Courtesy: Spencer Farrin (Pullman, Wash.)
|Vandals roll on the island|
HONOLULU, Hawai`i – When it mattered the most, University of Idaho men’s basketball came up with its very best.
The Vandal men broke out to an early double-digit lead and never looked back in an 82-63 victory at Hawai`i on Thursday at Stan Sheriff Center to lock up at least a No. 3 seed in next week’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
“I talked to them all week about having a competitive spirit about us, and I think we really brought that to the island,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said after the game.
Idaho (17-12, 8-5 WAC) shot 26-of-51 (.510) from the field, 10-of-21 (.476) from 3-point range and 20-of-25 (.800) in the game. Hawai`i (15-14, 6-7 WAC) shot just 22-of-63 (.349) from the floor and 7-of-17 (.412) from long range. The Warriors also shot just 57.1 percent (12-21) from the free throw line.
Going into Thursday’s game, Verlin said rebounding would be key and the team responded with its best rebounding margin (+19) against a WAC opponent since joining the conference in the 2005-06 season. The Vandals held a 46-27 edge on the boards, with 36 of those coming on the defensive end – also a team high since joining the conference.
“When you out-rebound somebody by 19 – that’s how you get a road win,” Verlin said. “You look at the overall stats, and it really came down to rebounding tonight. We just dominated there.”
Vandal senior guard Deremy Geiger led all players with 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including a 4-of-9 clip on 3-pointers. Sophomore Stephen Madison added 17 points and eight rebounds and hit eight of his 10 free throw attempts. Junior Kyle Barone was an efficient 4-of-5 from the field for nine points, along with eight rebounds.
“We were getting shots everywhere. Everyone was contributing tonight,” Barone said. “When we do that and we play defense like this, I don’t think we can be beat.”
The Vandals got significant bench contributions from freshman Connor Hill and juniors Mike McChristian and Wendell Faines. Hill drained three 3-pointers in the first half and finished with nine points, while McChristian added six points, three assists, two steals and a career-high nine rebounds. Faines added two points and a career-high five rebounds.
“Mike McChristian in 23 minutes – nine rebounds, three assists, no turnovers and two steals – I thought he was fabulous tonight,” Verlin said.
While known more for his WAC-record offensive efficiency, Barone stepped up in a big way on defense Thursday in holding UH’s Vander Joaquim to just four points on 1-of-7 shooting. The Warriors’ leading scorer came into the game averaging 17.5 points on WAC-best 66.9 percent shooting in conference play.
“We did a great job on Vander Joaquim,” Verlin said. “We doubled him a little bit but most of the night, Kyle Barone had him and I thought he did an outstanding job guarding him one-on-one.”
Zane Johnson led UH with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting with five rebounds, while Joston Thomas added 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting, but no other Warrior scored in double figures.
Johnson hit a 3-pointer to open the game and UH went out to a 5-2 lead to start the game, but Idaho scored six straight to take an 8-7 lead at 15:49 of the first half. There were no ties and no lead changes after that point.
An 18-5 run, starting with a Hill 3-pointer at 12:19 and capped off with a Barone dunk at 7:52, broke the game wide open and propelled Idaho to a 33-19 lead. A McChristian 3-pointer – his first of the season – in the closing seconds of the first half sent the Vandals into the break with a season-best 18-point lead at 45-27.
Hawai`i rallied early in the second half after a Barone hook shot put Idaho up by 20 points at 47-27. The Warriors rattled off a quick 9-0 run to pull within 47-36 at the 17:12 mark of the second half, and then pulled within nine points at 52-43 after a Johnson 3-pointer at 15:37, but the Vandals went on an 8-0 run to go back up 17 at 60-43 and led by double figures the rest of the way.
The win locks up at least a No. 3 seed for the Vandals and gives them the opportunity to climb as high as No. 2 with a win on Saturday at San Jose State (9-20, 1-12 WAC), paired with a New Mexico State loss at Fresno State.
“Like I told our guys tonight in the locker room, now it’s time for us to get selfish. We’ve got a chance to get the number two seed,” Verlin said. “We’ll take the long trip back to the states and see what we can get done.”
It will be Senior Night for the Spartans on Saturday in a game that tips off at 7 p.m. (PT) at The Event Center.