After leading by 15 points with nine minutes left in the game, the Idaho men’s basketball team barely escaped with a 79-76 victory over Chicago State Thursday in Chicago.
It was a tale of two halves for the Vandals, taking a 14-point lead into halftime. Guard Connor Hill’s 22 first-half points led all scorers. He went 6-of-8 from the 3-point line in the first half.
Idaho even enjoyed a rare six-point play. Hill hit a 3-pointer and in the process there was a foul away from the ball giving the Vandals an extra possession. Mike Scott inbounded the ball, got it right back and hit a 3-pointer, giving the Vandals an 11-4 run to start the game.
“I thought we played with a lot of energy and intensity, especially in the first half,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We built a 14-point lead. I thought we came out and our ball really moved well tonight. We got a number of easy looks in transition and I thought, for about 30 minutes of this game, we completely dominated them.”
Hill eventually cooled off in the second half, only adding five more points to his total, finishing the game with 27 points.
The Vandals did an excellent job of executing their offense in the first half, Verlin said. He said the team was prepared for all of the traps thrown at them, leading Idaho to 46 first-half points.
The second half was a different story for the Vandals. After stretching their lead to 16 points, Chicago State crawled its way back. The Cougars’ Quinton Pippen hit a 3-pointer to bring his team within one point of the lead with 2:13 left.
That was as close as CSU would get, thanks to four missed free throws down
“With about 10 minutes to play, for whatever reason, we made some errors,” Verlin said. “They’re a good team, they made some shots. Thank God they missed some free throws down the stretch and we pulled one out. This game shouldn’t have been as close as it is, but I’m happy as heck we got the win.”
Sekou Wiggs picked up some of the slack in the second half. He finished the game with 16 points, 10 of those from free throws, shooting 10-of-13 from the line.
Wiggs also had six rebounds in the game, including a possession in which he grabbed four all in the same play. Wiggs was then fouled and hit both free throws.
Despite battling the flu all week, Verlin said, Stephen Madison had himself a double-double, with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The stats may not have looked like it, Verlin said, but Madison wasn’t his normal self tonight.
“It’s hard to win on the road in Division I college basketball. Couldn’t be prouder of our guys,” Verlin said. “This is a good team, this is a team that’s been playing well, a team that’s ahead of us in the conference standings.”
Idaho will be back in action when they take on Missouri-Kansas City Saturday in Kansas City.
“We’re starting to play better,” Verlin said. “What we gotta keep trying to do is keep being aggressive, keep pushing the ball. Scoring 80 points a night is a good number. We’re probably going to have to score 80 points with the way our defense is playing right now.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org