Idaho State men’s basketball tied its longest winning streak of the season Saturday night at Reed Gym, suffocating the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, 94-68, as the Bengals held the Thunderbirds to 30.4 percent from the field and forced 18 turnovers, leading to 31 transition points.
Idaho State’s (6-17, 3-7 BSC) 30.4 percent is a season-low for opponent field goal percentage while the 94 points scored, 15 made threes and 63.6 three-point percentage are all season-highs.
“Tonight, we played an outstanding game,” said senior guard Ethan Telfair. “I can’t find a flaw in our game.”
Telfair scored a game-high 21 points on eight assists and with eight rebounds. Balint Mocsan, who made his sixth start of the season, scored 15 while Robert Jones’ III 14 and Novak Topalovic’s 13 made Geno Luzcando, who ended the night with nine, the only ISU starter not in double figures. Brandon Boyd chipped in 16 off of the bench.
“I didn’t know I was that close to a triple-double,” Telfair said. “I thought I only had one or two assists. I don’t think about that stuff.”
The new starting lineup was the 13th starting line combination head coach Bill Evans has used this season. The only other school in the nation to use more is Evansville, which has used 18 combinations. Chicago State and Bradley have both used 13 combinations this season as well.
“We played well defensively,” Evans said. “That’s the best defensive game we’ve played all year,”
Coming into tonight’s game, Southern Utah (4-20, 2-9 BSC) was averaging 77.5 point per game, good for fifth in the Big Sky. The Bengal defense held the Thunderbirds to 14 points in the paint and limited the conference’s third leading scorer, Randy Onwuasor to four made field goals off of 15 shots.
The Thunderbirds shot 28 threes on 56 shot attempts, meaning half of Southern Utah’s shot attempts came from behind the arc.
“They had a hard time drive it,” Evans said. “When you make people shoot 28-footers with a hand in their face, that’s pretty good.”
Southern Utah went over 7:30 without a made field goal in the first half while ISU scampered out 23-5 run over 10:29 of play. During that stretch, the Thunderbirds missed 13 consecutive field goals while ISU added another 9-0 run over 2:03 of play towards the end of the half.
The Thunderbirds hit two other cold spells in the second half, going 2-of-13 and 2-of-16 from the field during two stretches with their last field goal coming with 4:46 left to play.
“I thought we came out with some tenacious defense,” Telfair said. “Lately we’ve been turning the ball over a lot more. That takes away shot from us. We played really hard from start to finish.”
The overpowering defense lead to transition offense and combined precise ball movement lead to easy buckets.
“I think the key was the ball movement,” Mocsan said. “We had a lot of transition baskets because we defended them well.”
The Bengals have turned the ball over 11 times in the last three halves of basketball while dishing out 22 assists over that same time frame.
Coming into the night, ISU was averaging 10.6 assists and 14.1 turnovers per game.
“We shouldn’t turn the ball over, we have four guards on the floor,” Evans said. “We’re too skilled for that.”
ISU opened the second half on an 8-0 run with its first four buckets coming from assists and going 8-of-11 from the field.
“Coach has been trying to speak to me about being more of a point guard,” Telfair said. “Tonight, I sucked the defense in and got my teammates the easiest shot I could. Pass up a good shot for a great one.”
The Bengals have now broken their season-high in points in the last two games.
“This is the best we played at home,” Telfair said. “I’m still trying to convince my team that we can still win a championship in Reno. Even though we started like ass, March is what really matters.”
ISU is now unbeaten when Telfair takes 15 or fewer shots and according to its coach, this is a key to victory. Telfair was 5-of-14 from the field Saturday night.
“When he shoots, 21, 22, 23, we don’t win those games,” Evans said.
The Bengals will travel to Sacramento and Portland State next week.
“It’s a progress,” Mocsan said. “We aren’t at the top yet but I think we are going in a good way.”