The University of Idaho men’s basketball team played the role of pesky visitors, but the Vandals couldn’t overcome an early deficit in a 70-61 loss at Utah State in Western Athletic Conference action Monday.
Idaho (7-8, 1-1) caused 17 turnovers and held the Aggies (13-1, 1-0) to just 36-percent shooting in the second half, but Utah State’s early shooting barrage created a 16-point deficit that proved too much for the Vandals to overcome.
“Our guys did an unbelievable job tonight considering it’s the second game of the road trip and we’re playing at 5,000 feet of elevation,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We had our chances, but we made a few errors and didn’t finish some opportunities.”
The Aggies, ranked first in the nation for field-goal shooting and eighth for turnovers, hit nine of their first 11 shots, including 5 of 5 from beyond the 3-point arc, to jump out early.
Idaho, playing in a building where the home team has won 93 percent of its games, cut the margin to three points midway through the second half, but the Aggies held off the charge for the nine-point victory.
Kashif Watson scored 15 points, hitting 9 of 10 free throws, and Marvin Jefferson scored 12 points despite playing just 23 minutes with foul trouble for Idaho.
Mac Hopson struggled for the first time this season and finished with 12 points. He hit just 5 of 16 shots to go with five assists and four steals. Luciano de Souza hit three 3-pointers for the third consecutive game to finish with nine points and Brandon Wiley scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds.
Two key statistics for the Vandals were a 36-19 disadvantage in rebounding and just 19 points scored on 17 Aggies turnovers.
“(The rebounding) was the difference in the ball game. If we don’t fix our rebounding woes it is going to be a long WAC season,” Verlin said.
Elsewhere in the WAC: Hamidu Rahman sank a pair of free throws with 2.7 seconds remaining to lift visiting New Mexico State past San Jose State 75-73.
Wendell McKines scored a career-high 21 points for the Aggies (8-7, 2-0 WAC), who beat the Spartans (6-6, 0-2) for the eighth straight time. Jahmar Young added 17 points while Rahman had 13. Jonathan Gibson scored all 11 of his points in the second half.
Louisiana Tech was at Hawaii in a late game.
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