MOSCOW, Idaho – The story is so familiar that it’s almost grown tedious for Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin and his players to rehash afterward.
The Vandals have no problem going blow-for-blow with the WAC’s best, as they did Saturday night. They’re also fully capable of building sizable leads, like they did in front of 1,132 at Cowan Spectrum.
But finishing games off against the top tier of the conference? It hasn’t happened yet.
Saturday night, Idaho couldn’t sustain a nine-point lead in the second half while dropping a 67-61 decision to first-place Louisiana Tech.
The Vandals (9-16, 5-10 Western Athletic Conference) turned the ball over nine times in the second half, the last few in excruciating fashion, and went almost six minutes late in the game without a field goal.
“We gave them this game,” Verlin said. “We don’t execute fundamentally – we drove it off our foot, hold it between our legs, dribbled it too far into the press, don’t get our shots up.
“I mean, the bottom line is they got the ball to their best player, and we didn’t get it to ours.”
Verlin was referring to Bulldogs sophomore guard Raheem Appleby, who tormented the Vandals in the second half. He poured in 21 of his game-high 28 points after the break, making five of his seven 3-pointers to help LTU claw back from an out-of-sorts opening half.
Idaho’s best player, Kyle Barone, tallied 19 points and eight rebounds. But he had just one field goal in the final 13 minutes while guard Robert Harris and Mansa Habeeb put up questionable shots and fumbled away the ball multiple times while going to the basket.
“They hit some tough shots, but we also turned the ball over too much and didn’t pressure them on the way down on defense,” Barone said.
Idaho is 0-6 against the WAC’s top three teams, with five of the six losses coming down to the final few possessions. It led for the first 32-plus minutes Saturday night before Appleby hit a jumper over Wendell Faines to put LTU up 50-49.
The Bulldogs (23-3, 14-0) won for the 15th straight time, largely on the strength of Appleby’s outside prowess and point guard Kenneth Smith’s 10 assists and no turnovers.
Smith became the first WAC player to dish out double-digit assists against Idaho since the Vandals joined the conference in 2005.
“It was a huge win for us,” Louisiana Tech coach Michael White said. “Very hard to win here, very hard to beat Idaho, period.”