MOSCOW, Idaho – Kyle Barone hadn’t missed a shot Saturday night – 10-for-10 from the field – when he drove to the top of key with just over a minute left and Idaho in desperate need for something to go right.
The Vandals were up by just a point and the shot clock was inside 10 seconds when Barone noticed two Texas-San Antonio defenders collapsing on him – and teammate Mike McChristian alone in the corner behind the 3-point line.
The Idaho center, in the midst of the best shooting performance in school history, fired a perfect pass to McChristian, who drained the key shot in a 74-70 basketball victory over the Roadrunners in front of 1,139 at Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals (8-11, 4-5 in the WAC) won for the first time at home since Dec. 15 and finally showed enough late-game moxie to put away an opponent.
It helped, too, to get another superb game from Barone.
The senior was perfect from the floor in a 25-point, 16-rebound gem.
He blocked three shots and also had two assists, none bigger than his bullet to McChristian with a minute left.
“I thought he really made an unselfish play there,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said of Barone, who got his WAC-leading 10th double-double of the season and 20th of his career.
The Vandals blew a 17-point lead Thursday in a loss to Texas State despite 27 points and 16 rebounds from Barone.
This time, though, they didn’t throw the ball away late and got enough defensive stops.
Still, UTSA (5-14, 1-8) knocked down 13 3-pointers, including one with 8.9 seconds left from Michael Hale III that pulled the Roadrunners within 72-70.
Connor Hill then sank both free throws for Idaho to ice the game.
Afterward Verlin shook hands with school president Duane Nellis and was greeted on the court by a smiling Don Monson, the Idaho coaching legend.
Verlin looked relieved to pull out a win in a stressful situation, and his players were too.
“It’s the best feeling, especially when you’ve been fighting like we have been,” Barone said.
Similar to what transpired Thursday, when the Vandals’ huge lead shrank to five points before the half, the Roadrunners closed out the first half on a 10-2 run to tie the game.
Five of UTSA’s last seven points of the half came after poor passes from Denzel Douglas, UI’s backup point guard.
Both throws into traffic were easily intercepted – Verlin called them “boneheaded plays” – and the Roadrunners got easy looks each time.
But Idaho calmed down after a shaky start to the second half and finished with 11 turnovers, far below what it’s been averaging lately.
“At some point it’s gotta to improve,” Verlin said of his team’s turnover issues.