Idaho had two highly winnable WAC games the last six days. And in both, the Vandals fell flat at pivotal moments. After losing track of Hawaii in the last few minutes on Saturday, UI could do little right in the first half at Fresno State on Thursday night in a 65-55 loss.
The back-to-back losses have dropped Idaho back to. 500 — on the year (11-11), in the WAC (4-4) and in the last four years in conference games under Don Verlin (28-28). More on the Vandals after the jump.
I'll post a recap of the game below, but here are the key points that hurt Idaho:
Here's the media release from last night:
FRESNO, Calif. – University of Idaho men’s basketball couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half and its late rally came up short on Thursday in a 65-55 loss at Fresno State on Thursday in Western Athletic Conference action.
Idaho (11-11, 4-4 WAC) shot just 28 percent in the first half and trailed by as many as 17 points before the break and struggled to slow down Fresno State (10-14, 2-6 WAC), which shot 63.6 percent from the floor in the first half and 50 percent in the game.
“I thought we had a number of very good looks early that we weren’t able to finish, and then our basketball team let its offense affect its defense,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said after the game. “We just gave them too high a percentage in the first half.”
The Bulldogs used a 17-4 run midway through the first half to break open a 15-11 game and take a 32-15 lead at the 1:52 mark of the first. Idaho shot just 2-of-9 during the run and turned the ball over three times during the run, while Fresno State hit seven of its nine attempts over the same span.
A buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Garrett Johnson gave the Bulldogs a 36-20 halftime lead and sent the Vandals into the break facing their second-largest halftime deficit of the year.
The Vandals opened the second half with a 9-2 run, then added a 12-4 stretch midway through the half, capped by a Deremy Geiger 3-point play that pulled Idaho back within five, 50-45, with 7:20 remaining.
A three-minute, 19-second scoreless drought ensued for both teams until Fresno State’s Jerry Brown, who posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, hit a jumper to put the Bulldogs back up seven, 52-45, at 4:01.
“In the second half, I thought we played pretty good basketball for a long period of time and get it back to five, almost climb the whole hill and then don’t get an offensive rebound and they get an and-one,” Verlin said. “We were kind of back in control of that game, but the hole was so big.”
After going on its scoring run, Idaho missed three shots in a row and allowed two offensive rebounds that enabled the Bulldogs to milk five minutes off the clock and nudge their lead back up to nine, 55-46, with 2:11 to go.
The Vandals started fouling at 1:23, and despite the Bulldogs missing six of seven free throws between 1:23 and 0:51, Idaho managed just one shot attempt, a Geiger made 3-pointer. Fresno State made its final six free throws to ice the game.
Idaho shot just 20-of-52 (.385) overall and 5-of-20 (.250) from the 3-point line in the game, while the Bulldogs went 22-of-44 (.500) from the field and 5-of-17 (.294) from long range. Fresno State went 16-of-28 (.571) from the free throw line, while the Vandals went 10-of-16 (.625).
The smaller Bulldogs managed a 34-33 rebounding margin, outscored Idaho 19-10 off turnovers and 4-0 on the fast break. Idaho held a 22-18 edge in the paint and a 13-6 edge on second-chance points.
The bright spot in the game for Idaho was junior Mansa Habeeb, who scored a career-high 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting, along with three rebounds, one block, one assist and one steal. Junior center Kyle Barone led Idaho with 14 points, as well as eight rebounds. Senior forward Djim Bandoumel scored seven points and led all players with a career-high 11 rebounds.
“I’m very disappointed in the outcome, but proud of the guys for how they came out in the second half,” Verlin said. “We’ve got to continue to work. There’s a lot of basketball to be played and we’ve got a tough hill to climb.”
In addition to Brown’s double-double, guard Tyler Johnson added a game-high 17 points, along with eight rebounds, three assists and one steal for the Bulldogs. Forward Kevin Foster had nine points and eight rebounds and guard Garrett Johnson added nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from the 3-point line.
Up next for Idaho is Nevada, which comes into Saturday on a 16-game win streak after its last-minute comeback win over Utah State on Thursday, 53-52. The Wolf Pack is 19-3 overall and 8-0 in conference play. Saturday’s game tips off at 7 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center.