MOSCOW, Idaho – Walking out of the locker room at halftime, Connor Hill knew Idaho needed a spark. Trailing Portland State by two points at halftime, and a half a game in the Big Sky Conference standings, he knew Idaho needed a win.
“We gotta get this,” he said while walking out onto the court with his teammates.
The senior from Post Falls shot 6 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc in the second half, pushing the Vandals to an 87-76 win over the Vikings and jumping Idaho (12-12, 5-6 Big Sky) over PSU (11-11, 5-7) in the conference standings.
Hill hurt the Vikings from the perimeter in a variety of ways, including catching and shooting off screens and waiting in the corner while guards dribble-penetrated to draw in defenders.
After his third 3 went in at the 11:58 mark in the second, he knew it was time for a heat check. Hill took a handoff from Mike Scott 25 feet from the basket, and it didn’t really matter that a defender was right in his face. All Hill saw was the basket and all the ball did was hit nylon as his 3-pointer put Idaho ahead 60-47.
“If I make three in a row I’m looking to shoot it because I got that flame,” Hill said.
Idaho led 72-54 by the time Hill’s final 3 went in. He checked out of the game with 28 points after a pair of made free throws, 20 of those points coming in the second half.
Hill’s 45-percent 3-point-shooting mark has often made him the center of attention for opposing Big Sky defenses. His teammates take it upon themselves to make sure he’s open, because they know if he has the room he’s draining the shots.
“It happens in practice all the time, we look at Connor because he’s such a great 3-point shooter,” sophomore guard Sekou Wiggs said. “It becomes a habit when you’re driving to the basket and you draw a couple (defenders) that Connor is going to be open.”
All six of Hill’s 3s in the second half were assisted, five of them accounting for most of Scott’s nine assists. In all, 19 of Idaho’s 30 field goals happened because of assists.
“That’s a tribute to the guys,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “… Connor Hill doesn’t get those shots if we don’t execute offensively, guys set screens for him and guys passing the ball. I was happy to see our offense execute that way.”
The Vandals, now in seventh place, sit 1 1/2 games ahead of North Dakota in the conference standings, the ninth-place team vying for the final conference tournament spot.
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