MOSCOW, Idaho – After the last regular-season matchup for the foreseeable future between two coaches – and two teams – who know each other like brothers, Idaho’s Don Verlin could scarcely have been more candid.
“I got my butt outcoached tonight,” Verlin said after Utah State dispatched the Vandals 77-67 Thursday night at Cowan Spectrum. “They were way ahead of us all night long. No question about it.”
The Aggies, in their final year in the Western Athletic Conference, overwhelmed the Vandals (8-12, 4-6) on the glass and in the paint offensively to pocket their first win in five games. They outrebounded UI 27-16 and shot 60 percent from the floor.
USU coach Stew Morrill, who had Verlin by his side for 15 years at Colorado State and in Logan, flummoxed Idaho by mixing defenses and having his big men throw out of double teams for easy layups.
It didn’t matter that the Aggies were without two of their top players due to injury, or that Idaho was supported by more students than usual in a whiteout game in which UI fans got free white T-shirts before the game.
Even with the promotion, just 1,190 showed up.
“We’ve obviously been suffering some adversity and I’m really happy with our players,” Morrill said. “They’ve hung in there and they’ve kept fighting. We lost a couple tight ones at home. But with the injury situation, it would have been really easy to get down and out, and we haven’t done that.”
Idaho trailed by just two, 46-44, with 10:55 left after a Mansa Habeeb 3-pointer – only his second triple of the year. But the Aggies (15-5, 6-4) exploded for a 15-2 run, keyed by back-to-back 3-pointers from reserve guard TeNale Roland.
The Vandals then committed two unforced turnovers with bad passes near midcourt, and “it snowballed on us,” Verlin said.
It looked like the game was going to get out of hand early, too. Idaho found itself down 18-3 less than seven minutes into the game, the worst-imaginable start for a team trying to string together consecutive WAC home wins for the first time this year.
USU made baskets on its first eight possessions, while the Vandals were thrown off by the Aggies’ zone defense.
“I think the zone defense, we didn’t know what to do and we kind of got back on our heels,” said Idaho center Kyle Barone, who followed up a monster weekend with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Idaho weathered the choppy start and unleashed a 15-2 run to get the fans into the game.
Still, the Aggies had their way with Idaho on the boards. Jarred Shaw, a 6-foot-10 junior averaging 12.7 points per game, finished with 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting and nine rebounds (four of which were on the offensive end).
The Aggies were without starters Preston Medlin (wrist) and Kyisean Reed (knee), but they pounded Idaho using a big lineup.
Asked if his team was physically outplayed, Verlin said, “No question. And that was the key to the game was the physicality of this game. I knew it was going to be tough. I tried to play a bigger lineup as much as I could tonight.”
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