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Video analysis: How Conner Toolson, Isaac Neilson helped show the potential for UVU basketball this year

Utah Valley's Conner Toolson (right) knocks down at free throw against Idaho State on Wednesday night at the UCCU Center. UVU defeated ISU, 82-73.
Utah Valley's Conner Toolson (right) knocks down at free throw against Idaho State on Wednesday night at the UCCU Center. UVU defeated ISU, 82-73.
Jay Drowns, UVU Marketing

OREM — UVU men’s basketball coach Mark Pope believes the ceiling for his Wolverines this year is really high.

All 6,117 fans in attendance at the Wolverines' 82-73 victory over Idaho State in the team’s home-opener Wednesday got a glimpse of just what that ceiling could be, as UVU (1-1) overcame first-half struggles and a six-point second-half deficit to beat the Bengals (0-2).

While the Wolverines got several other key contributions — including 17 points, four 3-pointers and two steals from Kenneth Ogbe, 11 first-half points from freshman Jared Stutzman and valuable second-half minutes and leadership from former starter Ivory Young — sophomore guard Conner Toolson and junior center Isaac Neilson were the catalyst to a second-half rally.

The win showed a window into what the Wolverines could become, with further development together on a roster filled with transfers, including Toolson, Neilson and Ogbe.

“I told my staff I think this team's ceiling is really high and I don't think we're close to it right now,” Pope said. "I told them I just want us to be a better team when we walk off this floor than we were when we walked on it. I didn't envision the game going like that, but they were a way better team walking off that court than the way they were when they started."

It was a pair of defensive plays from Neilson and Toolson that really turned the tide for the Wolverines.

Two big stops

Moments after Young hit his only shot of the night, a 3-pointer, to tie the game at 56-all, Neilson, playing with three fouls, stepped in front of a driving Ethan Telfair and took a charge with 9:12 to play.

Big play for @UVUmbb vs. Idaho St.: Isaac Neilson takes the charge at crucial moment in 2nd half. He had double-double with 14 pts., 12 reb.

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) November 17, 2016

After the Wolverines clawed back from a six-point deficit four minutes earlier, the play helped re-establish UVU’s inside presence. Had he not set his feet and been called for his fourth foul, Neilson would have likely headed to the bench in a tight game where ISU had earlier taken advantage when Neilson sat because of foul trouble.

The Bengals recaptured the lead 21 seconds later on a Geno Luzcando layup and looked poised to add to that lead when three quick UVU possessions ended up scoreless. That’s when Idaho State guard Brandon Boyd raced downcourt and attempted a driving layup, only to be rejected by Toolson.

Here's Conner Toolson's key block shot for @UVUmbb last night in @WolverineGreen's 82-73 win over Idaho State @ctool5

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) November 17, 2016

"I saw the guy driving down the lane. You see LeBron (James) get all those chase-down blocks on the weak side, so I was like, I am going to go down and swat this thing," Toolson said. "Lucky enough I got my fingers on it, and we went the other way."

UVU guard Jordan Poydras gathered in the blocked shot and quickly transitioned the Wolverines into their offensive set. After passing the ball to Young at the top of the 3-point line, Young quickly passed to Toolson on the left side of the court. Toolson didn’t hesitate, drilling a 3-pointer to put the Wolverines back ahead 59-58.

Then Conner Toolson (@ctool5) hit a 3-pointer on the other end after the block to put @UVUmbb up 59-58, a lead it wouldn't relinquish

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) November 17, 2016

In a game that featured 10 lead changes, UVU never trailed again.

Rebounding bounce-back

Throughout the first half and into the early minutes of the second, the Wolverines were getting consistently beaten by UVU on the boards. That ultimately led to the Bengals owning a 16-6 edge in second-chance points, including 12-0 in the first half.

But Pope got his team to focus on rebounding after this tenuous start, and Neilson and Toolson played a big part in crashing the boards.

Neilson picked up his third foul just 1:14 into the second half and sat for almost four minutes. After the Bengals built a 52-46 lead with 13:12 to play, Neilson had a three-minute stretch where he accounted for seven straight Wolverine points and four rebounds — including an offensive board he converted into a putback — and almost singlehandedly kept UVU close.

Video: Isaac Neilson had 7 straight points for @UVUmbb in the 2nd half for @WolverineGreen vs. Idaho State in 82-73 win

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) November 17, 2016

Neilson finished the night with a team-leading 12 rebounds, including two offensive boards.

“If you look at the stats before the game, our coaches were telling us they had 12 points off offensive rebounds. We really made an (effort) to try and fix that," Neilson said of the team's focus on rebounding after a slow start on the boards. "We started to pull away, and that's when we knew things were going well, protecting the boards. Conner did a good job getting in there, all of our guys. We just hustled a lot more."

Toolson was second on the team with eight rebounds, seven of which came during the second half.

His two offensive rebounds also came at critical junctures. The first, when he collected an Idaho State blocked shot, led to a quick putback by Toolson and a 61-58 UVU lead. A minute and 15 seconds later, Toolson grabbed a missed 3-pointer by Zach Nelson and quickly turned it into a layup and a 64-60 Wolverines edge.

Conner Toolson (@ctool5) had 2 offensive boards vs Idaho State, leading to 2 quick @UVUmbb putbacks in 2nd half of 82-73 @WolverineGreen win

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) November 17, 2016

Scoring acumen

Toolson led UVU with 23 points, hitting 7 of 12 shots, including 3 of 7 from 3-point range. He also led the Wolverines at the free-throw line, making 6 of 8.

While Stutzman and Ogbe kept the Wolverines within striking distance in the first half, Toolson took over in the second 20 minutes on offense.

Of his 16 second-half points, 12 came during an almost five-minute stretch when UVU turned its 58-56 deficit into a 74-65 lead with 3:27 to play. Toolson also had his lone assist of the night during this stretch, as well as one of his team-high three steals. His two steals in the second half turned into four points.

This Conner Toolson steal, then jumper on the other end gave @UVUmbb a 74-65 lead in eventual @WolverineGreen 82-73 win over Idaho State

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) November 17, 2016

Neilson, meanwhile, paced the Wolverines’ inside game, hitting 5 of 7 shots from the field and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line to account for 14 points, giving him his first double-double as a Wolverine. Ten of those points came in the second half, including three points in the final two minutes that all came from the free-throw line.

“I didn't feel like I had a really good first half," Toolson said. "When I came into halftime, I was like, I need to do something, whether it's scoring, rebounding, steals, anything on defense. I just wanted to make a mark in the game, help us get some energy."