MOSCOW, Idaho – Near the end of the worst half Idaho has played this season, Kyle Barone cradled the ball in the paint … and then watched it inexplicably squirt away. Instead of pursuing the ball, the Vandals’ power forward gave a puzzled look to an official and headed back to play defense.
It was the low moment Thursday night for the turnover-prone Barone, and it was one of many head-scratching miscues for Idaho in a 73-55 loss to Nevada in the Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball opener for both teams.
In front of a quiet holiday break crowd of 1,081 at Cowan Spectrum, the Vandals – after losing their last three games by a combined seven points – absorbed their first double-digit defeat of the season. And this one wasn’t competitive after the first few minutes.
Idaho, which has lost four straight games, was undone by 13 turnovers in the first half against the Wolf Pack’s aggressive pressure defense. Nevada registered 12 steals in the first 20 minutes and Deonte Burton splashed in a 28-foot 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give UNR a 42-25 lead.
Burton, the early favorite for the WAC’s player of the year award, put on a dazzling show. The sophomore point guard pumped in 26 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line and added six assists.
“I thought they dominated us in every phase of the game tonight,” UI coach Don Verlin said. “I thought they played harder than us. I thought they played with more energy than us.”
The Vandals (7-8) edged within 14 points, 60-46, with 8:58 left. But Dario Hunt responded with a reverse slam, on a Burton drive and assist, and Burton added a three-point play on the following possession.
But it wasn’t just Burton who was white-hot from the field. Malik Story went 5 of 7 from long range and finished with 17 points.
Story and Burton – the Wolf Pack’s starting backcourt – combined to make nine of their first 10 3s. And early in the second half, they had outscored UI by themselves 37-34.
“He can really get it going,” Verlin said of Burton. “He’s gotten going against us every time, it seems like.
“… He’s a guy in our league that’s probably the best candidate to play at the next level.”
The Vandals had just three turnovers in the second half, but the damage from their early carelessness was enough for Nevada (11-3) to cruise to its eighth straight victory. Barone, after a seven-turnover outing last week in a loss to Boise State, had four in the first half and finished with just eight points and three rebounds.
Stephen Madison paced UI with 13 points. He was the only Vandal in double figures.