MOSCOW, Idaho – Stephen Madison flew into the Idaho bench to chase down a loose ball, Mike Scott knifed into the lane for two crafty buckets and, finally, the Vandals’ holiday fog started to lift.
They had trailed almost all of Saturday night against Chicago State, another Western Athletic Conference newbie making its conference debut. But Scott’s offense and a refreshed defensive energy helped the Vandals draw even in the final minute.
It still wasn’t enough, though, to stop a slide that started before Christmas.
Chicago State’s Matt Ross converted a putback with 3 seconds left, and Idaho couldn’t get a shot off at the buzzer to drop a 57-55 decision to the Cougars in front of just 785 fans at Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals (6-10, 0-2 WAC) have lost four straight, the last three at home by one, six and two points. All have been “rip-your-heart-out” games, coach Don Verlin said.
“This team needs some confidence, and it’s really hard to get confidence when you get beat, especially in games that rip your hearts out,” said Verlin, whose record at Idaho dipped under. 500, at 87-88, with the defeat.
After Ross’ follow and an Idaho timeout, Vandals point guard Glen Dean dribbled up the court and found Scott on the right wing. But before Scott could handle a low pass and pull the trigger on a desperation 3-pointer, the buzzer sounded.
“The ball just slipped out (of my hands),” Scott said. “I was in such a rush.”
Chicago State (6-8, 1-0) led by 14 early in the second half, thanks in part to Quinton Pippen, the nephew of Chicago Bulls Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen. He flashed a smooth outside stroke, going 4 of 4 on 3-pointers in the first half and making his first six shots.
But Pippen, who finished with 18 points, didn’t score over the last 18 minutes and the Cougars had just 19 points after the break.
Still, the Vandals fell into a deep cold spell late in the game and couldn’t break through.
A 12-of-22 performance from the foul line didn’t help. Over the last three games, Idaho has hit a meager 58 percent of its free throws. The poor performance came after each player made at least 500 free throws in practice over the past week, Verlin said.
UI’s confidence from the line seems shaky. But what about overall?
“I think we’re still pretty confident,” Scott said. “You look at the fact that it’s early. We’ve only got two games in conference, so we can’t lose confidence now. We still believe in ourselves. It’s just a matter of time for us to buy in.
“Some of us haven’t bought in, haven’t really found what Coach is really trying to teach us. Some people still think they’ll go their own way, and we’ll be fine.”