|Vandals hang on to beat Cougars|
CHICAGO – Connor Hill, Idaho’s most prolific 3-point shooter, connected on 7-of-9 3s and the Idaho men’s basketball team hung on for a 79-76 win at Chicago State on Thursday night.
Hill finished with 27 points, two shy of his career-high, with his fourth game of seven-or-more 3-pointres this season. Stephen Madison had a 17-point, 10 rebound double-double and Sekou Wiggs added 16 points off the bench for the Vandals. Mike Scott had nine assists and just two turnovers while scoring seven points in the game.
“I thought we played with a lot of energy and intensity, especially in the first half,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “Our ball really moved well tonight, we got a lot of easy looks in transition. For about 30 minutes of this game we really dominated them.”
Idaho had 18 assists on 25 made field goals in the game but 19 turnovers, allowing the Cougars to hang around. Hill’s seventh and final 3-pointer gave the Vandals a 51-34 lead with 17:13 to play, but from there on out, the Cougars outscored the Vandals 42-28 to give the Vandals all they could handle.
“Hill hit a number of open shots and we did a very nice job early in the game executing our offense,” Verlin said. “We were ready for everything they threw at us with their traps and different defenses.”
CSU pulled within one a 72-71 with 2:13 to play and after Wiggs hit one of two free throws, the Cougars missed four consecutive free throw attempts, allowing the Vandals to hang on to the lead. Idaho hit six free throws in the final 30 seconds to clinch the victory.
The Cougars hit just 16-of-29 free throws in the game, while Idaho connected on 20-of-28 attempts. Idaho held a 36-28 rebounding advantage and a 10-9 edge on the offensive glass.
“With about 10 minutes to play, for whatever reason, we made some errors and they’re a good team, they made some shots,” Verlin said of Chicago State’s attempted comeback. “Thank God they missed some free throws down the stretch and we pulled one out. This game shouldn’t have been as close as it was, but I’m happy as heck that we got a win. It’s a big win as far as the standings go and the seeding goes for the conference tournament.”
The Vandals improve to 13-17 on the season and 6-9 in Western Athletic Conference play with the win, while Chicago State drops to 12-18 and 7-8 in WAC play.
Hill’s seven 3-pointers are tied for the fifth most in a game in Idaho history, and it’s the second time he’s done it this season in addition to his game with eight 3-pointers on Feb. 18.
The Vandals wrap up the regular season at Kansas City on Saturday, with a 7:35 p.m. (PT) tip-off. With Idaho winning three of its last four games heading into the season-finale, Verlin likes what he has seen from his team lately.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys,” he said. “I’m happy as heck to get a win. What we’ve got to do now is recharge our battery and get another one at Kansas City. We’re starting to play better. We’ve got to keep being aggressive and keep moving the ball.”
The WAC tournament is Mar. 13-15 in the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. Idaho entered Thursday’s game with the possibility of earning as high as the No. 4 seed.