Courtesy: Ilya Pinchuk (Moscow, Idaho)
|MBB closes with a road win|
SAN JOSE, Calif. – University of Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin expected an inspired San Jose State effort on the road Saturday night on Senior Night, but the Vandals outlasted the Spartans, 70-64, to close out the regular season.
The game featured three ties and nine lead changes in the first half alone and the Vandals took a 26-25 lead into the half, but an early second-period run put Idaho ahead for good and the team held off a strong charge in the closing minutes.
“We just had another very, very good team effort today, and what a great way to end the regular season,” Verlin said.
With the win, Idaho moves to 18-12 overall and 9-5 in the Western Athletic Conference. The win gives Idaho back-to-back 18-win seasons for the first time since 1993-94 and gives the team its best conference win percentage (.643) since 1998-99 when the team went 11-5 (.688). San Jose State slips to 9-21 overall and 1-13 in WAC play.
The Vandal win, along with New Mexico State’s overtime victory at Fresno State, locks Idaho into the No. 3 seed at next week’s WAC Tournament, where they’ll play either Hawai`i or Louisiana Tech, depending on Saturday’s final WAC results.
“To sweep this road trip with the circumstances and the pressure our team was under, what a great thing for our basketball program, our players and our fans,” Verlin said. “We’ve got a lot of momentum heading into the WAC Tournament next week.”
Idaho won the game with balance. Senior guard Deremy Geiger led the team with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while freshman Connor Hill came off the bench for 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range and senior Landon Tatum added 10 points.
Sophomore Guard Stephen Madison added nine points, five rebounds and three assists, while senior forward Djim Bandoumel posted eight points, nine rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal.
Idaho junior center Kyle Barone had nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and one steal and limited SJSU forward Wil Carter, the team’s leading scorer in WAC play, to 12 points on just 6-of-18 shooting.
“He’s blocking people, he’s rebounding the ball extremely well and he’s scoring in the post,” Hill said of Barone. “He’s doing it all right now and he’s a great leader.”
Idaho trailed 25-24 just before halftime, but starting with a Geiger layup at 1:24 and carrying over into the second half, the Vandals went on a 10-0 run to take a 34-25 lead with 17:52 left in the game. Hill provided a big boost minutes later when he hit three straight 3-pointers to push Idaho’s lead up to 48-34 with 10:40 to go.
“I just caught the flame there in the second half,” Hill said. “It seemed like the basket was big and everything I was putting up was dropping.”
San Jose State kept hanging around on the heels of the 3-point shot, mostly from junior James Kinney, who led the team with 19 points and went 5-of-9 from long range. The Spartans rattled off a 9-0 run starting at the 6:37 mark to claw within four points at 54-50 with 3:57 to play.
Idaho didn’t attempt a field goal in the final four minutes of the game, but the Vandals went 15-of-24 from the free throw line during that span to hold off the Spartan charge and clinch the win.
“You shoot 53.5 percent, 42 from three, turn it over 10 (times), you’re playing pretty well,” Verlin said. “We never lost our focus. We never got frustrated. We just kept grinding along, playing along.”
Next on the docket for the Vandals is next week’s WAC Tournament, where they’ll enter as a No. 3 seed and play either Hawai`i or Louisiana Tech at Noon (PT) at Orleans Arena. Verlin said the fact that the Vandals, winners in seven of their last eight games, carry plenty of positive energy into the event.
“We’ve beaten everybody in this conference,” Verlin said. “We’ve beaten some people twice and everybody at least once, and I think that should give us some confidence going down to Las Vegas on Wednesday.”