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Big Sky Notebook

February 6, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big Sky Notebook

by Nicholas Lozito

Young Bengals bring respect to Pocatello

Idaho State is for real.

After upsetting Eastern Washington, 88-86, in double overtime on Thursday and nipping Portland State, 58-57, on Saturday, the Bengals (11-8 overall, 4-2 in Big Sky) currently sit alone in third place in the big sky conference.

So, what has caused the turnaround in a team that tied for last in the conference a year ago and lost its star player in D’Marr Suggs to graduation? It’s been a group of new players that have given the Bengals the depth and poise they need to compete.

Point guard Marquise Poole, a JuCo transfer, is averaging 10 points and 4.5 assists (second in the conference) on the season, and scored 18 in Idaho State’s win over Eastern Washington on Thursday. Poole brings the ability to penetrate and distribute the ball to a loaded team. He is tall enough, 6-foot-2, to finish in the lane, and crafty enough to draw in defenders and then find open wing players. One of the junior’s favorite targets is David Schroeder, a freshman out of Salmon, Idaho who connects at a 41-percent clip from 3-point range.

The Bengals have also found a rebounding presence in Scott Henry, who, while undersized at the power forward position (6-foot-7, 200 pounds), averages 11.6 points and ranks second in the conference with 8.1 boards per game. Small forward Rashad Kirkland, who redshirted last season, provides the Bengals with a sparkplug off the bench.

But the new talent is not the backbone of this team. Small forward Jeremy Brown, who I’m sure is fine with scoring less points if it means a tournament berth, takes that honor. Brown, a 6-foot-5 senior, has seen his points per game average drop from 15.8 last year to 10.7 this season. But the point decrease is merely because this year’s team is more than a two-man show, as it was last year with Suggs and Brown. This team has an on-the-court leader in Poole, a team leader in Brown, a shooter in Schroeder and a defensive center in 6-foot-10 Jesse Smith.

But this wasn’t supposed to be. Idaho State was supposed to be in the cellar right now with Sacramento State, Northern Arizona and Portland State. Brown was supposed to be carrying a struggling team through another sad season. Teams were supposed to roll over through the Bengals.

And according to Poole, the competition might still be taking them lightly. “We saw (Sac State) warming up. They were looking at us, laughing, as if we couldn’t play,” Poole said after the Bengals defeated the Hornets 67-62 on Jan. 23. “So that kind of got us upset. We wanted to come out, smash them in their own house and take the crowd out of it early. And once we did that, we were just off and running.”

Off and running to a Big Sky Championship? The Bengals get their first shot at conference leader Weber State (16-5, 6-0) on Jan. 5 in Idaho.

Big Sky’s top teams square off

In a battle of the Big Sky’s top two teams, the Weber State Wildcats and Eastern Washington Eagles, Weber came out on top (16-5, 6-0), staying undefeated in conference and extending their lead over Eagles (13-8, 5-2) to two games.

After trailing 29-27 at the half, the Wildcats outscored the Eagles 47-32 over the final twenty minutes to win, 74-61. Big Sky scoring leader Jermaine Boyette poured in 22, while Nic Sparrow tallied 20 for the Wildcats. Marc Axton led the Eagles with 14
points. Eagles stars Alvin Snow and Chris Hester were held in check most of the night, combining to score just 12 points.

The two teams will next meet on Feb. 27 at Eastern Washington.

Gazing the Sky

There is currently a three-way tie for the sixth-and-final playoff spot between Sacramento State (8-12, 2-5), Northern Arizona (11-9, 2-5) and Portland State (4-16, 2-5). If there were to be a tie at season’s end, the first tie-breaker is who has the better record in head-to head matchups.

As of Jan. 5, each of three teams has played each other once. Sac State won at Northern Arizona, but lost at Portland State. Portland State beat Northern Arizona at home. If the head-to-head tie-breaker doesn’t work, the team with the better record against the conference’s top team – Weber at this point – gets the edge. No team has knocked off the Wildcats as of yet.

Sac State split a pair of road games this past weekend in Montana. The Hornets won on Thursday at Montana State (9-11, 3-4), 72-66, and lost to Montana (9-13, 3-4), 66-59, on Saturday. Hornet point guard Raashad Hooks averaged 14.5 points over the weekend and the Hornets saw the return of power forward Cedric Thompkins. Thompkins was the team’s leading rebounder last season, and should provide a boost to a team that is ranked last in rebounding margin.

Northern Arizona also split in Montana. The Lumberjacks beat Montana in overtime on Thursday, 97-93, and lost to MSU on Saturday, 80-66. Montana guard Kevin Criswell scored 30 in Thursday’s overtime game.

Player of the Week

Junior Ohio State transfer Slobodan Ocokljic has provided Weber state with a much-needed boost in the frontcourt. This past weekend the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 18 points and 9 boards as the Wildcats beat Portland State and Eastern Washington.

Game of the Week

Is Idaho State really for real? We’ll find out on Saturday when they take on Weber State in a home-and-home matchup, with a Feb. 5 game in Idaho and a Feb. 8 game in Ogden, Utah. Prediction: Wed. Weber state 78, Idaho State 70; Sat. Weber State 87, Idaho State 75.


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