Idaho encountered nothing but heartbreak on its road trip through the states of Illinois and South Dakota last week.
The Vandals blew a 17-point lead in the second half at Western Illinois, losing 78-75. Two days later at South Dakota State, senior point guard Mike Scott missed a game-winning 3-point attempt with three seconds remaining. The buzzer sounded with an 87-85 win for the Jackrabbits, and back-to-back road losses for the Vandals.
The theme of both games was Idaho's inability to get stops.
The Leathernecks dropped 53 points on Idaho in the second half. South Dakota State dropped 50 second-half points.
"We just didn’t defend it well enough and that kind of keeps rearing its head," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "(We play well) when we come up with the big stops. We haven’t been able to come up with them and we’ve got to find a way to do that."
Scoring the ball hasn't been a problem at all for the Vandals. Despite not having the Kyle Barone or Stephen Madison type of go-to scorer, Idaho has scored at least 74 points in all but one game. Idaho shot 46 percent at Western Illinois and 60 percent at South Dakota State. The Vandals had seven double-digit scoring performances over the two games (Connor Hill x2, Sekou Wiggs, Mike Scott x2, Bira Seck, Arkadiy Mkrtychyan). .
"We’ve got four or five who can score the ball and a number of guys who can step up and have a big night," Verlin said. "Scoring the ball has never been my issue, it’s being able to come up with stops. We can score the ball, what we got to do is figure out a way to get stops."
An inability to get stops led to an inability to score at times. The Vandals went scoreless from the 19:11 to 11:19 mark in the second half at WIU during a 20-0 Leatherneck run. Both WIU and SDSU were playing physical on Scott, forcing him into nine combined turnovers, triple the number of turnovers he had in seven games prior combined.
Verlin on how teams are defending Scott: "They were really physical with him and they bumped him a lot. I thought they pressured him quite a bit, I thought they set up their defenses to stop him. I thought the second half at South Dakota State he really adjusted to it, it took him a little time, people haven’t played him quite like that to this point and I thought, he has four assists no turnovers in the half. Mike’s assist to turnover ratio is still fifth or sixth best in the country. I think he learned a lot about how teams are going to play him."
To Scott's credit, he dished out 15 assists over the weekend. His assist to turnover ratio now sits at 5.7-1.3.
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Did you know that there's a college basketball team in Walla Walla? The Walla Walla University Wolves of NAIA are currently 0-13, having lost twice to Lewis-Clark State last week. The Vandals have beaten them twice over the last two seasons, last year in an exhibition and two years ago at Cowan Spectrum in a regular season contest.
"It's always good to have a home game, and then we have one more before Christmas (at Northern Kentucky on Dec. 22)," Verlin said. "It’s the only time we could fit in Walla Walla, our last Non D-I, and it just happened to be the Thursday of Finals week. That’s just how it worked out. Just by the way the dates worked out, and the come back and start conference play on the first of January, it was a perfect time for a home game."
It's hard to imagine the Vandals not flying to Northern Kentucky with a 5-5 mark on the season, but it might not mean much other than confidence. Idaho will remain 3-5 against Division-I competition until Monday when it plays the Norse.