Editor’s note: This is one of 12 team capsules breaking down the men’s basketball teams in the Big Sky Conference. League play opens on Thursday, December 29. For the other available capsules, click here.
Idaho State had a breakthrough last season, posting its first winning campaign since 2003.
ISU won 16 games overall, including 11 in conference play to earn the No. 4 seed in the Big Sky Tournament and a first-round bye in the first neutral site event in Big Sky Conference history. Idaho State overcame a 1-3 start in league to surge to seven wins in its next eight games. The streak included a 69-68 win over eventual league champion Weber State thanks to a Telfair buzzer-beater. During ISU’s 11-3 regular-season finish, Telfair scored more than 30 on seven different occasions, including in each of ISU’s final four games. He averaged 23.9 points per game in conference play.
But when the Bengals got to the Big Sky Tournament, the renaissance season ended in an instant. Playing a fifth-seeded North Dakota team coming off a hard-fought 85-80 win over Southern Utah in the first round followed by a day off, UND looked acclimated while the Bengals out of whack. North Dakota went on a 30-2 run to build a 46-17 lead at halftime in an 83-49 runaway. Telfair made just 5-of-20 shots from the field and scored 17 points.
“We didn’t play up to our capabilities against North Dakota, who we have tremendous respect for,” fifth-year head coach Bill Evans said in November. “They put it on us pretty good. That was a disappointment.”
This season, the script has flipped as ISU has spent almost the entire non-conference on the road. Idaho State played just two home games during its brutal non-conference schedule, beating Lamar and Montana Tech in Pocatello for its only two wins. ISU started 0-6 with losses at New Mexico, Utah Valley, Utah State, Eastern Kentucky, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Texas Tech. The two home wins came before losses at Cal State Northridge, Wisconsin, Boise State and BYU closed out 2016.
Current record — 2-10
2015-2016 record: 11-7 in Big Sky Conference play, 16-15 overall
Big Sky Tournament finish: Idaho State finished fourth in the Big Sky and earned a first round bye. The Bengals couldn’t buy a bucket in a nightmarish first half that saw them fall behind 43-17 at intermission of an 83-49 loss to UND.
Head Coach: Bill Evans, fifth season at Idaho State. Evans is the oldest head coach in the league at 67 and entered his 21st season as a college head coach in 2016. In four seasons at ISU, Evans is 40-80 overall including 28-48 in league play. He won 17 league games his first three seasons at Idaho State before last season’s 11-win breakthrough that earned him the Big Sky Coach of the Year last season. Evans spent 16 seasons as the head coach at Southern Utah (1991-2007), piling up 208 wins, winning one American West Conference title (1995) and leading the Thunderbirds to the 2001 NCAA Tournament. Evans spent five seasons as an assistant at Montana before taking the ISU job.
Evans on upcoming conference campaign: “I know one thing: our league is very, very good. I’ve watched Montana played several times and they are really good. I think North Dakota (5-5) is really good. I think Weber is really good even though Coach (Randy) Rahe isn’t where he wants to be (5-6 overall). Eastern Washington is obviously doing something right (8-5 overall). Montana State has done a really good job of winning games (5-8 overall). Anybody that wants to underestimate this league is not thinking straight and if we played as many home games in our league as other people get to play, we wouldn’t be 4-47 (as of this interview on December 12.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ethan Telfair — Telfair was as explosive a score as any player in the league, averaging nearly 24 points per game and scoring more than 30 on nine occasions. A year after transferring from Redlands (Oklahoma) CC, Telfair led the league in scoring and assists (5.4) during conference play to earn Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors. The first-team All-Big Sky selection shot 39.8 percent from the floor but managed to pile up points thanks to shooting 86.8 percent from the free throw line and hitting 205 of his 236 free throw attempts. He also averaged 2.4 assists per game, the third-best mark in ISU history.
The Coney Island, New York product is the cousin of former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury and former NBA Draft lottery pick Sebastian Telfair. He declared for the NBA Draft in the off-season but did not hire an agent, allowing him to return to school.
Evans suspended Telfair for three games for undisclosed reasons earlier this season. In nine games, Telfair is averaging 16.2 points and 5.4 assists per game. He is shooting just 34.1 percent from the floor, 34.9 percent from 3-point land and 69.8 percent from the free throw line.
Geno Luzcando — The 6-3 native of Santiago, Chile had one of the breakout sophomore years in the league last season. The only player to start all 30 games for Idaho State shot 50.3 percent from the floor to average 14.4 points per game. Luzcando had a historic outing against Southern Utah, hitting all 10 of his field goal attempts in scoring 29 points to go with 10 rebounds. He was an honorable all-conference selection after averaging 16.3 points per outing in league play.
He is averaging 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game thus far in his junior year.
Gary Chivichyan — As a freshman, the 6-4 wing started 15 games and averaged 7.6 points per game. He hit 66 3-pointers overall and shot 42.5 percent from beyond the arc in conference play. This season, he is playing nearly 30 minutes a game and averaging an identical 7.6 points and is shooting 40.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Novak Topalovic — One of the only true 7-footers in the league played 13.8 minutes and grabbed 4.1 rebounds per contest. In the off-season, Evans said he put on 30 pounds to his now 245-pound frame. This season, he is playing 28 minutes a game and is averaging 8.6 points on 55 percent shooting while grabbing 6.1 boards per game.
Ben Wilson — The 6-6 forward was the only senior that saw any playing time for Idaho State last season. He averaged 6.9 points on 50 percent shooting and grabbed a team-best 6.0 rebounds per game.
Ali Faruq-Bey — The 6-2 guard played on the ball as much if not more than Telfair during the first 13 games of the season as ISU stumbled to a 5-8 start. Faruq-Bey led ISU in scoring eight times in the non-conference, with a 32-point effort in a win over Cal State-Northridge. He would play just five more games as a Bengal, missing the rest of the season with an injury. He averaged 13.1 points in 23.6 minutes per the 17 games but now plays at Division II Western Oregon.
Kyle Ingram — As a junior, the 6-8 Pasadena native scored 6.0 points and grabbed 6.0 rebounds in 22 minutes per game. Ingram has been hindered by a bad back since coming to Idaho State from Fresno City College. Evans ruled him out for the season before the season began. He will apply for a medical redshirt.
Brandon Boy — The 5-11 Los Angeles product played in five games last season before suffering a season-ending injury. This season, he is averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Robert Jones — The 6-8, 195-pound transfer from Northeastern JC has started seven games. He is averaging 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
Hayes Garrity — The 6-2, 175-pounder has had a winding journey to reach Idaho State. The Portland native played at Big Bend (Washington) CC for a year before serving an LDS mission from 2011 to 2013. He played the 2013-14 season at Utah Valley, averaging 8.7 points per game for the Wolverines. He sat out the 2014-15 season with a medical redshirt. He played in three games last season before missing the rest of the year with a similar injury.
He transferred to ISU and the NCAA granted him a hardship waiver. He will have two years to play, including this one in which he is averaging 5.1 points in 18.2 minutes per game.
Preseason polls finish: Idaho State was picked of finish fifth by both the coaches and the media.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez or attributed. All Rights Reserved.