After a horrible first half in which Idaho trailed 23-7 after a 21-2 Utah Tech run, the Vandals’ Isaac Jones made a shot in the paint to stop a complete rout.
Idaho played much better after that and got within five points in the closing 6 minutes on Rashad Smith’s jumper to beat an expiring clock. The comeback attempt only made an 81-71 nonconference loss to Utah Tech in Moscow, Idaho, that much tougher to take.
“It’s one of the worst feelings in basketball,” Jones said. “Clearly, we have got the guys and skills to compete. We just started out slow.”
Jones gave the Vandals a stellar performance, leading them with 25 points and six rebounds. He was strong in the paint, hitting 11 of 13 from the floor. He scored 17 points in the second half, and the Trailblazers could not keep him off the rim.
“If I could hurry up and make a quick move, I was going up,” he said.
“(Jones) is a tremendous offensive force,” UI coach Zac Claus said. “We still have to find multiple ways to give him quality looks, because that dude just finishes.”
The present and past of Idaho’s inside game was on display briefly in the final quarter as Jones elevated above Utah Tech’s Tanner Christensen to get Idaho’s first points of the second half. Christensen, a sophomore and former Vandal , transferred following last season.
Although he could not contain Jones, Christensen was far from hapless in the lane. He led all rebounders with eight and scored 10 points.
The Trailblazer’s electric point guard Cameron Gooden was the game’s high scorer with 27 points. He made eight of 10 field goal attempts and hit three of four three-pointers.
For the second game in a row, Idaho, which fell to California State University Bakersfield 52-43 last Wednesday, allowed an opponent to go off on a double-digit first-half run that put the Vandals in a tremendous hole.
“We have got to be able to stop the bleeding in terms of second-chance points,” Claus said. “They were getting wide open three-point shots. To give up eight in the first half, to me, that was the game.”
The Trailblazers only went 9 of 24 on three-pointers. But they were efficient shooters when they needed them, connecting on eight of 16 attempts when they steamrolled Idaho in the first half and build a 46-36 halftime lead.
Idaho’s ability to shift extra defenders toward the perimeter was compromised, because 6-8 229-pound Terren Frank, who is a formidable defensive presence inside and frees up teammates to help guard the arc, watched the game from the bench with a leg in a medical boot.
“We had to play two guys out of position for good chunks of the game,” Claus said. “That’s just bad luck. We have to deal with it.”
The loss dropped Idaho to 1-4 on the season. Utah Tech is now 2-3.
But Claus said the Vandals are still confident and invested in having a successful season.
“If they were not getting along, that second half would have been miserable,” he said of his players. “These guys have fight in them. They are competing.”
CC Spokane 110, SEU Puyallup 93: Damarion Delaney scored a team-high 21 points from the bench to lead six players in double figures as the Sasquatch (1-0) beat the visiting Motion (0-1) at SCC.
Whitworth 86, Haskell Indian Nation 64: Gonzaga Prep graduate Olivia Mayer scored 21 points with 15 rebounds to lead the Pirates (2-1) past Haskell (3-8) in Kirkland, Washington.
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