MOSCOW, Idaho – The determination that gave Idaho a chance to win in the closing seconds of each of its first five conference losses was tested again by Northern Colorado.
This time, against one of the better Big Sky Conference teams, the Vandals’ grit was exhausted earlier. They were overwhelmed with about 5 minutes left to play in a decisive 74-53 loss to the Bears (12-6, 5-2 Big Sky).
Idaho (5-13, 1-6) found itself in trouble, trailing 39-30, with 6 minutes gone in the second half. UNC had the momentum, but thanks to the timely shooting of Trevon Allen, who scored 21 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, Idaho closed within seven points (52-45) with 5:26 to play.
The Vandals got no closer. Trent Harris buried an NBA-length 3-pointer for UNC and followed it by finishing a fast break on the next possession. The Bears outscored the Vandals 17-8 the rest of the way.
“We did not play with as much toughness and tenacity as we did in the first half,” Idaho interim head coach Zac Claus said.
Claus said UNC exploited Idaho’s defensive breakdowns.
“I did not do a good job of putting them in the right position on the defensive end,” he said.
According to Vandals guard Damen Thacker, the Bears were especially productive on pick-and-rolls.
“It just got away from us at the end,” Thacker said.
The Bears overcame a first half in which they made just 9 of 27 shots. They heated up to convert 18 of 32, including 8 of 18 3-point attempts, in the second half.
“They shot the heck out of it in the second half,” Claus said.
Harris led UNC with 17 points. Jonah Radebaugh, with 12; Bodie Hume, 11; and Matt Johnson, 10, also scored in double figures.
The game opened promisingly for Idaho.
The Vandals scored the first nine points, but Allen and starting post Scott Blakney picked up fouls before the initial media timeout, and Allen spent almost 12 minutes of the first half on the bench after getting whistled a second time.
Thacker took up the scoring responsibility and scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half.
Except for Allen and Thacker, no other Idaho player scored more than four points.
Even though the offense labored, Idaho still led almost midway through the first half, until Harris hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 11.
The Bears got their first lead about a minute later when Idaho’s defense lost Hume briefly. He made the Vandals pay with an open look at a 3-pointer.
The Bears pushed their advantage to 26-22 at the close of the first half. Radebaugh converted a pair of free throws and Tre’Shon Smoots scored with a quick baseline drive against Thacker.
Thacker and Claus agreed UNC was a physical challenge.
“They made it difficult for us to run a good cut or set good screens,” Claus said.
“This was definitely one of our most physical games of the year,” Thacker added.
The 21-point defeat didn’t feel much differently than the near misses Idaho had to this point of the Big Sky season.
“A loss is a loss,” Thacker said. “They all hurt.”
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