Idaho can’t figure it out on final possession
On the road facing a team that hadn’t lost a home conference game yet on the season, the final result may not be all that surprising.
New Mexico State (16-8, 10-2 WAC) took Idaho down to the buzzer for the second time this season, this time pulling out a 76-74 victory over the Vandals for its 10th consecutive victory.
But isolating the last 20 seconds reveals a game the Vandals (9-13, 5-7 WAC) will lament not at the very least taking to overtime. Idaho took the ball with the scored tied at 74 and 14 seconds remaining in the game, only to see guard Mike McChristian dribble the ball off of his foot and hand the ball back to the Aggies.
It was all she wrote for Idaho’s chance of an upset after Daniel Mullings sank the game winning free throws for New Mexico State.
“What another tough way to not get another one tonight,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said post-game on the Vandal radio network. “There’s no one that hurts more than the guys in the locker room. That’s two games in a row where we give them the game. That’s a tough one.”
As was the case in Idaho’s 71-70 loss to New Mexico State at the Cowan Spectrum the Vandals had to chip away at a second half deficit, having trailed the Aggies by as many as nine with under 10 minutes remaining in the game. Idaho did just that when sophomore Connor Hill drained a 3-point shot with a minute remaining to knot it all up at 74.
It was all-downhill from there. Again.
“It’s a tough ending, you have the ball with the score tied. You’re trying to execute your delay, and I made a critical error (with the timeouts),” Verlin said.
With 2:48 remaining in the game Verlin took a full timeout, Idaho’s last. He thought there were two remaining.
“We only had one timeout, those things happen, but they can’t happen,” Verlin said.
The result was Idaho not able to set up a play out of the timeout, and McChristian’s turnover.
Idaho center Kyle Barone went toe-to-toe with New Mexico State’s 7-foot-6 monster Sim Bhullar most of the night, scoring 26 of Idaho’s 74 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Bhullar counted with a perfect 8-for-8 performance from the field and 20 points of his own.
“(Barone) did a great job, he executed our game plan. He was able to make some face up jumpers, he got fouled a few times,” Verlin said.
For the second consecutive game Verlin started all of his seniors, which includes Mansa Habeeb and Wendell Faines, meaning Stephen Madison came off the bench for the second consecutive game. He ended the night with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting but hit two big 3-point shots in the second half.
Madison and McChristian accounted for eight of Idaho’s 11 turnovers.
“It’s frustrating, I thought some of our turnovers were unforced. Just random stuff. That’s a tough way to lose,” Verlin said.
“But you gotta go afterwards and say did you play as hard as you could. We gave our chance to win on the road.”
Idaho now turns around to play Denver, sitting 10-2 in the WAC after dismantling Seattle on Thursday night. The Pioneers have won 10 of their last 11 games, only falling to New Mexico State.
Sean Kramer can be reached at email@example.com