February was a miserable month for the Idaho Vandals. They squeaked out a win at home over San Jose State on Feb. 2 ... then lost five straight WAC games. But even with the late-season swoon, the Vandals likely have done enough to avoid the opening round of the WAC tournament that will feature the bottom four teams. Today's 90-81 win at Texas State all but assured that.
We've got more on Idaho's 11th win of the season below.
A few notes before we get to the full details of the game:
- At 6-11 in conference, the Vandals are now 1.5 games up on Texas State for the sixth spot in the WAC. They'll lock up the No. 6 seed in the tournament with a win over Seattle U next Saturday at 7 p.m. on Senior Night at Cowan Spectrum. As of today, their first-round opponent would be New Mexico State.
- Don Verlin has been candid about UI's struggles this season. But he sounded much more upbeat after today's win. "I think there’s a lot of good basketball left in this team," he said.
- Kyle Barone had another monster game with 26 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks. Connor Hill and Stephen Madison had 22 and 20 points, respectively, and Mansa Habeeb had 13. The rest of the team scored nine total points.
- With the final home game for Kyle Barone and three other seniors next week, Verlin made a plea to Vandals fan: "You owe it to (Barone) to come out." Verlin lauded Barone, one of the most accomplished players in UI history, for graduating in 41/2 years after sitting out his first season as an academic nonqualifier.
- Idaho's 90 points are its most on the road since 90-88 overtime win at Louisiana Tech last year. The last time UI scored 90 in regulation on the road was at UC Davis in December 2011.
Here's the game recap from UI media relations:
SAN MARCOS, Texas – Kyle Barone scored 26 points to lead three 20-point Vandal scorers as the Idaho men’s basketball team snapped a five-game Western Athletic Conference losing streak with a 90-81 win at Texas State on Saturday.
The Vandals improve to 11-17 on the season and 6-11 in the WAC with the win while Texas State falls to 9-20 overall and 4-12 in the WAC.
“It was a big win for us,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We control our own destiny, if we can beat Seattle U at home on senior night, that will allow us to be the six seed and go into the WAC tournament with a little momentum, having won three of our last four games.”
Barone hit 12-of-17 shots in the game and added 14 rebounds, including six on the offensive end. Connor Hill made 5-of-7 3-pointers to match his career-high of 22 points and Stephen Madison went 5-of-9 from the field and 10-of-12 from the free throw line to finish with 20. Mansa Habeeb added 13 points for Idaho, while Mike McChristian finished with seven points, six rebounds, five steals and two assists.
The Vandals shot 55.6 percent from the field, going 30-of-54 in the game, and made 24-of-31 free throws. Idaho’s 31 free throw attempts match the team’s season-high.
“We thought one of the keys would be getting to the free throw line and we shot 31 tonight,” Verlin said.
The see-saw game saw Idaho build several double-digit leads only to have Texas State answer with its own push. Idaho led by 10 points with two minutes to go in the first half before the Bobcats pulled within two, 41-39, at the break. Texas State pulled ahead 42-41 at the start of the second half, but Idaho answered with a 20-4 run to take a 61-46 lead. Texas State answered with a run of its own to pull within four at 66-62 before Idaho regained the momentum with a 12-2 run to lead 78-64 with 3:46 to play. The Bobcats couldn’t close the gap to less than six the rest of the way.
“Our guys showed a lot of character today,” Verlin said. “We got up 15 with about 13 minutes to play and they came all the way back within four. This is a team that can get runs going. It felt like we were up 10 then all of the sudden it would be two.”
Idaho owned the glass, out-rebounding the Bobcats 38-28 and out-scoring them 12-8 in second-chance points. Idaho also out-scored Texas State 44-34 in the paint.
Matt Staff led Texas State with 22 points while Joel Wright and Vonn Jones each scored 12 and Phil Hawkins and Reid Koenen each added 11. Texas State shot 46 percent from the field, hitting 30-of-65 shots. Wright, the WAC’s leading scorer, was in foul trouble for most of the game. He picked up two quick fouls early in the first half, a technical in the second, and fouled out after playing 19 minutes.
“We did a pretty good job on Wright,” Verlin said. “We left him free a couple times there but we made some other guys shoot it, and Matt Staff had a very nice night on Senior Night.”
Idaho returns home for the regular season finale, a matchup against Seattle U on March 9. That game tips off at 7 p.m. in the Cowan Spectrum and will be Senior Night for the Vandals.