GAME NOTES: The Idaho State Bengals will try to remain perfect in league play, as they visit Big Sky Conference rival North Dakota on Thursday night.
The Bengals have had the benefit of playing at home in their first two conference clashes, which ended with wins over Portland State (87-76) and Eastern Washington (83-72). The modest win streak comes on the heels of a four-game skid for Idaho State, which is 5-6 overall and winless in five tries on the road where it will be next time out as well against Northern Colorado.
It has been more uneven for North Dakota in its first two league bouts, as the team took down Southern Utah (65-61) last Thursday after dropping an 84-66 decision to Northern Colorado on the road. UND is now just 4-8 overall, although all four wins have come at home. This contest continues a three-game homestand that ends on Saturday against Weber State.
North Dakota earned a sweep of the Bengals last season to improve to 3-1 in the all-time series.
Andre Hatchett scored 27 points to lead four players in double figures for IDaho State in its recent win over Eastern Washington. The Bengals limited the Eagles to just 39.1 percent shooting, while sinking 48.4 percent of their own shots.
Idaho State has enjoyed a more productive season at the offensive end than it has in past years. The Bengals are third in the Big Sky in scoring (7.47 ppg) and fourth in field goal percentage (.467). Defense has still been a bit of an issue as they only own a scoring advantage of +2.1 on the season, while allowing the competition to shoot 46.6 percent from the field. Chris Hansen (16.5 ppg) and Tomas Sanchez (16 ppg, 5.2 apg) are the leading scorers on the roster, although Hatchett (14.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg) must also be accounted for. Sanchez had 15 points and 11 assists in the win over EWU, while Hansen finished with 12 points.
Troy Huff poured in 25 points and collected 11 rebounds to lead North Dakota to its 65-61 win over Southern Utah. The home team actually trailed, 57-56, with 3:37 to play, but ripped off a 7-2 run to claim the decision.
UND should be able to keep up with Idaho State on offense. Brian Jones' squad is second in the Big Sky in scoring (74.8 ppg) despite shooting a modest 44.5 percent from the floor. However, the team struggles on defense, letting up 76.3 ppg and 48.3 percent field goal efficiency to its competition. Huff (22.1. ppg, 7 rpg) has been the major reason for the offensive success, as he leads the Big Sky in scoring, while connecting on 50.3 percent of his total shots. Jaron Nash 11.6 ppg, 5 rpg) and Aaron Anderson (11 ppg) are solid as complementary scoring options.
The nucleus of Sanchez, Hansen and Hatchett is one that few teams are capable of dealing with. However, the Bengals don't have a strong answer for Huff, so this game could really go either way. Playing at home could give UND the extra edge it needs.
Game Date and Time