MOSCOW, Idaho – If the Idaho basketball team came away with any valuable lessons during the first half of the WAC season, it’s that double-digit leads don’t mean a thing.
The Vandals pondered that thought at halftime but still fell victim to a phenomenal effort from Texas State super-sub Joel Wright, as the Texas State Bobcats (6-14, 2-6) snatched a 78-73 win from the Vandals (7-11, 3-5) Thursday night in the Cowan Spectrum.
While the Vandals would endure their fifth WAC loss of the season, their all-conference center, Kyle Barone, became the career scoring leader for Idaho post players.
The Vandal senior needed 14 points to slide into the No. 1 spot previously held by Riley Smith at 1,195. Barone converted a three-point play early in the second half to pass Smith.
He finished with a career-high 27 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.
Despite Barone’s effort, Idaho’s first-half lead disappeared in the second half as the Vandals desperately sought out an answer to Wright.
Wright went off for a WAC season-high 37 points, 24 of those coming in the second half of play. The junior scored 14 points with 5 minutes remaining.
Idaho led by as many as 17 points in the first half and kept a grip on the lead until midway through the second half when Texas State knotted the score at 47-47. The Bobcats, losers of nine of their past 11 games, didn’t grab the lead until 3 minutes remained in the second half.
During that time span, Idaho committed four of its 18 turnovers. Even when Denzel Douglas converted a late steal into two free throws to bring the Vandals within two, they paid for their poor decision-making down the stretch.
“The bottom line, for this team to win we’ve got to take care of our turnover woes,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We’re giving teams 10-12 more shots a game. … It’s really simple, don’t turn the ball over and you’ll probably win.”
With 19 seconds to go, Robert Harris threw up a well-defended 3-point shot and fouled Wright on the ensuing possession.
Wright made both free throws to put the game out of reach of the Vandals, who blew their biggest lead of the season. “The guy next to me right here, that’s the best individual performance I have ever seen as a coach,” Bobcats coach Doug Davalos said of Wright. “I don’t give a damn – I’ve watched a lot of NBA. He put us on his back and made every play down the stretch. Now listen, this was a team win, but that’s the guy that needs to be doing most of the talking.”