The Portland Pilots, the No. 25 team in the country, came to Moscow tonight for Idaho’s first-ever home showdown with a nationally-ranked non-conference opponent — and were promptly blown right back out the doors of historic Memorial Gym.
To the thundering cheers of a sellout crowd in the venerable home of Idaho basketball, the Vandals made history by destroying #25 Portland, 68-48, for Idaho’s first victory over a nationally-ranked team since 1982.
Idaho improved to 5-2, the team’s best start since the 1989-90 season, while the Pilots fell to 5-3.
The victory came in an unorthodox — and for coach Don Verlin, heartening — way: with punishing lockdown defense. The Pilots, who came into this game as one of the nation’s top shooting teams, were comprehensively shut down, making just 19 of 59 shots from the field — an abysmal .322 performance.
“That’s as good defensively as we’ve played all year for that length of time,” Verlin said. “It’s a credit to our guys.”
The stat lines are stunning: guard T.J. Campbell, the Pilots’ leading scorer with 16.7 points on .554 shooting, was held to an awful 1-for-11 shooting for 3 points. Big man Robin Smeulders, a 63.3-percent shooter averaging 13.3 points, was just 1-for-6 with 2 points while turning the ball over 3 times. A team that came in shooting 42 percent from downtown made just 6 of 22 3-point attempts — 27.3 percent.
“We’re happy about this win because we did it on the defensive end and that’s where we were lacking,” Idaho point guard Mac Hopson said. “Coach said that’s what he wanted from us, was to shut them down, and we just listened this time. We stopped their top threats and got the W.”
Right from the opening tip-off, it was clear the Vandals wanted to establish dominance early. Idaho made its first three shots in a row — including a crowd-pleasing dunk by center Marvin Jefferson — while the Pilots missed their first six attempts from the floor.
The real damage was done midway through the first half. With 10 minutes to play in the opening period, a 4-0 run from the Pilots cut Idaho’s lead to 3 points, and the momentum seemed to be all on the visitors’ side. But reserve point guard Marcus Lawrence stepped up and canned a wide-open trey from the corner, and the rout was on.
Idaho would go on to score 10 more points in the next 5 minutes — while Portland combined to go 1-for-6 with 5 turnovers and a bench technical foul. Ethan Niedermeyer snapped the run with a 3-pointer, but Luciano de Souza ignited the gym by returning the favor from downtown. That would be the game’s theme — every time the Pilots looked to have something going, the Vandals struck back and reignited the crowd.