|Vandals overpowered in finals|
LAS VEGAS – The Idaho men’s basketball team was simply overmatched in a 77-55 loss to New Mexico State in the Western Athletic Conference championship game on Saturday night.
The Aggies shot 56 percent from the field, 46 percent from 3-point range, owned a 38-21 rebounding advantage and held Idaho shooters to 38 percent to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We played pretty well in this tournament but tonight New Mexico State played better,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said after his fifth-seeded Vandals got their first WAC tournament win since 2007 then knocked off the tournament’s top seed in the previous 48 hours. “We couldn’t get them stopped. They basically dominated us in every phase of the game. You have to give Marvin [Menzies], Daniel Mullings a lot of credit.”
New Mexico State outscored Idaho 46-16 in the paint, and used five 3-pointers to keep the Vandals honest on the perimeter.
“They really hurt us driving the ball to the basket,” Verlin said. “We couldn’t keep them in front of us. Early in the game they made some 3-point shots. If they have a weakness it’s shooting behind the arc, and they were able to make those and we had to extend a little bit, and then they were able to get to the basket.”
Idaho senior Stephen Madison, the program’s second all-time leading scorer, led the Vandals with 17 points after going 10-for-12 at the free throw line. Junior point guard Mike Scott added 14 points for the Vandals.
“We have a great group of guys in the locker room,” Verlin said. “Stephen Madison has been sitting next to me here for three nights now, and what a great career he has had. It’s always hard when it ends, especially for a guy like this who has had an unbelievable career here at the University of Idaho, our second all-time leading scorer.”
Idaho caught fire at the end of the season, winning eight of its final 11 games heading into its first conference championship game since 1993. The Vandals were 8-14 entering that stretch before finishing their season at 16-18.
“Our team battled,” Verlin said. “There was a point this season where we could have given up, and we didn’t. The last month of the season we were playing as good of basketball as anyone in the Western Athletic Conference.”
Madison earned WAC all-tournament team honors along with NM State’s Daniel Mullings, while Aggie sophomore Sim Bhullar was the tournament MVP.
New Mexico State will enter the NCAA tournament with a 26-9 overall record.