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Vandals let game slip away

Bulldogs bounce back after UI’s sloppy play

MOSCOW, Idaho – The freefall started with turnovers – bunches of them in rapid succession. Then came frightful free-throw shooting, and the University of Idaho’s curious meltdown was underway.

In mere moments, the Vandals went from an eight-point lead against powerful Louisiana Tech to full-blown self-destruction mode. The breakdown was swift and costly.

Idaho’s late-game blunders resulted in a 77-71 loss to Louisiana Tech in its Western Athletic Conference home opener. A crowd of 2,047 was on hand at the Cowan Spectrum.

The Vandals (8-6, 1-2) were vexed by poor execution, a 2-for-9 second-half performance from the foul line and a dynamite play from the Bulldogs’ Kyle Gibson. The senior guard poured in 15 of his game-high 28 points in the final 6 minutes.

“If he’s not the best player in the league, he’s one of them,” UI coach Don Verlin said of Gibson. “When it came time to play, he lined up and got it done.”

Steffan Johnson’s 3-pointer pushed UI to its largest lead, 56-48, with 11:13 left and was part of a rousing start to the second half for the Vandals. But the momentum quickly fizzled.

Louisiana Tech (15-2, 3-0) coaxed seven Idaho turnovers in the next 61/2 minutes and unleashed a crippling 19-2 flurry. Gibson cranked in nine straight points – six on back-to-back 3-pointers – to trigger the run.

“In the second half, when it was time for us to make a play, we turned it over or missed some free throws,” Verlin said. “That’s how you lose ballgames.”

The loss overshadowed Mac Hopson’s 24-point, eight-rebound night. The UI point guard put in five points in less than 10 seconds early in the second half with a pullup jumper and 3 sandwiched between a Luiz Toledo steal of an inbounds pass.

The wild sequence gave Hopson 22 points with more than 15 minutes left. But he didn’t connect on a field goal after that.

The senior seemed frazzled by the Bulldogs’ relentless ball pressure, finishing with five of UI’s 18 turnovers.

“I thought the guys came out a little slow in the second half and then we caught fire,” LTU coach Kerry Rupp said. “I thought our defense and ball pressure created some opportunities …”

The Bulldogs’ top threats weren’t the issue early. With 6-foot-11 Magnum Rolle saddled with two early fouls and Gibson quiet on offense, LTU turned to point guard DeAndre Brown and athletic wing Olu Ashaolu.

Brown hit three floaters in the lane and Ashaolu cashed in on four dunks – including a ferocious spinning reverse flush – to stake the Bulldogs to a four-point lead late in the first half.

But the scrappy Vandals ratcheted up their pressure and mustered an 8-0 outburst before the break. The run put them on top 36-31 before LTU closed the half with five unanswered points, topped off by a 24-foot heave by Brown with 3 seconds left.

After halftime, UI’s foul shooting woes became glaring. Kashif Watson missed a pair of free throws during Tech’s key run and Hopson managed just 1 of 3 with the Vandals still in range and 42.5 seconds left.

When asked about all the misses from the line, Verlin said, “That’s a great question. I don’t have an answer for that. We’ve shot 23,000 of them since we started this year, so I don’t know.”

Louisiana Tech 77, Idaho 71

 Louisiana Tech (15-2, 3-0)—Guyton 2-3 0-0 4, Ashaolu 6-10 0-2 12, Brown 9-14 0-1 19, Rolle 4-7 0-1 8, K.Gibson 7-14 11-14 28, Berhe 0-0 0-0 0, Redding 0-1 0-0 0, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Bartlett 0-0 6-6 6, Oliverson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-49 17-24 77.

Idaho (8-6, 1-2)—Hopson 9-16 4-9 24, Johnson 5-11 0-0 13, Toledo 4-6 0-0 8, Watson 3-8 1-6 7, Jefferson 4-8 1-2 9, Ledbetter 0-0 0-0 0, Henderson 0-1 0-0 0, de Souza 1-3 1-2 4, Lawrence 0-0 0-0 0, Barone 2-2 2-2 6. Totals 28-55 9-21 71. Halftime—Tied 36-36. 3-Point Goals—Louisiana Tech 4-14 (K.Gibson 3-7, Brown 1-5, Ashaolu 0-2), Idaho 6-12 (Johnson 3-7, Hopson 2-3, de Souza 1-2). Fouled Out—Ashaolu, Guyton. Rebounds—Louisiana Tech 28 (Ashaolu 9), Idaho 30 (Hopson, Jefferson 8). Assists—Louisiana Tech 4 (Ashaolu 2), Idaho 12 (Hopson 4). Total Fouls—Louisiana Tech 23, Idaho 20. A—2,047.