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Vandals lose WAC opener

Idaho stumbles late in setback to NMSU

MOSCOW, Idaho – Left to digest another last-minute loss, the Idaho men’s basketball team could point to defensive letdowns or missed rebounds – among other things – as reasons why Wednesday night’s game didn’t swing in its favor.

But just like two weeks ago against Montana, the Vandals had a chance to tie New Mexico Sate with less than 10 seconds remaining. And just like in the loss to the Grizzlies, they didn’t get the shot they wanted when it mattered most.

NMSU weathered Idaho’s frantic late rally, hanging on for a 74-69 victory before a crowd of 503 at Cowan Spectrum in a Western Athletic Conference opener.

The Vandals, after coming back from an eight-point deficit, trailed 72-69 with 13.4 seconds left. Instead of putting up a 3-pointer to potentially force overtime, Idaho guard Landon Tatum drove into the paint and had his layup attempt swatted away by Troy Gillenwater.

Gillenwater then made two free throws with 2.4 seconds left, icing the victory for the Aggies (7-8, 1-0).

“That’s a tough one,” UI coach Don Verlin said of Tatum’s decision. “… I think he was trying to get it to Jeff (Ledbetter). The guy jumped his passing lane. I think maybe he thought he could draw a foul and get a (three-point play).

“Obviously, we wanted to get a 3-point shot up or have a chance to tie the ballgame.”

The loss spoiled a near-flawless offensive game for Idaho post Kyle Barone. He went 8 of 9 from the field and 6 of 6 from the foul line for a career-high 22 points. The sophomore also had nine rebounds.

Luiz Toledo, the Vandals’ other primary inside threat, chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds. But the effort from he and Barone wasn’t enough to offset a stellar return for the 6-foot-8 Gillenwater.

The Aggie’s leading scorer didn’t start Wednesday after missing five games with an ankle injury. Yet he quickly got on track after subbing in early in the first half and finished with 22 points, despite gritty defense from Toledo and others.

NMSU shot 63 percent in the second half. The Aggies were resourceful in coming up with key offensive rebounds all night – but particularly in the last 5 minutes.

Reserve Tyrone Watson had five offensive boards, several in the last minutes that were back-breakers.

“It seemed like we would get a defensive stop and they would come up with the offensive rebound,” said Verlin, whose team fell to 6-6, 0-1. “Two (came) on free-throw line errors, which are totally unacceptable. You can’t do that. We’ve worked on it consistently.”

After the game Idaho announced that Djim Bandoumel, a 6-8 junior college transfer, is academically ineligible. The Quebec native appeared in eight games this season.

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