It wasn't just the Idaho football team that lost a heartbreaker Saturday. The Vandals' men's basketball team dropped a gut-punching 66-63 game to Montana at Memorial Gym. Our story is below.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho — It was all the Idaho Vandals could ask for given the circumstances. They had the ball, enough time on the clock to get the ball up the court and a chance to force overtime with Montana.
What they didn't have was the right play in mind.
Idaho failed to get a 3-point attempt up before the final buzzer sounded and lost 66-63 to the Griz in a nonconference men's basketball game Saturday night at Memorial Gym.
The Vandals (0-2) blew a 15-point lead and lost for the second time in a row at home to start the season.
With the 1,254 in attendance on their feet, the Vandals (0-2) passed the ball three times around the perimeter in the final 9 seconds — yet never looked to shoot. As the buzzer went off, guard Connor Hill had the ball at the top of the key, but he wasn't lined up to pull the trigger.
“We didn’t run the right play,” UI coach Don Verlin said. “It was designed to go to Connor, but a different action.”
Down 50-35 with 12:47 left, the Griz (2-1) switched to a 1-3-1 trap that pushed Idaho out of its comfort zone offensively, and indirectly affected UI's defense. The defensive change sparked a 24-7 Montana run.
Spencer Coleman sank a 3-pointer with 4:12 left to give the Griz a lead they would never relinquish.
“That was as gritty a road win as we’ve had,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. “Give a ton of credit to Idaho because they put on a clinic to start that second half. Coach V coached his butt off.”
But Verlin put the loss on himself for not preparing the Vandals enough for the Griz's 1-3-1 defense. He knew it would come. He just didn't know it would have such a big impact — on both sides of the court.
“The thing I was disappointed in was we let our offensive performance affect our defense in the second half,” Verlin said. “We gave up way too high of a percentage.”
Montana made 12 of its final 14 shots from the floor. The surge came after Tinkle said the Griz were selfish offensively early in the second half and paid the price.
Stephen Madison led the Vandals with a career-high 22 points and Kyle Barone had 19 points. The two UI leaders keyed a sizzling stretch after halftime, as the Vandals scored the first eight points of the second half and went on an 11-2 run.
But UI's outside shots consistently fell short as the game progressed. The empty possessions helped fuel Montana, which got 17 points from smooth-shooting Kareem Jamar and 16 points from Mathias Ward.
“Our guys just didn’t quit believing,” Tinkle said. “… We had to use timeouts, and we had to challenges guys’ manhood and intellect, and they certainly responded.”
It doesn't get easier for the Vandals. They have Wisconsin-Green Bay at home on Tuesday before embarking on trips to New Mexico and Washington State.
“It's tough,” Verlin said. “We've dug ourselves a hell of a hole.”