With a minute and change gone in the second half of Idaho’s home contest against Eastern Washington tonight, Steffan Johnson grabbed a feed from Mac Hopson at the top of the key and buried his fourth three-pointer of the game to put the Vandals up by 25.
Twenty seconds and a Marvin Jefferson block later, it was an instant replay. Hopson dished off to Johnson in the wing and as his shot arced through the air, the 1,500 fans in Memorial Gym came to their feet even before it swished through the net. They knew it would be good — every one before had been.
On the strength of seven straight 3-point makes and a stifling defensive effort, the homestanding Vandals blew out Eastern Washington, 76-54, to go 4-1 on the young season — Idaho’s best start since 1988. EWU fell to 2-4.
“This was a heck of a win,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We dominated them. We rebounded the ball well, got out in transition and held (the Eagles) to 36 percent shooting. That’s just good execution all around.”
The Vandals made eight of 12 3-point attempts, the third-best team performance from downtown in Idaho history, and Johnson’s 6-for-7 shooting outside was the third-best by a single player. Hopson and Marcus Lawrence also got in on the action from long range, shredding the Eagles’ man-to-man defense. Overall, Idaho shot 54.2 percent on the night — and 66.7 percent in the first half. Idaho leads the WAC in both shooting categories — hitting .489 from the field and .446 from downtown.
Both teams started slowly, and an early trey from the Eagles’ Kevin Winford meant Idaho led by just a single point three minutes into the game — 4-3. But the Vandals would score eight consecutive points and go on a 32-12 run in the next 10 minutes of the half, anchored by big inside buckets from Jefferson and Luiz Toledo. The Eagles would not threaten again, and Idaho would build a 31-point lead midway through the second half before calling off the dogs.
Johnson led all players with 18 points on 6-7 shooting from 3-point range, along with 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. He was joined in double figures by Toledo’s 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and ten more from Jefferson, who was 4-for-8 from the field. Hopson, the other half of Idaho’s 1-2 backcourt punch, was 4-of-5 from the field for 9 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and dished up a team-high 4 assists.
“I was just feeling it tonight,” Johnson said. “When we’re shooting like that, it helps us in so many ways. They had to open up their defense, give space to our big guys inside and it’s a huge mental boost, too. When you hit like that, the bench gets into it, the crowd was really going — you start thinking you’re never going to miss.”