POCATELLO – Idaho State coach Seton Sobolewski went down the line, informing his players what their individual records were against North Dakota over their career.
None of them were good. Sobolewski’s own record was 3-8.
After Thursday, it’s 4-8. The Bengals avenged their past defeats using suffocating defense to beat the Fighting Hawks 57-46 at Reed Gym. North Dakota (8-8, 1-4 Big Sky Conference) was held to a season-low 23.6 shooting percentage, tallied a 3-16 assist-to-turnover ratio and had no players reach double digits in points.
“We kind of went through practice and acknowledged that they’ve been kicking our butt for a long time,” Sobolewski said. “We kind of were able to use that for a little added motivation for this game, but they didn’t go away and made it interesting and tough for us.”
After seven lead changes in the first half, the Bengals (10-5, 2-2 Big Sky) were ahead for the entire second half. Bengals went up 26-24 at the end of the second quarter for the last lead change after guard Saylair Grandon floated a pass over North Dakota’s zone defense to Grace Kenyon, who caught the ball in midair at the rim and put it in.
The Bengals staked their claim inside the paint, outscoring the Fighting Hawks 32-8 around the rim. ISU guard Brooke Blair, who had the top 3-point percentage in Division I entering Thursday’s game, went 0 of 5 from beyond the arc, but it did not matter because she barreled her way to the hoop for layups to go 6 of 9 from 2-point range and scored a game-high 21 points.
“I just felt like the drive was open and I just took it,” Blair said. “I can’t shoot good every game and they weren’t going in, so I was taking the drive instead.”
After Idaho State lost its first two conference games of the season, the Bengals have won two in a row to move to .500. While each of the teams they beat are in the bottom third of the league standings, North Dakota was predicted to finish second by the coaches and media in the preaseason poll and was rated fifth in the Big Sky in the Sagarin Ratings entering the night.
As Sobolewski and the Bengals know, it is never easy to beat the Fighting Hawks, who had beaten Idaho State in four of the teams’ last five meetings. The Bengals’ four defeats were all decided by fewer than eight points. The Bengals did not allow the latest edition of the game to be that close. The 10th-best free-throw shooting team in the Big Sky made its last 11 free throws of the game. On the other end, no easy shots were available for North Dakota, which was 6 of 35 inside the arc for a 17 shooting percentage.
“I don’t think there was anything too complicated about it,” Sobolewski said. “We were prepared. We really worked hard together and tried to identify who on their team can do what and just try to make it happen.”
The Bengals do not have time to enjoy the rare victory over North Dakota, with a home game Saturday against first-place Northern Colorado, which is ranked No. 14 in the collegeinsider.com Mid-Major poll.
“Northern Colorado is really good,” Sobolewski said. “They challenge themselves and they’re tough. Everyone can dribble, pass and shoot.”
Tapasa back from injury
Idaho State sophomore Sai Tapasa returned to the court Thursday against North Dakota after sitting out two games due to an undisclosed injury.
The 6-foot-2 forward, a needed big body against the physical Fighting Hawks, compiled seven rebounds and nine points on 3-of-5 shooting, including a crucial baseline jumper to put her team up 47-40 with about two minutes left in the game.
“It felt really good to be back, actually,” Tapasa said. “It felt weird to finally be able to play again, be back with my team, but I loved every second of it.”