MOSCOW, Idaho – Nearly every time Idaho went up for a free throw on Tuesday night, a zealous Cal State Northridge fan (yes, a few were at Memorial Gym) unleashed a high-pitched scream.
At first, the shrieks were unnerving to the Vandals at the line and even to coach Don Verlin, it seemed. But by the time Joe Vandal, Idaho’s mascot, went over to stand in front of the Matadors fan, UI was on its way to its most complete offensive game of the season.
The Vandals dominated for part of the second half and held off Northridge in the final minutes for a 96-88 nonconference win in front of 1,067 at Memorial Gym.
Idaho’s biggest offensive outburst of the season was led by Connor Hill, a junior guard from Post Falls who erupted for 28 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the 3-point line. He came up one 3-pointer short of matching the single-game program record, set by Mike Hall in 2008.
For whatever reason, Hill and the Vandals (11-16) seem to play better – and shoot better – at cozy Memorial Gym than at Cowan Spectrum, their primary venue inside the Kibbie Dome. The team was forced to finish out the year at Memorial Gym with the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival taking over the Dome.
“I don’t seem to shoot as well at Cowan, but it’s probably just a mindset,” Hill said. “I’ve just got to get over that. But it is nice being back at home at Mem. There is a comfort zone here. It’s home for everyone.”
With Hill shooting “the fire out of it,” as Verlin put it afterward, and his teammates distributing the ball well, the Vandals built a 19-point lead with 9 minutes left.
Northridge (13-15) sped up the game with its full-court defense and trimmed the Vandals’ cushion to five, 93-88, with 49 seconds left. But Stephen Madison and Sekou Wiggs went 3 of 4 from the foul line to seal the win.
On top of scoring its most points of the year, Idaho shot a season-best 59 percent from the field. Verlin was most pleased, however, with how well the Vandals shared the ball. They had a season-high 21 assists on 33 made field goals.
“Definitely one of our best offensive performances of the year,” Verlin said. “Our ball moved as good as it’s moved all year, and it’s finally nice to kind of see the offense look like it has my previous five years here.”
Hill was one of five Vandals to post double-digit points – the first time Idaho has accomplished that feat since 2011. Madison had 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists after going off for 42 points last week at Utah Valley, while Wiggs had 16 points off the bench.
Wiggs wasn’t the only freshman to contribute for the Vandals. Redshirt frosh Ty Egbert had 11 points and made all five of his field-goal attempts, including a layin with 1:21 left that gave Idaho some breathing room.
“We’re going to see a lot of good things from Sekou Wiggs and Ty Egbert,” Verlin said.
And about that screaming Northridge fan? Verlin gave a smiling “no comment” when asked about her.