Home games have been rare for Idaho this month, but it hasn't been a pleasant December for the Vandals at Cowan Spectrum. Just like it hasn't been a pleasant last few years against Montana.
The Vandals suffered their second consecutive last-second home loss on Saturday afternoon — a 72-71 decision to the Griz — after missing 15 free throws, 10 of which came in the second half. They led for all but the final 4.1 seconds. And they blew a 15-point lead for the second straight year against Montana at home.
“We basically gave them a Christmas present,” coach Don Verlin said.
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By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – Searching for words after another dumbfounding home loss to Montana, Idaho coach Don Verlin at different times tossed his hands up in the air, laughed and rubbed his eyes for long stretches.
He was just as stunned as the 1,427 that witnessed Montana's 72-71 victory on Saturday at Cowan Spectrum. And just as appalled by the Vandals' free-throw shooting.
The Vandals missed 15 foul shots – 10 in the second half – and lost a lead they had held the entire afternoon with 4.1 seconds left after coughing the ball up on an inbounds play.
Kareem Jamar, who poured in 26 points, converted two free throws to give the Griz a second consecutive unlikely victory over Idaho in Moscow. Last year, Montana rallied from 15 down to nip the Vandals at Memorial Gym.
“We basically gave them a Christmas present,” said Verlin, who moved to 0-6 against Montana in his six years at Idaho.
It wasn’t just that the Vandals never trailed going into the last two possessions. It wasn’t just that they led by six points with one minute, 20 seconds left.
Idaho (6-8) controlled the Griz for a large portion of the game – on the boards, in the paint and on the scoreboard. It was up 35-20 right before the half and led by a dozen points with under 12 minutes to play.
But UI connected on only 18 of 33 free throws (54.5 percent) and committed 17 turnovers, the last two with Montana in an extended 1-3-1 zone.
“It (was) just an amazing game,” Griz coach Wayne Tinkle said. “All the games we’ve had in our series with Idaho have virtually come down to the last possession or two.”
With the Vandals up by one with 8.7 seconds left, Mike Scott sent an inbounds pass in point guard Glen Dean's direction. But Montana's Mario Dunn cut in front of Dean to make the steal and found Jamar while falling out of bounds.
The Griz's senior star went strong to the basket, drawing a whistle while going up for layup. Jamar capped a perfect second half from the foul line for Montana – 18-for-18, compared to 13-for-23 for Idaho – and Scott’s 25-footer at the buzzer hit the back of the iron.
With the Vandals and the crowd shocked, Dean and Scott stopped to process what had happened before heading straight for the locker room without shaking hands with Montana players and coaches.
“I still can’t believe it yet,” said Idaho's Bira Seck, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Verlin said Scott “didn't make a very good pass” on the inbounds. He was more upset, though, with how the Vandals gave Montana life late in the game.
“Instead of begging for a foul or wanting someone to give you a game, you’ve got to go out and win the game,” he said. “And we didn’t do that tonight from the free-throw line.”
The loss took some of the luster off a career-high 35 points for Idaho's Stephen Madison. The senior swingman lamented his six missed free throws, including a 1-of-2 showing with 29.4 seconds left.
“They fought hard the whole game and you’ve got to give them credit,” Madison said of the Griz. “They didn’t give up and we gave it to them.”