Courtesy: Spencer Farrin (Pullman, Wash.)
|Vandals rally at Seattle|
SEATTLE – Idaho trailed for most of the second half and leading scorer Stephen Madison was hindered with foul trouble all night, but the Vandals rallied back for a 71-64 victory at Seattle University in its Western Athletic Conference opener on Saturday.
Idaho (5-6, 1-0 WAC) ended the game on a 14-4 run that included three-consecutive 3-pointers by junior guard Robert Harris to send Seattle (5-6, 0-1 WAC) to a loss in its first WAC game since joining the league this season.
“I thought we did the things tonight – even though we weren’t perfect – we did the things we needed to do to win the game,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said after the game.
Senior center Kyle Barone lived up to his preseason First-Team All-WAC accolade with a career-high-tying 25 points, along with 11 rebounds for his second-consecutive 20-10 game and his third overall this year.
“Kyle had a really good game today,” Verlin said. “He was getting double-teamed and triple-teamed and he had seven offensive rebounds.”
Harris set a career high with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including a 4-of-8 performance from long range. Sophomore guard Connor Hill added 12 points, while senior Mike McChristian filled the stat sheet with eight points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Those extra efforts were necessary, first because the team started the game short-handed when illness kept senior guard Mansa Habeeb out of the lineup and second because Madison – the team’s leading scorer – picked up three first-half fouls, then a fourth right at the start of the second period. He finished the game with just six points and two rebounds, both season lows.
The Redhawks led by as many as seven points in the second half, 56-47, with 6:07 to play. Idaho battled back, primarily through Barone in the paint. He scored 16 of Idaho’s 38 second-half points – all nine of the team’s points from 12:54 to 5:04 – in Madison’s absence.
Harris nailed the first of two huge triples with 2:34 to play when he tied the game at 60-60, then gave Idaho a 62-63 lead at 1:32 and put Idaho ahead by three again with 53 seconds left at 66-63. Seattle made one free throw on the opposite end, but Idaho made three of its four free throw attempts after the Redhawks started fouling and a McChristian steal and solo fast-break dunk in the final seconds put a cap on the win.
Idaho finished the game shooting 22-of-51 (.431) overall, 7-of-21 (.333) from 3-point range and 20-of-27 (.741) from the free throw line. Seattle U shot 51.6 percent in the first half, but finished the game 25-of-56 (.446) overall and just 4-of-17 (.235) from 3-point range. SU also went 10-of-15 (.667) from the free throw line.
Verlin said after the game that there are still a few areas where improvement is needed. The Vandals had 14 turnovers and many of them were simply errant passes, and Seattle capitalized with 13 points off those giveaways.
The Vandals held a 35-32 rebounding margin, but gave up a season-high 17 second-chance points and were outscored on the fast break (8-4) for just the second time this season. Seattle also outscored Idaho in the paint, 36-26.
Next up for the Vandals are two more WAC road contests against teams that also earned victories on the opening weekend of conference play. Idaho will play at San Jose State on Thursday, Jan. 3, at 7 p.m. (PT), and then follow up at Utah State on Saturday, Jan. 5, at 6 p.m. (PT).
“I’m excited about this win and I challenged the guys,” Verlin said. “There’s only one team in the WAC that starts with three in a row on the road and if you can find a way to get those three, it puts a leg up on the conference.”
San Jose State is 6-5 overall and 1-0 in the WAC after a 72-55 win at Texas State on Saturday, while Utah State is 10-1 overall and 1-0 in the WAC after its 71-67 win at UTSA.