POCATELLO — Since Bill Evans took over Idaho State’s men’s basketball program in 2012, it seems no opponent, matchup or scenario has gotten in the way of success more than afternoon conference road games.
Evans and the Bengals have lost all 16 such contests, the latest coming Saturday at Southern Utah. The closest thing ISU has to an afternoon conference road win is a 75-65 victory at Southern Utah in 2014, but that game started at 5:05 p.m. Any noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. starts have been a losses.
Afternoon games are usually played on Saturdays, two days after a 7 p.m. game on a campus several hours away. This quick turnaround is another obstacle to hurdle to win, Evans said.
Evans used Saturday’s loss as an example. After ISU beat Northern Arizona on Thursday, the team left Flagstaff, Arizona, on Friday afternoon, bused five hours to Cedar City, Utah, and was given a shootaround time of 7 a.m. Saturday. A 10 a.m. breakfast and 2 p.m. tip followed.
The abbreviated rest period gives home teams a competitive advantage — ISU’s 0-16 mark proves as much. Yet, Evans said he prefers to keep ISU’s home games at 7 p.m.
The Bengals haven’t started a home game before 7 since 2016 — a 6 p.m. start. ISU’s last afternoon home game started at 2 p.m. in February 2013, a 75-69 ISU loss against Idaho.
“I’m going to have 7 a.m. games,” Evans joked Tuesday. “We wouldn’t have very many people in the stands, but it would be really hard for the opponent.”
MOCSAN AMONG D1’S BEST SHOOTERS
Bengals junior guard Balint Mocsan has only been playing American basketball for a few years, but he’s developed into a better shooter than most who have a lifetime of USA hoops to fall back on.
The Hungary native ranks 36th out of 1,283 qualified Division I players in effective field-goal percentage this season, and is 38th among qualifiers in true shooting percentage. Effective field-goal percentage gives added importance to made 3-pointers, and true shooting percentage accounts for every type of shot a player might take — 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws.
Within the Big Sky Conference, Mocsan trails only Weber State’s Zach Braxton — a 6-foot-9 post — in both categories. Mocsan is the Bengals’ top 3-point shooter this season at 45.8 percent and has made seven 3-pointers in two games.
Mocsan is also ISU’s only player to rank in the Big Sky’s top 10 in offensive rating (seventh) and offensive plus/minus (fifth).
Since coming to Pocatello in 2016, Mocsan has increased his scoring average each season, while shooting above 41 percent from the arc each season. His career 3-point percentage of 43.5 is second-best in ISU history, behind teammate Jared Stutzman.
“During the offseason, I worked a lot. I shot a lot with my coaches,” Mocsan said. “And when I went home, I shot a lot there, too. I was just working on being consistent from game to game. That’s what I’m trying to keep up.”
Mocsan said he has adjusted to American basketball, which he described as faster and less organized than the European game. Mocsan also said American basketball features superior athletes, which has forced him to account for a deficiency in that area.
“I’m not an outstanding athlete. Not even close, unfortunately,” Mocsan said. “So I had to use other ways, trying to be smart with the ball, come to jump stops, pass fakes, shot fakes, and try to score in other ways.”
Mocsan is also one of ISU’s best on-ball defenders, tallying a team-leading 21 steals this season.
“He’s gotten bigger and stronger. He’s a diligent worker, wants to get better,” Evans said. “He’s doing a great job for us.”
WALKER GIVES BENGALS SPARK OFF THE BENCH
That springy guy with the bouncy hair who’s always under the basket? That would be first-year Bengal reserve Alonzo Walker.
The 6-foot-6, 210-pound Odessa College transfer plays above his size for the Bengals this season, leading the team in offensive rebounds per minute as a small-forward sized player slotting in at center.
Walker is fourth in the Big Sky in offensive rebound percentage and is second-best in conference games. He, along with teammates Chier Maker and Kelvin Jones, have helped ISU rank fifth in the Big Sky in offensive rebounding this season.
Walker does so while matched up with players who often have him by 2 inches or more.
“I’ve got to play harder than them,” Walker said. “I’ve got to bring more energy than them. I’ve got to be tougher than them, especially, because they’re bigger than me. I’ve got to go at them a little bit harder.”
Walker has notched two double-digit rebound games this season, one of which went for a double-double. He’s also second on the team in blocked shots and can step out to convert from long range, going 4 for 8 from 3-point range this season.
“He’s a real positive guy. He’s really playing within himself,” Evans said. “He’s not trying to do things that he can’t do as well. … He’s been a real plus for our team.”
GAME INFO/SCOUTING REPORTS
Idaho State plays in Reed Gym for the final two times this season, Thursday against Montana State (11-12, 8-5 Big Sky) and Saturday versus Montana (17-6, 10-2).
The Bengals (9-13, 5-8) have won two of their last three games and enter the weekend 1 1/2 games behind Eastern Washington for sixth place in the league standings.
MSU enters Pocatello on a three-game winning streak, which has been partially fueled by tragedy. The 29-year-old daughter of Bobcats head coach Brian Fish died last Friday in Florida, but Fish remained on MSU’s sideline and coached his team to a win over Idaho the next day. Fish will coach both of his team’s games this week, according to 406mtsports.com.
“My heart goes out to him,” Evans said. “He’s doing the best that he can, doing what he thinks that he needs to do to survive a terrible situation. Tragic.”
The Bobcats ripped ISU for 104 points in a 104-84 win Jan. 26 in Bozeman, Montana. MSU averages a Big Sky-best 81.9 ppg in league play, anchored by guards Tyler Hall (20.2 ppg in league) and Harald Frey (17.6 ppg in league).
“Coach Fish is doing a really good job of coaching his team,” Evans said. “They’re all on the same page. They really share the ball well.”
Montana is also hot, winner of seven consecutive games entering Thursday’s matchup at Weber State.
The Grizzlies beat the Bengals 80-69 on Jan. 24 in Missoula and have overtaken ISU as the top 3-point shooting team in the Big Sky (37.2 percent).
During its winning streak, UM has held five teams under 70 points and is averaging 66.1 points against.
MSU leads the head-to-head series with ISU 106-86. The Bengals are 58-35 against the Bobcats at home. Montana leads the all-time series 104-46 and has won the last 16 meetings.