the team finished last in the Big Sky and 294th out of 351 Division I teams with a 67.8 success rate from the line a season ago.
ISU made 16 of 19 freebies against Boise State, after going 9 of 13 against Gonzaga.
SMELLIE FINDING ROLE AFTER 2-YEAR DELAYED START TO CAREER
ISU freshman Austin Smellie is earning immediate playing time despite taking two years off from everyday basketball during his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Smellie, who in 2016 helped Preston High win the 4A state title and was named the 4A All-Idaho Player of the Year, has logged 32 minutes through ISU’s first two games.
An all-around force in high school, Smellie is being asked to facilitate in his first year as a Bengal. The 6-foot-5 guard has five points on 2-of-3 shooting, with three assists, one steal and one turnover. His three assists tie for third-most on the team.
“He’s mature. He knows who he is,” Evans said of Smellie. “He knows what I want. What he is this year and what he will be in two years probably will be a lot different. But right now, he’s fulfilling the role that we need him to play.”
JONES MAKING IMPACT AS NEW MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Odessa College transfer Kelvin Jones hasn’t seen the floor much this season, but he’s a focal point of the offense when he’s playing.
Jones leads the team with 0.52 field-goal attempts per minute played, which has led to 15 points in 23 minutes. The 6-foot-11, 230-pound center is ISU’s top scoring option down low, helping round out the Bengals’ guard-heavy lineup of shooters.
But foul trouble has limited Jones’ minutes. He has fouled out of both games this season, and only logged 10 minutes before picking up five fouls at Boise State.
ISU opens its home season Thursday against Pacific (2-1) at Reed Gym.
The Tigers played their home opener Tuesday, a 91-66 win against Division II Stanislaus State, but play four of their first five games on the road this season.
Pacific was picked to finish sixth out of 10 teams in the West Coast Conference preseason coaches poll and looks to have its first winning season since 2013-14.
Pacific is currently under NCAA probation for academic and recruiting violations committed under former head coach Ron Verlin — twin brother of Idaho Vandals coach Don Verlin. The program was also slapped with recruiting and scholarship reductions, making it an uphill climb for third-year head coach and former NBA Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire.
Pacific has also played Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Nevada this season. Athony Townes is one of four players averaging double-digit points per game with a team-best 14.3.
“Coach Stoudamire and Pacific have a really good team,” Evans said. “They’re tough. They’re good defensively. They probably take after their coach, who was a terrific player and a friend of mine that I have a lot of respect for.”
GAME INFO AND SERIES HISTORY
Live video of Thursday’s game will be streamed online at watchbigsky.com and Pluto TV. The game will be broadcast on the radio at 102.5 FM, and live stats can be accessed at statbroadcast.com. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.
ISU and Pacific have split 10 all-time meetings. The teams last played in 2014 in Pocatello, and the Bengals have not defeated the Tigers since the 1996-97 campaign.