Idaho State played its first Power 5 conference opponent last week, but the Bengals’ next game might be their toughest to date.
The Bengals (2-2) continue nonconference play Friday at Santa Clara (4-1), which is ranked 129th by kenpom.com and is one of the tallest teams in Division I.
The Broncos roster has five players listed at 6-foot-9 or taller, including 6-foot-11 sophomore Guglielmo Caruso, who leads the team in scoring (13.0 points per game) and rebounding (6.2 per game).
Santa Clara also returns its top five scorers from a season ago, including junior guard Tahj Eddy and sophomore guard Trey Wertz, who earned second-team all-West Coast Conference and all-WCC freshman honors, respectively, last season.
“I think they are the best team that we’ve played so far,” ISU head coach Ryan Looney said after Wednesday’s practice at Reed Gym. “They’re very good defensively. On offense, they try to get out in transition and they’ve got some actions that will be tough to guard, too.”
Santa Clara averages 81.8 ppg, partially thanks to an average possession length of 15.2 seconds that’s led to 74 possessions per game. The Broncos scored 97 points in their season-opening win over UC Santa Cruz and dumped 101 on Division II Notre Dame de Namur their last time out on Nov. 19.
Santa Clara doesn’t score much from 3-point range, instead doing its damage inside. The Broncos average 33.6 points per game in the paint — ISU gives up 40.5 ppg in the paint.
“We’re definitely going to get our first taste of, in a game, a lot more size that can actually score it in the post around the basket,” Looney said. “We’re going to have to do a good job figuring out how to neutralize that a little bit.”
Guarding the low post has been a struggle so far for the undersized Bengals, who have played all season without their biggest man, 6-foot-8, 255-pound Brayden Parker, as he recovers from a foot injury. They’ve made up for it with exceptional defense outside the arc, as opponents have made 5 of 49 (10.2%) of 3-pointers — the second-best 3-point defense in Division I, behind Big Sky Conference foe Sacramento State (8.7%).
Washington State was the latest team to struggle from the outside against Idaho State, going 3 for 17 on Sunday in a 72-61 victory in Pullman, Washington. Santa Clara enters Friday’s game sporting a 36.2% clip from the arc.
ISU beat Santa Clara 68-66 last season in Santa Clara. Kelvin Jones scored 20 points to lead the Bengals in scoring, while Chidi Udengwu pulled down a team-best nine boards off the bench.
“They’re beatable, easily,” Udengwu said Wednesday. “We just have to play hard, that’s it.”
CARR, PARKER, MOCSAN STILL OUT
Looney said Wednesday that Cal Poly transfer Daxton Carr is still waiting on a ruling from the NCAA regarding his transfer waiver, while Parker and senior guard Balint Mocsan are still recovering from injuries.
Looney was optimistic that Carr would get cleared to play this season, based on the NCAA’s continued requests for information regarding his transfer. Mocsan (shoulder) is no longer in a sling, and Parker (foot) has been cleared to ride a stationary bike without wearing a walking boot.
Looney is hopeful that all three players will be available for ISU’s Big Sky opener Dec. 29 against Idaho.
BENGALS ADD TAYLOR TO SIGNING CLASS
Looney announced the signing of Emmit Taylor III late on Wednesday. Taylor is currently a sophomore at North Idaho College and is averaging 15.0 ppg through two games this season.
The 6-foot-4 guard was fourth on his team in scoring last season (13.9 ppg) and shot 42.9% from 3-point range as the Cardinals won the Northwest Athletic Conference tournament championship.
That title, along with NIC’s 2018 tournament crown, were vacated after the program was hit with sanctions stemming from violations including extra student-athlete benefits and administrative oversight.
Taylor was Idaho’s 1A DI Player of the Year as a senior at Lapwai High School, when he averaged 24.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and the Wildcats won their second consecutive state championship. He chose ISU over offers from Florida Gulf Coast and Bryant, according to verbalcommits.com.
Taylor was also nominated to play in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game.
Taylor joins Noble Cooper, Kyle Karstetter, Briggs Ranstrom and Zachary Visentin to round out Looney’s first ISU signing class.