MOSCOW, Idaho – It was a basic 2-on-1 fast break with Idaho firmly in control, and guard Sekou Wiggs had two options: He could go hard to the basket himself or try to lob it to teammate Joe Kammerer, a 6-foot-9 center not known for his soft hands.
Wiggs went with option B, which clearly wasn’t the choice Vandals coach Don Verlin would have made.
When Wiggs’ fancy lob pass soared over Kammerer’s head and out of bounds, Verlin came unhinged – sort of like the Vandals on Saturday night for a long stretch of the second half in an improbable 68-67 loss to Seattle U in front of 1,126 at Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals (8-14, 2-6 WAC) didn’t just blow a 16-point lead in the second half thanks to a series of turnovers and poor decisions like Wiggs’ lob attempt. After gathering themselves and taking a four-point lead with 14 seconds left on two clutch shots from Connor Hill and Stephen Madison, they let another likely win slip away in the final seconds.
“We get (a) 2-on-1 and we decide we’re going to make ESPN highlight reels instead of playing fundamental, sound basketball,” Verlin said of Wiggs’ turnover. “And the momentum of the game changes. That was really it.”
Up 67-66 with 8 seconds left, the Vandals were called for a 5-second violation. Hill couldn’t find anyone on the inbounds play, and UI didn’t have any timeouts left.
Idaho defended Seattle’s ensuing inbounds play well, but the clock started in error and a buzzer sounded, prompting the officials to reset the play. After regrouping, SU found Manny Chibuogwu on the real inbounds and he converted a close-range shot while getting fouled by Madison.
Chibuogwu missed the free throw, but Madison’s pass to Hill up the court was intercepted to end the game.
“It’s a lot of basic stuff we’ve been doing all year, and we just don’t execute the way we should,” said Madison, who had a game-high 27 points. “That’s what happens – you lose close ones.”
Verlin spent most of a brief postgame news conference questioning his players’ maturity and puzzling over a lack of execution. He twice repeated the “players gotta play” message that he’s mentioned previously during UI’s trying season.
“At some point this team has to grow up,” he said. “It’s pretty simple how we’re getting our butts beat. It’s because we’re not mature enough to win games.”
The Vandals extended their lead to 49-33 early in the second half.
But Seattle U, which had lost seven of eight games, charged back. The Redhawks (10-10, 2-5) mounted a 23-2 run to go in front 56-51 with 10 minutes left.