After a heartwrenching home loss to Nevada, the Idaho Vandals found solace tonight in an unlikely place: the unfriendly confines of Fresno State’s Save Mart Center.
On a tough Western Athletic Conference road trip, in a venue where the Bulldogs had lost just twice this year, the Vandals outshot and outhustled the home team en route to a 68-59 victory — sweeping Fresno State for the second consecutive season.
Idaho’s charge was led by a stellar night from Mac Hopson, who shot 8-for-11 from the floor and 2-for-3 from downtown for 20 points, while sharpshooter Luciano de Souza added 16 more, including four big treys. The win puts Idaho (12-12, 4-8 WAC) in the driver’s seat to secure a berth in the WAC Tournament next month.
“I’ve said this team is going to play some really good basketball at some point and we’re starting to get to where we should be,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “These guys have hung tough all year long and they’re getting better every game.”
The Vandals held a narrow lead most of the first half, but Fresno State (13-13, 6-6 WAC) took advantage of back-to-back turnovers to close the gap, and only a Shawn Henderson putback at the buzzer allowed Idaho to head into the locker room tied with the home team.
For the first ten minutes of the second half, both teams waged a fierce, back-and-forth battle, swapping the lead several times. Then, the Vandals missed three straight shots and Fresno State seized the lead on a Brandon Sperling layup with ten minutes to play. All the momentum seemed to be on the home team’s side.
But the Vandals would not be denied, as center Marvin Jefferson responded with a dunk-and-one to give Idaho the lead for good. That play sparked an 11-2 Vandal run which ultimately broke the game open. Jeff Ledbetter grabbed a steal on the next possession, dishing off to Jefferson for another dunk, Hopson canned a trey and Kyle Barone contributed another bucket-and-one.
The final straw for Fresno State came after Paul George canned a trey with six minutes remaining, cutting Idaho’s lead to just three. Seconds later, Steffan Johnson fired off a right-back-atcha 3-pointer that hit nothing but net, and the Vandals’ advantage would never be less than two possessions the rest of the way.