On the strength of a balanced offensive attack that struck all over the court, the Idaho Vandals defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs tonight in Fresno, 71-68. The victory moves the Vandals to 14-14 overall, 7-7 in the Western Athletic Conference, solidifying Idaho’s bid for a top-half seed in the WAC Tournament. The Vandals have now recorded as many conference victories this season as they had in the team’s three previous years in the WAC.
Senior guard Trevor Morris shot the lights out from outside, going 5-6 from the floor and 4-5 from downtown to lead the Vandals with 14 points. Junior point guard Mac Hopson and junior center Marvin Jefferson both recorded double-doubles, and Luciano de Souza added another 11 points on 4-10 shooting, 3-9 from beyond the arc. Hopson scored 13 points, dished out 10 assists and pulled in 4 rebounds, while Jefferson racked up 13 points, 11 rebounds and made 3 huge blocks. Overall, the Vandals shot 52.9 percent from the floor, 42.1 percent from 3-point land.
The game’s outcome was never clear until the final seconds, as the Vandals twice squandered substantial leads and the Bulldogs’ star, Sylvester Seay, drained a number of big buckets that kept the Bulldogs in the game. Seay led all scorers with 23 points on 8-14 shooting, and was well-nigh unstoppable once he got the ball in the paint.
But the Vandals’ defense was able to neutralize Fresno State’s outside game, as the Bulldogs shot just 27.3 percent from beyond the arc, and neither team was able to take advantage of free-throw opportunities. For probably the first time this season the Vandals actually outshot their opponents at the line, but that’s not saying much — combined, the two teams were an abysmal 20-42 from the charity stripe.
Key to the Vandals’ turnaround was Jefferson’s inside play. He did wind up with four fouls, but the ones he was tagged with were smarter and more spread out. Big Jeff played 31 minutes and came away with a solid stat line. His 11 boards provided all of Idaho’s 9-rebound advantage over Fresno State, and he knocked down big inside buckets that no other Vandal can sink.
The lesson: we need Mac Hopson on the floor for the team to thrive, but we need Marvin Jefferson on the floor to just survive.
Combined with Hawaii’s loss to San Jose State, the Vandals are now guaranteed no worse than a 7th-place finish in the WAC. With Boise State falling to Louisiana Tech, Idaho is now just one-half game behind the Broncos for the 4th seed.