In the moments after Idaho State dropped an 81-74 overtime decision to Northern Arizona Saturday afternoon, assistant coach Courtnie Smith turned to head coach Seton Sobolewski.
We learned a lot this week, she told him, considering the hand the Bengals were dealt: Starters Ellie Smith and Callie Bourne missed each of Idaho State’s two games with the flu. Even reserves Tenleigh Smith, Paisley Specht and Ivvana Murillo remain out with the virus. Toss in that starting point guard Diaba Konate has yet to play this season because of a nagging knee injury, well, the Bengals were going to have to overcome some things.
“She’s absolutely right,” Sobolewski said. “We had some good growth from that standpoint this week.”
They performed admirably to do so, getting three double-digit scoring outings against Northern Arizona, including 20 from guard Dora Goles. Tomeika Whitman logged her second straight such scoring outing. Estefania Ors posted 14 points, including a critical triple to tie the game in overtime.
The problem for the Bengals (2-6, 1-1) was they yielded several similar plays, especially in crunch time. Moments after Ors hit that 3-pointer, Jordan Sweeney knocked down 1 of 2 free throws, pushing Idaho State’s lead to 72-71 with 90 seconds to play. But that’s when Northern Arizona guard Nyah Moran connected on her own 3, handing the Lumberjacks a two-point lead.
Ors followed with two free throws to tie the game, but Northern Arizona kicked off a 7-0 run with a triple from Nina Radford, handing Idaho State its first loss in Big Sky play this season.
The Bengals did have a shot to win in regulation, getting the ball back with six seconds left, but Goles had a mid-range jumper blocked at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
“They did a great job of moving the ball around, and we just got out a little too late on them,” Sobolewski said. “The person that got left open (Radford) on that last 3 is one of their better shooters. She shoots close to 50% from the 3-point line. So we were just a little late getting out on that.”
So even with the injuries and illnesses, it all added up to a disappointing result for the Bengals, who led by as many as nine, early in the third frame. A lot went right for Idaho State: Not only did Goles, the team’s leading scorer last season, bounce back from a two-point showing earlier this week against Portland State, but Whitman is also showing the club she can be a viable option in both the scoring and rebounding departments.
That’s why Sobolewski felt a tad encouraged after this loss, but particularly because several players continue to play out of position while the club misses starters: 5-foot-10 guard Finley Garnett has been playing the five. Freshman Anaya Bernard, who usually toggles between the two and three spots, has been playing the four. Ors and Montana Oltrogge have been guarding opponents’ posts.
“That’s not a situation they’re in a lot,” Sobolewski said. “It was tough for us. But we made it work.”
The good news for the Bengals is that they might not have to moving forward. As of Friday, four of the five players sidelined with the flu — Tenleigh Smith, Ellie Smith, Specht and Murillo were feeling better — were feeling better, according to Sobolewski. Bourne, he said, had a fever in the afternoon.
That leaves Konate, who Sobolewski said Thursday was dealing with a “a very unspecified knee injury that doesn’t require surgery right now.” On Saturday, he said Konate went through a workout on Friday.
“She played on offense and defense, not at full speed, but she moved well and her knee didn’t swell up,” Sobolewski said. “I think she’s inching closer.”
She might not be ready for Idaho State’s next contest, a home matchup with Carroll College on Wednesday morning, but Konate could return on Dec.11 against St. Thomas. Either way, the Bengals now turn their attention to the Saints, who have raced to an 11-2 start.
The game will be an exhibition contest for Carroll, but not for Idaho State. For the Bengals, it represents a three-game non-conference break before they return to Big Sky play later this month.
Still, Sobolewski knows the Saints well enough to know what to expect.
“We’ve got to respect them,” Sobolewski said of Carroll. “We’ve got to work hard in practice to be prepared. They’re going to throw some zone and some zone trapping at us, which we play well against zones. We’ve got to be ready.”