Kyle Barone is making a strong case for WAC player of the year honors. He followed a 27-point, 16-rebound effort on Thursday with 25 points and 16 rebounds tonight in a 74-70 win over UTSA. He also made the biggest play of the night when he found Mike McChristian in the corner for a huge 3-pointer with a minute left.
That key assist late in the game? It came with Barone 10-for-10 from the field. He didn't take another shot the rest of night and set a school record for the best shooting performance from the field, eclipsing the 9-for-9 efforts from Tanoris Shepherd in 2002 and Phil Hopson in 1982.
In two games this week, Barone went 18-for-20 with 14 straight shots made. We have our game story below.
A few notable things to mention:
- At 4-5 in the WAC, Idaho is just one game behind Utah State and Texas-Arlington for fourth place at the midway point of the conference season. It hosts the Aggies on Thursday and San Jose State on Saturday. "We can get right in the middle of (the race)," coach Don Verlin said. "With these two home games coming next weekend, I really believe we can at least finish in the top three.
- In addition to his clutch late 3, McChristian had seven assists and no turnovers.
- Connor Hill hit four 3s and finished with 15 points. Stephen Madison was hot early and had 13.
Barone was asked what pulling out a win late can do for the Vandals. His reply: "That we can close it out in the end. We’ve had a lot of close ballgames this year where we couldn’t quite finish the game out, but I think we all knew we could. I just think we’re a little unsure of ourselves at the end of a game, but I think this game will give us more confidence in our ability to finish the game." Verlin also said some players were "struggling with their confidence" after Thursday night's blown lead. Asked what tack he took the last two days, the coach said, "Hug the guys that needed to be hugged, and kick the guys that need to be kicked."
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – Kyle Barone hadn't missed a shot Saturday night – a perfect 10-for-10 from the field – when he drove to the top of key with just over a minute left and Idaho in desperate need for something to go right.
The Vandals were up by just a point and the shot clock was inside 10 seconds when Barone noticed two Texas-San Antonio defenders collapsing on him – and teammate Mike McChristian alone in the corner behind the 3-point line.
The Idaho center, in the midst of the best shooting performance in school history, fired a perfect pass to McChristian, who drained the key shot in a 74-70 victory over the Roadrunners in front of 1,139 at Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals (8-11, 4-5 in the WAC) won for the first time at home since Dec. 15 and finally showed enough late-game moxie to put away an opponent. It helped, too, to get another superb game from Barone.
The senior was perfect from the floor in a 25-point, 16-rebound gem. He blocked three shots and also had two assists, none bigger than his bullet to McChristian with a minute left.
"I thought he really made an unselfish play there," Idaho coach Don Verlin said of Barone, who got his WAC-leading 10th double-double of the season and 20th of his career.
The Vandals blew a 17-point lead Thursday in a loss to Texas State despite 27 points and 16 rebounds from Barone. This time, though, they didn't throw the ball away late and got enough defensive stops.
Still, UTSA (5-14, 1-8) knocked down 13 3-pointers, including one with 8.9 seconds left from Michael Hale III that pulled the Roadrunners within 72-70. Connor Hill then sank both free throws for Idaho to ice the game.
Afterward Verlin shook hands with school president Duane Nellis and was greeted on the court by a smiling Don Monson, the Idaho coaching legend. Verlin looked relieved to pull out a win in a stressful situation, and his players were too.
"It’s the best feeling, especially when you’ve been fighting like we have been," Barone said.
Similar to what transpired Thursday, when the Vandals' huge lead shrank to five points before the half, the Roadrunners closed out the first half on a 10-2 run to tie the game.
Five of UTSA's last seven points of the half came after poor passes from Denzel Douglas, UI's backup point guard. Both throws into traffic were easily intercepted – Verlin called them "boneheaded plays" – and the Roadrunners got easy looks each time.
But Idaho calmed down after a shaky start to the second half and finished with 11 turnovers, far below what it's been averaging lately.
"At some point it’s gotta to improve," Verlin said of his team's turnover issues.