Free throws down stretch big for UI
MOSCOW, Idaho – The Idaho Vandals made their free throws in the final seconds, and they won.
It sounds simplistic, and it is. But after being haunted for the past month at the foul line, the Vandals earned a 64-61 victory over California State University Bakersfield on Saturday night with a 6-for-6 closing stretch from the line.
Mike Scott swished two free throws with 3 seconds left, and Issiah Grayson’s 60-foot heave at the buzzer missed the mark to give the short-handed Vandals (8-12, 2-4 WAC) their first win at Cowan Spectrum this season.
Idaho had been 0-5 at the Spectrum, its primary basketball venue, with the losses coming by an average of three points. But in front of 1,414 fans, UI erased a seven-point deficit with a 3-point barrage from Connor Hill and Scott and forced two late turnovers that proved critical.
The tight victory should give the Vandals a shot of confidence, especially after dropping four painful games at home since late December.
“Oh, man. It’s huge,” said Hill, who had 16 points and drained four 3-pointers. “It felt like we could not pull one off for the longest time, and we were right there in everyone and we just kept losing at the end.”
Scott, a junior-college transfer who chose Idaho over Bakersfield, started at point guard in place of the injured Glen Dean (ankle) and dropped in a career-high 20 points. The 6-foot-1 junior had six assists and just two turnovers.
Without Dean, the Vandals got 56 of their 64 points from Scott, Hill and Stephen Madison, who went 10 of 14 from the line and finished with 20 points.
“I thought Mike Scott played a great game,” UI coach Don Verlin said. “He was recruited by Bakersfield. I’m glad he (chose) Idaho. … I thought he stepped up and played remarkably well the last two games.”
In the first 10 minutes, the Vandals were as efficient as they’ve been all year. Led by Scott and Hill, Idaho roared to a 22-7 lead midway through the first half after stringing together a 17-1 run.
Scott and Hill combined for the Vandals’ first 15 points of the game, and CSUB came up empty on eight straight possessions.
But the game quickly turned. The Roadrunners (8-10, 1-3) became the more aggressive team offensively and unleashed a 13-0 answer to the Vandals’ big spree.
The biggest difference to Verlin: The Vandals stopped pushing the ball up the court and getting transition buckets. With their offense sluggish, they trailed 48-41 midway through the second half before Hill and Scott combined for three 3s during a 14-5 push to give UI the lead.
Then came a back-and-forth finish, and several clutch plays (and free throws) by Idaho.
Asked what it took to close out a tense game, Scott said, “It took belief, and it took energy.”