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Vandals let road game slip away, fall to Western Illinois 78-75

After two straight games of holding opponents to 71 points, resulting in wins on the Palouse, Idaho coach Don Verlin wanted his team to bring that defense on the road.

For 20 minutes, at least, Verlin got what he wanted from the Vandal men's basketball team Thursday night at Western Illinois. Idaho held the Leathernecks to 25 first-half points, the lowest total the Vandals have held any opponent to in the first half all season. 

And then the defense dissipated. 

Western Illinois dropped 53 second-half points, erasing a 17-point Idaho lead in the process to down Idaho 78-75 at Western Hall in Macomb, Ill. 

Leatherneck guard Garret Covington nailed six 3-pointers and dropped 25 second-half points on the Vandals. 

"We probably played our best half of defense (of the season) in the first half," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "And our worst half (of the season) in the second."

Idaho's success on the offensive end of the floor was intertwined with its success on the other end. The Vandals went without a basket from the 19:11 mark of the second half to the 11:19 mark. WIU erased a 42-25 Idaho lead with a 20 run during that period. 

"During that stretch, we just made a ton of mistakes," Verlin said. "You can’t turn the ball over the way we did. And then we made some mistakes defensively that we didn’t make in the first half."

Idaho senior point guard Mike Scott led the turnover parade. He turned it over six times in the game, twice as many as he committed in his seven games previous combined. 

The Leathernecks only scored 10 points off Idaho turnovers, however. But what hurt was 3-point defense. Idaho held the Leathernecks to 1-11 from 3 in the first half. They rained in seven of their eight shots from beyond the arc in the second half. 

Verlin singled out three players for crucial defensive lapses. 

"We have a couple very basic rules that we’ve worked on forever," Verlin said. "Victor Sanders made one of those mistakes, Sekou Wiggs made one and Connor Hill made one and they all resulted in 3-point shots for Covington."

Hill didn't hit a 3-point shot until there was 2:16 remaining in the game, bringing Idaho to within six at the time. He went 1-6 from deep and didn't attempt a shot from downtown in the first half. 

Wiggs gave Idaho hope with under two minutes remaining by hitting back-to-back 3s to bring Idaho to within 72-69 and 74-72. The game was over when Scott missed a contested 3 with seven seconds left. 

Scott finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. 

Idaho (4-4) will travel to South Dakota State on Saturday to face the Jackrabbits for the second time this season. Verlin wants the Vandals to think of this like a Big Sky Conference road trip, with short memories and mental toughness. 

"When we walk out of the Hampton Inn at 6:30 am we need to flush our toilets and get ready for the next one," Verlin said. "All in all (South Dakota State is) a better basketball team than the one we played tonight ... (I) explain to (our team) where we had our shortcomings tonight and then you move on. You can’t dwell on this one." 



Sean Kramer
Sean Kramer is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.





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