ISU MBB: ISU’s improvements across the board lead to blowout win

December 17, 2016 GMT

POCATELLO — Whatever the reason — resolving personal issues, playing in a more comfortable environment, a new face in the starting lineup, squaring off with an opponent from several rungs down the college basketball talent ladder — Idaho State finally looked like the team it expects to be.

The Bengals shot 46.3 percent from the floor, made 11 of 25 3-pointers, assisted on 16 of their 25 made field goals, won the rebounding battle, limited turnovers and played steady defense Friday in a 76-46 win against NAIA Montana Tech at Reed Gym. The win improved ISU (2-8) to 2-0 at home and should inject some confidence into a road-weathered squad with two nonconference games remaining before Big Sky Conference play and more than three weeks until its next home game.

“The team’s got good energy around us right now,” Bengals senior point guard Ethan Telfair said. “We’re trying to take the right step forward going into conference.”

Telfair and redshirt freshman backcourt mate Brandon Boyd dished three assists apiece and scored 13 and 15 points, respectively. Telfair, who has been openly disappointed in his team’s play this season and seemed to have lost his swagger that shined brightly in his debut season, admitted he’s in a better head space. Telfair was suspended for Idaho State’s final three games of the Cancun Challenge Thanksgiving week tournament.

“Forgiveness,” Telfair said. “It starts with me. The last couple of weeks, I had a whole bunch of things on my chest I probably should have let go earlier.”

Telfair and Boyd made life difficult for Montana Tech (6-5) by initiating fluid ball movement that created open shots within the Diggers’ trap defense. ISU’s guards rotated the ball into the post before driving and kicking out for open 3-pointers, leading to a 58.3 percent shooting effort in the first half.

Idaho State was patient and controlled with the ball, two aspects that have been glaring negatives for the Bengals this season.

“We got a lot of good shots,” Boyd said. “We threw the ball a lot into the post to Novak (Topalovic) and Geno (Luzcando), and when they doubled Novak or Geno we were doing a good job kicking the ball out.”

Junior Keshawn Liggins made his first start of the season Friday after making his season debut Dec. 10 against Bristol. Liggins was being redshirted this season until head coach Bill Evans decided his team needed a spark.

Liggins scored four points on 2-of-2 shooting Friday with four rebounds, two assists and one steal.

“Look at his stats,” Evans said. “How many negative things can you see there?”

Idaho State held the Diggers to 35.2 percent shooting with a 27.8 percent clip from the arc. Telfair was aggressive in the backcourt and swiped three steals to account for three of Montana Tech’s 14 turnovers. The Bengals scored 20 points off the Diggers’ giveaways.

“If I can pressure the ball and make the other guard uncomfortable, that’ll help us get more stops,” Telfair said.

ISU played one of three scheduled regular-season games at Reed Gym, where the team begins practice each season before moving to Holt Arena upon the conclusion of football season. Telfair said the team typically plays better at Reed.

“I feel like we always play well in Reed,” Telfair said. “We’ve been working out in Reed since August.”

Hayes Garrity scored 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and Stephen Lennox added nine points and three rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. Topalovic (2 of 5), Telfair (4 of 11), Robert Jones (1 of 4) and Clark Wilkinson (0 of 1) were ISU’s lone players who shot under 50 percent from the field.

The Bengals’ shooting dipped to 36.7 percent in the second half, but ISU shot 18 free throws to Montana Tech’s three. Boyd was a game-best 6 for 6 from the line.

Idaho State plays its final two nonconference games Sunday at Boise State and Tuesday at BYU. The team’s next home game is Jan. 7 against Weber State at Holt Arena.