The Idaho men hung right with surging New Mexico State much of Saturday night -- and even led in the first half -- but 24 turnovers doomed the Vandals in a 73-65 loss. UI has lost three straight while NMSU has won five of its last seven.
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The Vandals shot well (49 percent), kept pace with NMSU on the boards and made 9 of 11 free throws. But UI's mistakes were killer. The Aggies scored 25 points of the Vandals' 24 turnovers and outscored Idaho 40-28 in the second half.
“Tonight, we were ready to go, and we played extremely hard,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. “We did a lot of really, really good things, we just didn’t play smart. We got a little sloppy with the ball a few times and had a few defensive lapses.”
Jeff Ledbetter led Idaho with 17 points while Deremy Geiger had 15 points. Kyle Barone scored 10 points in the first half, but he had just two points after the break before fouling out late.
With the loss, Idaho moves to 12-9 and 5-4 in the WAC. NMSU is 6-3 in league -- good for second place -- and 12-11 overall. The Vandals are tied in the standings with Boise State, which fell at Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
“I’m proud of my guys. They came out and battled as hard as they possibly could battle,” Verlin said. “We’re right in the middle of this thing, and I don’t know if any of us – New Mexico State, Boise State, ourselves and Nevada – are going to be able to catch Utah State, but second place is still up for grabs."