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Slow start dooms Idaho in loss to Northern Kentucky

For the second consecutive game, Don Verlin came excruciatingly close to his 100th career win as Idaho coach. But like Tuesday night’s loss to Boise State in Boise, a furious offensive performance in the second half wouldn’t be able to overcome a large, early deficit.

Idaho fell 79-74 to Northern Kentucky in its final nonconference game at Memorial Gym, before moving into the Cowan Spectrum on Dec. 6.

The Vandals went into the locker room trailing 39-28, a deficit that grew to 51-37 only minutes into the second half. Idaho’s three seniors stepped up to chip into the lead. Mike Scott dished out seven assists, Connor Hill scored 19 points and Bira Seck grabbed four offensive rebounds in the half.

Scott tied the game up at 66 with a layup with 2:33 remaining, his first basket of the game.

But eventually, Idaho fell a few plays too short.

“I feel like the biggest thing is not getting down so early in the game,” Hill said. “Just riding the early storm. If they come out hot, just riding it, don’t try and fall behind by too much and eventually try to get it out in the end.

“We’re just down too much in the early part of the game to come back and we can’t allow ourselves to do that.”

Northern Kentucky responded to Scott’s game-tying basket by going at Idaho’s weakspot defensively, driving the ball into the paint. Tayler Persons drove into the lane and drew a foul on the subsequent possession, nailing two free throws to put the Norse ahead for good.

“It’s more on our defense and not on our offense. We’ve scored 74 and 75 points the last two games and lost,” Verlin said.

Idaho allowing guards to drive into the lane and big men to isolate under the basket is what’s currently frustrating Verlin. The Norse scored 38 points in the paint and attempted 26 free throws, 10 of which came after the game was tied at 66.

“That’s just a matter of just sitting down and defending,” sophomore guard Sekou Wiggs said. “There’s not much to keeping your man in front and the basic rules of keeping your hands off. It’s just a matter of what we have inside and not letting our guy get around us and getting easy lay ups.”

Verlin will go for his 100th win Wednesday at Washington State. He’s yet to beat the Cougars in six attempts.

“If we’re not ready for that one then there’s something wrong with our ticker,” Verlin said.

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