Kyle Barone has been a consistent force inside, Mike McChristian looks more comfortable away from the ball and Robert Harris continues to give Idaho a lift at point guard. Those are three reasons why the Vandals won for the third time in four games on Thursday night, strangling San Jose State in a 64-55 WAC win.
But the biggest reason was the Vandals' defense on the Spartans in general and James Kinney in particular. Kinney, the nation's seventh-leading scorer coming in, had 17 points but was just 6 of 21 from the field.
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Idaho (6-6, 2-0) is at .500 for the first time this season. It plays at Utah State, on an 11-game winning streak and also unbeaten in the WAC, on Saturday night at 6:05 PST. A win in Logan would be the first for Idaho since March 1, 2003, and give the Vandals three wins to start a conference season for the first time since 1997-98.
Here's the full's UI release:
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Both teams got out to a sluggish start, but only Idaho men’s basketball broke free in a 64-55 Western Athletic Conference win at San Jose State on Thursday at The Event Center.
In the first seven minutes of the game, Idaho (6-6, 2-0 WAC) and San Jose State (7-6, 2-1 WAC) combined to shoot just 24.1 percent from the floor (7-of-29). Idaho recovered from the slow start early on and finished with a 25-of-50 (.500) shooting performance, but the Spartans never got into rhythm and finished just 20-of-71 (.282) overall and 3-of-20 (.150) from 3-point range.
“You’ve got to give our assistant coaches a congratulatory note and pat on the back there,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said after the game. “They did a great job with the game plan and our guys went out and did a really nice job of going out there and executing.”
After starting the game shooting 5-of-15 from the floor, the Vandal men made nine of their final 13 shots to end the half with a 33-30 lead. San Jose State went just 12-of-41 (.293) from the floor in the first half, but got back 10 points from their 13 offensive rebounds during the period.
The Vandal men opened up the second half on a 13-2 scoring run to take a 46-32 lead at the 15:31 mark. SJSU made several surges in the half – like in the first half, aided by second-chance points – but Idaho responded each time. When the Spartans drew within five points, 53-48 with 8:12 to play, Idaho scored the game’s next seven points.
Five quick points from the WAC’s leading scorer, SJSU guard James Kinney, trimmed Idaho’s lead to five six points with 1:53 to play, but the Spartans didn’t make another field goal in the game and the Vandals held on for the win.
Vandal senior Kyle Barone tallied a third-consecutive double-double (a career first) with 16 points and a season-best 13 rebounds, along with three blocks, while junior guard Stephen Madison went 7-of-12 from the floor for 15 points. Senior guard Mike McChristian continued to fill the stat sheet after moving to his natural wing position with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in 27 minutes.
On the other side, Kinney entered the game ranked in the top 10 in the NCAA with nearly 22 points per game, but he went just 6-of-21 (.286) from the field and scored 17 points to lead the Spartans. No other San Jose State player made more than three field goals or cracked double figures.
“We really had to sit down and guard him tonight and try to contain him,” McChristian said of Kinney. “We knew he was going to get his shots up and he was going to get some points, but we just wanted to make it tough on him defensively.”
The game might not have been as close if not for two glaring spots on the box score for Idaho. San Jose State converted 21 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points – both Idaho opponent season highs. It’s the most offensive rebounds Idaho has surrendered in WAC play since giving up 23 to New Mexico State on Jan. 24, 2007. Idaho also had 15 turnovers in the game, which led to 16 San Jose State points.
“You look at this game as a whole and I thought we played really hard, we played aggressive, we executed our game plan,” Verlin said. “But we just gave up too many offensive rebounds and got a little sloppy with the ball.”
Idaho also found itself on the negative side of a rebounding margin for just the second time this season, as SJSU pulled down 40 boards, compared to Idaho’s 39. The Vandals notched a season-high nine blocked shots and strongly contested several more.
Next up for the Vandals is Saturday’s road trip to Utah State. Idaho has never started WAC play with a 3-0 record and hasn’t opened conference play with three straight wins since 1997-98 under head coach David Farrar. To do so, they’ll need to beat a USU team that has won 11 games in a row after Thursday’s 75-66 home win over Seattle U.
Saturday’s game tips off at 6:05 p.m. (PT) and can be viewed online on ESPN3.