POCATELLO, ID. — The 2016-17 season hasn’t been too kind to the Idaho State Bengals, especially after how they fared a season ago.
The arrival of guard Ethan Telfair last year changed the fortunes for the Bengals, and they vaulted up into fourth spot in the Big Sky standings. Entering this year, the Bengals were a trendy pick in the race for the Big Sky crown, but they have been unable to build off the momentum they created last season.
On Thursday night, Idaho State welcomed the North Dakota Fighting Hawks to town. A win over North Dakota would give the Bengals a big boost of momentum heading into the conference in just a couple of weeks.
While the Bengals would hold a slim lead early on, the Fighting Hawks would pull away as the opening half ticked away. After taking a seven-point lead into the break, North Dakota wouldn’t trail in the second half.
Four starters scored in double figures on the night, and North Dakota pulled away in the second half for the 77-61 victory over Idaho State on Thursday night.
A dunk by Novak Topalovic just over a minute into the game drew first blood for the Bengals. On the next possession, Quinton Hooker hit a three point jumper to get the visitors on the board, and we were off and running.
Back and forth the teams would go over the first ten-plus minutes of the contest. Idaho State would take an 18-16 lead with just over eight minutes to play in the half, thanks to a pair of free throws from Topalovic.
North Dakota would tie the game up shortly thereafter on a layup from Hooker, and the Fighting Hawks wouldn’t trail the rest of the night.
Hooker’s layup started a quick 7-0 run for North Dakota, capped off by a Corey Baldwin three pointer, and North Dakota moved ahead by five. Their lead reached as many as 11 points in the opening half, and North Dakota took a 40-33 lead into the break.
Idaho State opened the second half by scoring the first four points, and a three from Geno Luzcando cut the deficit down to three points, at 40-37. The Bengals would cut the lead down to three on two more occasions in the half, but they would never get any closer.
The Fighting Hawks would extend their lead as the second half moved along. A jumper from Cortez Seales at the 8:17 mark of the half gave North Dakota an 18-point lead, their biggest of the game.
A dunk from Drick Bernstine with two minutes to play in the game restored the Fighting Hawks’ 18-point lead, and they went on to claim the 77-61 win over Idaho State.
Four starters scored in double-figures for the Fighting Hawks. Geno Crandall and Corey Baldwin each scored 18 points to lead the way.
Crandall also added 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals in the victory.
In his 100th start for North Dakota, Quinton Hooker scored 13 points and added 3 assists.
Guard Brandon Boyd led the way for the Bengals, scoring a game-high 19 points in the loss. Novak Topalovic added 12 points and 6 rebounds.
Ethan Telfiar struggled on Thursday, going just 3-of-13 from the field, finishing the night with 11 points.
With the win, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks (16-8, 11-3) remain a half-game behind the conference-leading Weber State Wildcats. They continue their three-game road swing on Saturday in a battle for first place against Weber State.
The loss was the third straight defeat for the Idaho State Bengals (5-20, 3-10). They will look to end their slide on Saturday, when they play host to the Northern Colorado Bears.
– T. Bennett