Courtesy: Mark Planck
LOGAN, Utah – University of Idaho men’s basketball held a 15-point first-half lead and a seven-point halftime edge, but had no answers in the second half of a 67-50 loss at Utah State on Friday.
With Idaho holding a 29-14 lead at the 4:19 mark of the first half, the Vandals let the Aggies slip back into the game with an 8-0 run to end the half and send it into the break at 29-22 in Idaho’s favor. That momentum carried over into the next period with a 12-3 USU run over the first four minutes and the Vandals never recovered.
“We made a few mistakes on our defensive coverages, and boom, they get ahead, they get the momentum and with this crowd, we just couldn’t get them slowed down,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said.
USU junior Preston Medlin erupted for 32 points in the game and he spurred the second-half run with 27 points on 9-of-9 overall shooting and makes on all five of his 3-point attempts. As a team, the Aggies went 15-of-20 (.750) in the second half and held Idaho to just 8-of-26 (.308) shooting after the break.
“You can’t give a good team like that 75 percent,” Verlin said. “You look at the stats and they dominated us in every phase of the game tonight.”
Idaho made just 18 of its 50 attempts for a 36.0 shooting percentage. The Vandals went 6-of-15 (.400) from 3-point range, but made just one after halftime. Idaho also went just 8-of-15 (.533) from the free throw line and was out-rebounded, 36-30.
The Aggies finished the game shooting 46.2 percent overall and 47.4 percent from 3-point range. USU went 10-of-13 (.769) from the free throw line and outscored Idaho 14-9 off turnovers and 8-4 on the second chance.
Idaho’s 18 points are the paint are its second-fewest this season and only the second time the team has failed to reach 20 points down low.
Senior Deremy Geiger led Idaho with 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting, along with four assists and four rebounds, but he was the only Vandal in double figures. Junior Kyle Barone had just six points and seven rebounds on 2-of-9 shooting, while sophomore Stephen Madison added eight points and six rebounds.
After going on their big run to take the lead, the Aggies never slowed. A Barone layup tied the game up at 34-34 with 15:48 left in the game, but then Utah State rattled off eight unanswered to go up 42-34 at the 12:31 mark and extended its lead as high as 18 points, 64-46, with just over two minutes remaining.
“What I challenged them to do was let’s make sure we get that one half out of the way and let’s play the next five games like we played the last five games,” Verlin said. “Let’s find a way to make sure we don’t let one half of basketball to take away from the things we’ve done.”
The loss tightens up the Western Athletic Conference standings, as the Vandals now 16-12 overall and 7-5 in conference play – just one win ahead of Hawai`i (15-12, 6-5 WAC), where they play next Thursday at Honolulu.
Pending UH’s result at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, that game could very well determine who gets the No. 3 and who gets the No. 4 seed in two weeks at the WAC Tournament. Utah State climbs to 14-15 overall and 6-6 in the WAC with the win. After the season split, Idaho holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Aggies by virtue of its season splits with Nevada and New Mexico State, both of which swept USU.
“It’s going to be the biggest game, whether they win or not (on Saturday),” Verlin said of Hawai`i. It’s going to hold all the tiebreakers. We’ve got to get back home tomorrow, get back to work on the practice court and finish up how we’ve been playing in the month of Februrary.”