It was another impressive home game for the Idaho Vandals on Saturday night. They beat New Mexico State 67-57 in front a pretty raucous crowd at the Kibbie Dome. Read on for my unedited game story.
By JOSH WRIGHT
MOSCOW, Idaho – Much to its fans’ delight, the rebuilding Idaho basketball team is showing a penchant for pushing the ball up the court whenever possible – even in the most tense moments.
It’s the sort of unabashed aggressiveness that might make some coaches cringe. But not Don Verlin.
“They work so hard defensively,” the Vandals’ first-year coach said. “If you can get some turnovers, let’s go down and get an easy one. We probably didn’t execute as good on the break as we needed to, but that’s the kind of stuff we need to get.”
Trying to milk a tenuous lead in crunch time Saturday night, the Idaho men showed no hesitation to cash in when transition buckets presented themselves. The bold approach paid off with a 67-57 victory over New Mexico State in front of 2,129 lively fans at the Kibbie Dome.
Nine days after crumbling down the stretch at NMSU, the Vandals (9-10, 3-3 in the Western Athletic Conference) remained poised when it mattered most, all while playing at an almost-frantic pace. Point guard Mac Hopson orchestrated the impressive effort, putting in 23 points with just two of the team’s six turnovers.
Idaho finished the game on a 15-3 spree to put away the Aggies (9-11, 3-4). The club sealed the win with a nifty Kashif Watson layin and a breakway steal and dunk from Brandon Wiley in the final 30 seconds.
What had been a two-point affair with under a minute left turned into a surprisingly comfortable finishing margin.
“Basically we clamped down on defense,” said Wiley, who tallied 16 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
New Mexico State shot just 36.7 percent in the second half and seemed to wilt under the Vandals’ relentless pressure. The squad from Las Cruces was hurt by several costly turnovers and a missed free throw by Jahmar Young on the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity with 2:44 left.
“I thought we played as good a defensive game as we’ve played all year,” said Verlin, whose team eclipsed last year’s win total. “… I thought our pressure wore them down in the last 2 or 3 minutes. We finally wore them down. We got them missing shots, we got them turning it over.
“It was a lot closer than a 10-point game. I’ll tell you that.”
It was actually tight throughout the second half. The Aggies, behind a quick spurt of torrid shooting from Gordo Castillo, grabbed a three-point lead on two occasions.
But both times the Vandals responded, with Hopson taking control. He had 14 points in the second half and sank three of the team’s four 3-pointers.
The Washington State transfer pushed Idaho over the top for good with a terrific three-point play with 5:32 left. The junior contorted his body through traffic for a reverse layup while getting fouled.
The momentum-changer put the student-heavy crowd in a frenzy; a few young UI fans even catapulted from their seats and gave Hopson a high-five.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Don and the job he’s doing here, bringing in the junior college kids and meshing,” NMSU coach Marvin Menzies said. “… You can see the progression, a lot like us last year when we started clicking in conference. And you can see they’re doing that now.”