Mike McChristian's day was made well before the Vandals tipped off with Seattle U. He got a surprise visit from his mother, who flew in from California just in time to watch her son drop a career-high 26 points -- and go on one of the most impressive 3-point displays in recent Idaho history -- in a 76-72 win.
We've got our story and notes below after the Vandals' final game of the regular season.
As UI coach Don Verlin said, "This game really didn’t mean anything except for pride." Idaho knew it would be the sixth seed in the WAC tourney no matter what, and it knew New Mexico State would be its quarterfinal opponent. But Verlin wanted to send his seniors out with a win, just like he's done in his first four years on Senior Night at Cowan Spectrum. And thanks to 10 3-pointers and 51 points in the second half, the Vandals did that.
They'll meet NMSU at noon on Thursday. In their two regular-season matchups with the Aggies, Idaho lost by one point in Moscow and two points in Las Cruces. Both games came down to critical UI blunders in the final moments.
"Like I told our guys, we don’t only owe New Mexico State once, we owe them twice," Verlin said. "Two close ballgames, so it should be a lot of fun on Thursday at noon."
Said Barone, "We do owe them a game -- or two. We’ve proven that we can hang with them and beat them and we’re on a neutral court, too. So coming into the game, we have all the confidence in the world."
- Outside of Connor Hill, Barone and McChristian, the rest of the Vandals scored five points -- four from Stephen Madison and one from Mansa Habeeb. Madison, a usual starter, provided the only bench ponits after Verlin started four seniors.
- UI's 51 points in the second half were its most in a half against a WAC opponent. Only 10 of those 51 points came on 2-point field goals.
- Idaho finished with the fewest wins (12) in the regular season in Verlin's tenure.
Here's our story:
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – No Idaho men's basketball player has played more games than Kyle Barone, and Saturday night was supposed to be his memorable home sendoff.
It was all right, but maybe not in the way Barone expected.
The 6-foot-10 senior happily watched as Mike McChristian and Connor Hill went on an epic 3-point tear to vault the Vandals past Seattle U 76-72 at Cowan Spectrum.
Idaho (12-17, 7-11) closed the regular season with its third win in four games with 1,498 fans on hand. The sixth-seeded Vandals will meet No. 3 New Mexico State on Thursday at noon in Las Vegas to open quarterfinal play in the WAC tournament.
Barone matched a career high with 27 points, and notched his 16th double-double of the season with 12 rebounds. But the story of Senior Night was a dazzling burst of 3-pointers from McChristian and Hill in the second half.
The guards connected on 10 3-pointers after halftime, six of them in a row over a three-minute span in the middle of the second half. The most absurd was an off-balance NBA-range jumper from Hill, who hadn't set his feet coming off a screen before he shot.
"It seemed like whatever him and me were shooting was going in," said McChristian, who had a career-high 26 points in his final home game. "It was a pretty good stretch for us in the second half."
The Vandals, after trailing by 13 before halftime, led 62-48 after McChristian's sixth and final 3 of the night with 8:11 left.
Barone, Idaho's all-WAC center, had no problem taking a momentary backseat.
"After the first one and (McChristian) shot the second one and it went in, I said, ‘Uh oh,’" he recalled. "I stopped going to the boards and people started blocking me out. I said, ‘That’s in, that’s in, that’s in’ — like four in a row.
"I don’t know what else to say. That was one of the best shooting performances since I’ve been here."
Even with the Vandals' long-range barrage, the last-place Redhawks (8-21, 3-15) drew within three points with 18 seconds left on a 3-pointer of their own from Jarell Flora.
McChristian rattled in 1 of 2 free throws to close out the victory.
The Vandals spent most of the first half trying to solve Seattle's zone defense. Idaho's offense languished with the Redhawks denying Barone the ball, and the Vandals missed nine straight 3-point attempts as SU built a 30-17 lead.
Idaho bounced back with an 8-2 run to finish the half, thanks in part to Hill finally finding his stroke. McChristian then followed suit after the break.
Vandals coach Don Verlin said Barone will be "sorely missed" after he departs the program following another dominant game, and he also had lofty praise for McChristian.
"Those two guys had as good of performances as I think I’ve ever had seniors have," Verlin said.