January 3, 2014 in Sports

Vandals can’t maintain edge in WAC opener

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Follow Idaho Vandals sports reporter Josh Wright on Twitter @SRJoshWright

MOSCOW, Idaho – The late-game misadventures, from the free-throw line and elsewhere, are mounting for the Idaho men’s basketball team. And they’re starting to overshadow some weighty individual achievements.

The Vandals failed to sustain two five-point leads late in the second half in an 80-74 defeat to Missouri-Kansas City on Thursday night in their final Western Athletic Conference opener before moving to the Big Sky next season.

With students on holiday break, an announced crowd of 1,021 was on hand at Cowan Spectrum.

After trailing by nine points in the first half to the Kangaroos, who were making their WAC debut and were picked by the coaches to finish last in the conference, Idaho (6-9, 0-1) started the second half with one of its most spirited stretches of the season.

The charge was kick-started by Connor Hill, a junior guard from Post Falls who eclipsed Orlando Lightfoot’s school record of 168 made 3-pointers with 5:32 remaining. His third 3-pointer of the game gave Idaho a 66-61 lead.

But after blowing a 15-point cushion in a loss to Montana on Saturday night, UI unraveled again with poor foul shooting, defensive breakdowns – and a few shots that rimmed in and out.

Idaho coach Don Verlin didn’t make himself or his players available to the media after the team’s third straight loss.

The Vandals were slightly better from the free-throw line than last week, but they still missed 5 of 6 at one point down the stretch and went 16 of 24 from the stripe. Stephen Madison and Mike Scott went 0 for 2 on trips to the line in the final 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Kangaroos (4-9, 1-0) banged in all eight of their foul shots in the final 22 seconds to put the Vandals away.

“They’re a great team,” said UMKC freshman guard Martez Harrison, who went 4 for 4 from the foul line to close the game. “It just felt good to come out here in our first conference game and see our guys play hard and get a win.”

Madison, on the heels of a career-high 35 points against the Griz, went for 20 points and 10 rebounds. Glen Dean added 19 points, and Sekou Wiggs was Idaho’s most resourceful offensive threat for parts of the game while amassing 16 points and eight rebounds.

The Vandals started three guards – Dean, Hill and Scott – for the first time this season, keeping center Joe Kammerer on the bench. The first big man to play was Paulin Mpawe, and UI’s posts combined to contribute just five points and six rebounds.

Idaho hosts Chicago State, another WAC newcomer, at 7 p.m. Saturday.


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