The defense parted as it practically begged the junior forward to drive.
So he did.
And as Jeffrey Solarin soared in the air for the easy layup, he buried Eastern Washington’s chances for a second-half comeback, and Idaho State cruised to a 83-72 victory Saturday night in front of 1,532 at Holt Arena.
For the first time since 2008, ISU has won the two opening games of its conference season.
“I’m just lost for words right now,” said ISU guard Andre Hatchett. “I’m so happy. ... (We are) just believing in ourselves and each other. We’re just making things happen right now.”
Solarin’s layup came with just under eight minutes left. It was only two points, but it capped off a 15-3 Bengal run and handed ISU (5-6, 2-0 Big Sky) a commanding 67-49 lead.
Idaho State’s crowd rose for a standing ovation.
“I just remember I caught the ball and turned around and I’m like, ‘Oh, so no one’s going to come and guard me?’ So I might as well put it on the floor,” Solarin said.
Solarin finished with 14 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, his third double-double of the season. For the second consecutive game, Hatchett recorded a new career-high. The senior had 24 against Portland State Thursday, poured in 27 against the Eagles (5-8, 0-2 Big Sky).
And just like he did against the Vikings, Hatchett started Saturday night on a terror, scoring 15 points.
Hatchett tormented Eastern Washington, constantly slicing through the defense. Hatchett popped in mid-range jumpers and finished at the rim against Eastern defenders. Once the Eagles started to collapse, Hatchett dished to open teammates and the Bengals rumbled to a 44-32 halftime lead on 53 percent shooting.
“Andre did a really good job of driving the ball,” said Idaho State head coach Bill Evans. “That’s something that we’ve been talking to him about for awhile. He’s become a good mid-range shooter, but he can really drive the ball.
“He can finish. And the thing that people don’t appreciate, he can make plays for teammates. That’s what he can really do.”
Hatchett seemed to have an advantage against Eastern’s star sophomore Tyler Harvey, who’s a slight 180 pounds.
“Coach told me to be more aggressive on him,” Hatchett said, “so we can try to get him in foul trouble. I knew I could take advantage of him because he wants to stay in the game.”
Harvey, who entered the game averaging a shade over 20 points, did stay in the game by avoiding fouls. And he rattled off a team-high 19 points.
But after ripping Weber State for 30 in Eastern’s seven-point loss in Ogden, Utah, last Thursday, Idaho State made Harvey a volume shooter. The lefty hit 6 of his 20 field-goal attempts.
“He’s really tough to guard because he can really spread you out, and then he can drive it enough that he’s effective that way, too,” Evans said. “... We tried to drive him off the arc and contest every shot.”
Along with Harvey’s five 3-pointers, Eastern nailed 14 shots from 3 but it took 38 attempts. As a team, EWU was 25 for 64 from the field (39 percent).
Idaho State grabbed a two-point lead in the 16:07 mark of the first half and never relinquished it.
Senior point guard Tomas Sanchez shot 4-of-17 from the field for 15 points, and he delivered a career-high 11 assists with one turnover. Junior Chris Hansen hit double figures for the ninth time this season with 12.
Idaho State leaves Pocatello next week to play North Dakota (Thursday) and Northern Colorado (Saturday) on the road.
“We want to be humble. Wins are hard to get,” Evans said. “We’re going on the road to play two good teams.”