MOSCOW, Idaho – It was a source of torment all night long. Time and again, the Idaho Vandals moseyed to the free-throw line Thursday and looked utterly lost.
Until it mattered most.
After Boise State whittled a 12-point deficit down to three with 14 seconds left, Idaho converted 3 of 4 free throws to hold off the Broncos 63-59 in a testy Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball battle.
A boisterous crowd of 4,731 packed into Cowan Spectrum to witness the Vandals snap BSU’s 14-game winning streak in this heated series. Idaho hadn’t beaten its archrival since Feb. 17, 2001.
Once it was over, a throng of students rushed the court to celebrate.
“It’s a huge win for our program,” said point guard Mac Hopson, who had a game-high 20 points with eight assists and no turnovers. “We (are) all speechless.”
The Vandals bumped their record to 10-10 and 4-3 in the WAC. It’s been a remarkable turnaround for a program that mustered a total of seven wins in their first three years in the conference.
The signature victory so far for coach Don Verlin came despite a wretched performance from the foul line. Idaho made just 11 of 25 free throws and didn’t have a single player hit two consecutive freebies until senior Trevor Morris knocked down a pair with 12.3 seconds left.
“They were horrible,” Verlin said. “I mean, you shoot 11 of 25 and win … it’s just one of those things. Basketball’s an interesting game, and we probably shoot as many free throws (in practice) as anybody in the country.”
Boise State (14-6, 5-3) also had its share of shooting woes. It shot 37 percent from the field for the game and went 3 of 15 from the 3-point line in the first half.
The Broncos’ touch vanished about the same time as Idaho found a groove right before halftime. The Vandals scored the final nine points of the first half, and then continued their spirited play after the break.
Keyed by one of the largest UI crowds in recent memory, the Vandals went on top 44-32 with a rebound and putback by Brandon Wiley.
But after keeping BSU at arm’s length for a while, the Broncos mounted a late surge. Guard Jamar Greene buried two off-balance 3-pointers in the final moments, the last of which sliced Idaho’s advantage to 60-57.
But then came Morris’ two free throws, followed by 1 of 2 from Hopson.
“He had a good night tonight,” BSU guard Anthony Thomas said of Hopson. “And he made the big shots when needed. That’s what it basically came down to.”
Afterward, Thomas and Greene guaranteed Boise State will never lose to Idaho again in their careers. The Vandals apparently had made a similar pledge about Thursday night’s game, though Verlin wasn’t aware of it.
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