Courtesy: Ilya Pinchuk (Moscow, Idaho)
Connor Hill scored a game-high 19 points.
Vandals top Spartans
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 02/02/2013
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MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho men’s basketball jumped out to an early lead and held San Jose State to just 31.9 percent shooting, but second chances let the Spartans hang around in a 66-63 Vandal win on Saturday.

Idaho improved to 9-12 overall and 5-6 in Western Athletic Conference play, while SJSU slipped to 9-13 overall and 3-8 in the WAC.

The Vandal men limited the Spartans to just 22-of-69 (.319) shooting overall and SJSU did itself no favors with an 8-of-24 (.333) free throw performance, but 16 second-half offensive rebounds and 21 overall gave SJSU 19 more shot attempts than Idaho in the game.

“We found a way to win and that’s a positive,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. “We’ve lost a lot of those games like that this year. They just beasted us on the boards today.”

Idaho’s offense wasn’t its usual efficient self, as the team hit a season-low 36 percent of its attempts and went just 6-of-21 (.286) in the second half for its lowest field goal percentage in a half this season. The team did connect on 21 of its 25 free throws in the game and tallied nine 3-point field goals while limiting itself to just 10 turnovers.

Verlin switched up his starting lineup for the first time since the start of WAC play and started the team’s four seniors, along with sophomore guard Connor Hill. Verlin said he was trying to find a spark and that he felt like it succeeded.

“I didn’t think our team has been playing with enough urgency,” Verlin said. “So I adjusted the starting lineup and who’s going to play with more urgency than four seniors?”

They responded as he had hoped. Senior guard Mansa Habeeb had eight points, all in the first half, and connected on a pair of 3-pointers. Senior forward Wendell Faines set career highs with nine points and five blocked shots and did a solid job defending SJSU’s Chris Cunningham, who had just five points on 2-of-14 shooting and 18 rebounds before fouling out late in the game.

“I thought Wendell did a great job of standing in between him and the basket and making himself hard to shoot over,” Verlin said.

Hill led all players with 19 points on 4-of-10 overall shooting, including 4-of-8 from long range, and a perfect 7-of-7 performance at the free throw line. Senior center Kyle Barone tallied his eighth double-double in WAC play and his 11th overall this season with 15 points and 12 rebounds, along with three assists.

“They were doubling down on him (Barone) all night long and I thought he did a great job of passing out of the post,” Verlin said. “I really liked the way he played because he was very unselfish. He found Connor for a couple wide-open threes and Connor really shot the ball well tonight.”

Idaho went 18-of-50 (.360) overall from the field and 9-of-23 (.391) from long range. The Spartans went 22-of-69 (.319) overall, 11-of-27 (.407) from 3-point range and just 8-of-24 (.333) from the free throw line. SJSU held a 47-42 rebounding edge and earned a 22-4 advantage in second chance points.

“It’s hard to think that it’s a three-point game when you hold someone to 32 percent (shooting) and they only shoot 33 (percent) from the foul line,” Verlin said. “They did it by putting on their hard hats and whooping our tail on the boards in the second half.”

Neither team did much in the paint as SJSU held a 16-14 margin. Fast-break points were tied, 2-2, and Idaho led points off turnovers by a 7-5 margin. Idaho never trailed and the game was never tied past 0-0, but, but the Vandals also didn’t lead by more than two possessions for the game’s final 11 minutes.

The Vandals didn’t make a field goal in the game’s final 5:23, but went 10-of-12 from the free throw line during that span and did just enough to hold off a late SJSU charge. SJSU’s Aalim Moor banked in a 30-foot 3-pointer with less than a second left to pull the Spartans with in three and the final margin of 66-63.

Next up for Idaho is a road trip at New Mexico State on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 6 p.m. (PT), followed by a Saturday game against Denver at 3 p.m. (PT). Saturday’s game will be broadcast on ROOT Sports.
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