It hasn't been a fun holiday stretch for Idaho. Four straight losses. The last three at home by nine combined points. And each crowd at Cowan Spectrum progressively smaller than the last.
Idaho fell 57-55 to Chicago State on Saturday night in front of 785 fans. The loss -- another "rip-your-hear-out" game in Don Verlin's words -- came after the Vandals clawed back from a 14-point second-half deficit.
Our story and a note on redshirt freshman Ty Egbert's ejection can be found after the link.
Egbert, who got his first career start, was ejected late in the first half after committing a foul under the basket. After the whistle, a Chicago State player fell to the floor and seemed to get in a quick tussle with Egbert. After a long review of the replay, officials said Egbert threw a punch in the direction of a Cougar -- a flagrant 2 foul that resulted in Egbert's ejection. He'll also be suspended for Thursday's game at Texas-Pan American, Verlin said. "They were convinced he threw a punch," Verlin said of the officiating crew, adding that Egbert will be "punished severely" if the coaching staff's review of the tape shows the same thing that the referees saw. "You've got to hold your emotions in check," the coach said.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – Stephen Madison flew into the Idaho bench to chase down a loose ball, Mike Scott knifed into the lane for two crafty buckets and, finally, the Vandals' holiday fog started to lift.
They had trailed almost all of Saturday night against Chicago State, another Western Athletic Conference newbie making its conference debut. But Scott's offense and a refreshed defensive energy helped the Vandals draw even in the final minute.
It still wasn't enough, though, to stop a slide that started before Christmas.
Chicago State's Matt Ross converted a putback with 3 seconds left, and Idaho couldn't get a shot off at the buzzer to drop a 57-55 decision to the Cougars in front of just 785 fans at Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals (6-10, 0-2 WAC) have lost four straight, the last three at home by one, six and two points. All have been "rip-your-heart-out" games, coach Don Verlin said.
"This team needs some confidence, and it’s really hard to get confidence when you get beat, especially in games that rip your hearts out," said Verlin, whose record at Idaho dipped under. 500, at 87-88, with the defeat.
After Ross' follow and an Idaho timeout, Vandals point guard Glen Dean dribbled up the court and found Scott on the right wing. But before Scott could handle a low pass and pull the trigger on a desperation 3-pointer, the buzzer sounded.
"The ball just slipped out (of my hands)," Scott said. "I was in such a rush."
Chicago State (6-8, 1-0) led by 14 early in the second half, thanks in part to Quinton Pippen, the nephew of Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen. He flashed a smooth outside stroke, going 4 of 4 from 3 in the first half and making his first six shots from the field.
But Pippen, who finished with 18 points, didn't score over the last 18-plus minutes and the Cougars managed just 19 points after the break.
Still, the Vandals fell into a deep cold spell late in the game and couldn't break through.
A 12-of-22 performance from the foul line didn't help. Over the last three games, Idaho has hit a meager 58 percent of its free throws. The poor performance Saturday came after each player made at least 500 free throws in practice over the past week, Verlin said.
UI's confidence from the line seems shaky. But what about overall?
"I think we’re still pretty confident," Scott said. "You look at the fact that it’s early. We’ve only got two games in conference, so we can’t lose confidence now. … We still believe in ourselves. It’s just a matter of time for us to buy in.
"Some of us haven’t bought in, haven’t really found what Coach is really trying to teach us. Some people still think they’ll go their own way, and we’ll be fine."