MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin couldn’t have asked for a better setup: four consecutive stops from his defense in crunch time, four consecutive good looks on offense.
Yet none of the Vandals’ shots went in – and neither did Mike McChristian’s open 3-point attempt before the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime Thursday night.
The University of Texas at Arlington, despite scoring just two points in the last 4 minutes, escaped Cowan Spectrum with a 71-68 victory over Idaho in Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball action.
“It’s the way the ball bounced,” Verlin said. “I thought we got great looks. Just didn’t make them.”
The Vandals (9-15, 5-9) didn’t just come up empty late in front of a sparse crowd of 883. They couldn’t convert simple lay-in attempts – three of them, in fact, in the final 90 seconds.
The most egregious miss came from Kyle Barone with 1:02 left. The 6-foot-10 center coasted up the court after a McChristian steal and was all alone under the basket when he lost his dribble and stumbled before throwing up an awkward shot.
Barone, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, appeared to tweak an ankle before attempting the layup.
Nonetheless, the Mavericks (13-9, 8-5) came up empty on their next possession, giving Idaho a chance to take the lead down 69-68. But McChristian’s layup attempt rimmed out with 7 seconds left, and UTA hit two free throws.
That set up UI’s final play: a quick handoff to McChristian, who found himself alone behind the 3-point line. The senior guard watched his hurried jumper start to go down before popping out of the hoop.
“It (didn’t) go our way with the basketball gods,” said senior Mansa Habeeb, who had 11 points.
After UTA got a quick 3 from the hot-handed Kevin Butler early in the second half to go up 42-30, it was a ragged, back-and-forth finish.
The Vandals uncorked a 17-3 run to take their first lead since early in the game.
Then the Mavericks – in their first year in the WAC – answered with a 12-1 scoring spree of their own to assume momentary control.
Barone followed with eight unanswered points to draw UI within one, 58-57.
But Idaho, playing without backup small forward Matt Borton (concussion) and point guard Robert Harris (bacterial infection), seemed to tire against UTA’s energetic defense.
“It might have been fatigue,” Verlin said, “but you like to think at this point in the season it’s not.”
Idaho managed to claw back despite a splendid shooting display from Butler. He went 7-for-7 from beyond the arc and 8-for-8 from the field in a 23-point effort.
UI’s Stephen Madison was just as sharp, making all five of his 3s – which tied an Idaho single-game record. He put up 25 points with a career-high four steals.