MOSCOW, Idaho – Just over a minute into the second half, Idaho senior Wendell Faines – a 250-pound power forward who rarely strays outside the paint – stepped back and planted a 16-foot jumper.
It was another pleasant development up to that point for the Vandals, who looked like they would breeze past San Jose State to earn a rare Western Athletic Conference home victory.
But Idaho’s 66-63 win Saturday night at Cowan Spectrum certainly wasn’t a stroll. More like a foul-filled slugfest that nearly tipped the Spartans’ way.
Despite making just 4 of 15 free throws in the second half (and 8 of 24 in the game), SJSU charged back from 15 down to within one point twice late in the game before fading in the last 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
The Spartans (9-13, 3-8) wrestled away 16 offensive rebounds in the second half alone – five of which came off missed foul shots – and put up 19 more shots in the game than Idaho (9-12, 5-6).
It was a head-shaking second half performance by the Vandals, and it followed their loss Thursday night to Utah State in which the Aggies had their way on the glass.
“We found a way to win and that’s a positive,” coach Don Verlin said. “We’ve lost a lot of these ballgames this year.”
“San Jose just rebounded the heck out of it. They just beasted us on the boards. It was pretty simple – they just kicked our tail on the boards in the second half.”
The Vandals shot 36 percent from the field, only marginally better than SJSU, and went cold from the 3-point line in the second half. But the difference was at the foul line.
Idaho went 11 of 12 on charity shots down the stretch, while SJSU never looked comfortable at the line.
“I thought at the end we did a good job of just settling down and getting a win,” said guard Connor Hill, who led Idaho with 19 points and went 7 of 7 on foul shots. “That’s most important.”
For the first time in several weeks, Verlin shook up the starting lineup, putting in seniors Faines and Mansa Habeeb in place of Stephen Madison and point guard Robert Harris.
Madison had started 53 consecutive games, but Verlin was looking for a greater sense of urgency from his first five – and he thought his seniors would provide it.
That proved to be the case early. With the Spartans in a shooting funk, the Vandals took command. They led 16-5 on a stepback 3 from Habeeb and were in control thanks to three early blocks from Faines and strong shooting from Hill.
“I’m happy as heck to win,” Verlin said, “but that’s been the frustrating thing with this team is we seem to get one hole clogged up and then another kind of leaks.”
Idaho forward Marcus Bell, who last played Jan. 12, has decided to transfer, Verlin announced after the game. The junior-college transfer from Modesto, Calif., appeared in 14 games. Verlin questioned Bell’s attitude late last month, saying he needed to “see more focus and more discipline from Marcus.”