Barone-less Vandals win season-opener
Without its all-WAC, do-everything center, Idaho men’s basketball coped with adversity and came out of its season-opening exhibition match-up with a victory, downing NCAA Division II opponent Seattle Pacific 77-71 Saturday in Memorial Gym.
The Vandals’ only returning starter, junior Stephen Madison, stepped up in a big way in the absence of Kyle Barone, who is sitting out due to a suspension. Barone could return to the court in Friday’s exhibition against Central Washington.
Madison eclipsed his career-high point mark Saturday, tallying 22 points in the first half, two more than his 20-point game against UC Santa Barbara during last season’s CIT Tournament.
The junior’s aggressiveness was a factor in his career night.
“Just attacking on the transition, I think our transition game in the first half was really what got us going,” Madison said. “Just getting out and outrunning them on the break was really big I think.”
The opposing Falcons had beaten three consecutive Division 1 opponents, most recently the University of Arizona last season.
“I thought we showed a lot of energy tonight, I thought we played hard for a good part of the game and I liked our enthusiasm,” coach Don Verlin said.
Idaho’s largest lead came early in the second half, when Wendell Faines put the Vandals up 20 after sinking a free throw that would complete a three-point play.
When the shooters settled in and Idaho’s big men created a sizeable gap in the rebounding margin, the Vandals were dominant.
When turnovers were at a maximum and the Falcons found open space from the three-point line, they began to cut the deficit. Verlin became nervy late in the second half when Mansa Habeeb’s third turnover led to a transition lay-up on the other end.
SPU came within five points of Idaho following the bucket, but that was as close as the Falcons would get to upsetting their fourth consecutive Division 1 opponent.
“We had a couple of loose possessions, missed a few wide open shots and maybe lost our concentration a bit,” Verlin said. “I think as a whole we played pretty solid.”
Idaho’s inexperience was evident as five newcomers donned the Vandals’ white home uniforms for the first time. The hosts committed 14 turnovers, compared to just seven from the Falcons.
Still, much was promising and Verlin’s shooters came out firing from the perimeter. Junior college transfer Antwan Scott was Idaho’s only newcomer to start Saturday evening, and the Wylie, Texas, native made a case that he could be worthy of the spot come regular season play.
Scott buried 4 of 5 shots from downtown, and was 4 of 7 shooting with 14 points.
While Scott set up shop from the perimeter, another JC transfer, junior Marcus Bell, was busy on the boards.
Maybe the best “pure rebounder” Verlin has recruited in his time at Idaho, Bell grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
Idaho’s fifth-year head coach was pleased with the way his transfers responded.
“We’ve got five or six new guys, and the only way to get them experience is to get them out there, and I thought some of those guys played very well,” Verlin said.
Verlin was able to utilize 12 players, and he will continue to evaluate three point guards who will endure a position battle for the starting role.
With three Division 1 transfers, two of those being ex-Washington State forward Patrick Simon and ex-Gonzaga center Andy Poling, the Falcons proved why they have consistently been one of the premier Division II programs on the west coast.
David Downs was 4 of 7 from three-point range and led the Falcons with 22 points. Jobi Wall added another 19 for SPU.
Idaho’s last exhibition before regular season play begins is Friday at 8:00 p.m. against Central Washington in Memorial Gym.
Theo Lawson can be reached at email@example.com