CALDWELL — There was a special guest at Friday night’s College of Idaho men’s basketball game, one who is near and dear to the heart of Coyotes’ coach Scott Garson.
But Garson and the No. 8 ranked Coyotes had no trouble rising to the occasion as the C of I rolled to its eighth straight victory, a 67-54 win against Eastern Oregon to inch closer to the Cascade Conference regular season title.
In the stands was former UCLA coach Ben Howland, who took the Bruins to three Final Fours with Garson as an assistant coach. Howland sat right behind the College of Idaho bench, getting a first-hand look at what his former pupal in Westwood has been able to accomplish in just one season in Caldwell.
“Knowing that he’s done some great things and having him there, it was like ‘Wow,’” said senior forward Antonio Garrett, who led the Coyotes with 15 points. “We had to make an impression (on) him.”
The Yotes (21-5, 12-2) did just that, holding the Mountaineers (14-10, 5-9) to 33-percent shooting from the field, while sinking 5 of 14 3-pointers and shooting 20 for 30 from the free-throw line. It was exactly the type of performance that Garson said Howland would expect out of his teams at UCLA.
“Our guys knew how badly I wanted to win this game with him here,” said Garson, who served under Howland from 2006-13. “I’m just glad our players were able to pull through. And tell you what, they did it the Ben Howland way.”
Howland, who either calls or texts Garson after each College of Idaho game, said he wasn’t surprised at how well his former pupil’s team was able to perform. After all, he saw a lot out of the Coyotes on Friday night that Garson expected out of their players while they were at UCLA.
“They were very prepared,” Howland said. “They really do a good job preparing for the opponent. They were very well prepared to defend what they ran. He’s got a really good staff, too.”
The Coyotes were able to jump on the Mountaineers from the get go. Thirty seconds into the game, Josh Wilson came up with a steal on the defensive end, and Taylor Pruitt hit a 3-pointer on the other end for the first points of the game.
The College of Idaho never let go of that lead, earning its second eight-game win streak of the season.
The Yotes led 24-20 with three minutes to go in the half when Garrett extended that lead to 27-20 with a 3-point basket. After a basket by EOU’s Tony Eackles, Garrett sunk another 3-pointer to force the Mountaineers to burn a timeout.
But off the timeout, EOU missed a basket and a tip in, and Garrett came down with the rebound before driving for a layup on the other end of the court. He was fouled on the shot and made the free throw to put the Yotes up 33-22.
Garrett said the game showed a change in the team’s philosophy from a year ago when the team was coached by Rod Jensen.
“Coaches are always telling us if you’re open, shoot the ball,” Garrett said. “Last year when we had Coach J, I was so scared to shoot because I thought I was going to get taken out. But with (Garson), he gets mad when we don’t shoot — as long as it’s a good shot.”
The Coyotes led 35-26 at halftime and opened the second half on a 15-3 run, capped by a layup from Jordan O’Byrne, to give the College of Idaho a 50-29 lead.
“The first five minutes of a second half, our guys really do a great job of figuring out what mistakes we were making, any adjustments we’ve got to make at halftime,” Garson said. “They really take it to the floor with great energy. Our first group brought incredible energy to start the second half. I really felt our defensive presence was tremendous.”