After its fifth try, Idaho has yet to win a game outside of the Palouse. Idaho fell 81-68 to Northern Kentucky on Monday night. The Norse completed a season sweep of Idaho, having also won 79-74 at Memorial Gym on Nov. 29.
Again, defending the 3-point shot doomed the Vandals. The Norse only shot 35.3 percent from beyond the arc, but that was off 12 makes. Idaho allowed Northern Kentucky to get 64 shots off, 34 off them from deep.
Much like Idaho's last road trip, it was a single player who went off in the second half that downed Idaho's hopes of victory. Tyler White sank four second-half 3s to keep the Vandals at bay despite scratching at the lead throughout the second half.
The Vandals may have been lucky not to have lost by a wider margin. Many of Northern Kentucky's 22 misses from deep were open shots. Idaho was late closing out the perimeter defensively most of the night.
"They had 12 3-pointers which is way too many," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "We screwed up defensive assignments that left them with too many open (looks at the) basket."
The Vandals trailed 40-34 at halftime with senior point guard Mike Scott pacing Idaho with 21 points. Normally, Scott looks to set up the offense and use his driving ability to dish to teammates in the post. Tonight, Scott was a shoot-first player, regularly letting it go from the perimeter. He was 3 of 5 from 3-point range in the first half, dishing out no assists. He only scored four points in the second half, finishing the night with 25 points and two assists, his lowest assist output of the season.
"We did a good job screening for him. Mike made a lot of tough shots," Verlin said.
Idaho coupled its defensive problems with a struggle on the offensive end of the floor for the first time since its first road game at Northern Illinois. Idaho was held under 70 points for the second time this season, scoring only 68 points on 34-percent shooting. Verlin thinks the Vandals were too perimeter oriented.
"You look at this game and we get 24 3-point shots. We have to pound that thing inside a little more. That’s way too many (3-point shots) for us," Verlin said.
Idaho's flat showing at Northern Kentucky ends the non-conference schedule at 5-6, 3-6 against Division-I competition. Idaho's only road win was at Washington State. The Vandals will open conference play on Jan. 1 against Idaho State at the Cowan Spectrum.
"That’s a rival game. In most states that’s a rival game even though we haven't played them a lot lately," Verlin said. "Then we got the defending league champions again and then probably the best team in the league following them. We have to find a way to defend our home court when conference play starts."