The Vandals may be a team receiving AP Top 25 votes if collegiate games were only played to one half.
The trendy theme of the season held true in Saturday’s loss to La. Tech. Idaho led by nine points in the second half, but lost by six. While it was the second-half turnovers that punished the Vandals in their 15th WAC loss, the visiting Bulldogs were on point from 3-point range in the second half and Idaho did nothing about it.
Sophomore guard Raheem Appleby found himself open one too many times in the second half, when he went 6 of 11 from 3-point range. The Vandals’ poor perimeter defense led to eight 3-pointers from La. Tech in the second half, when the Bulldogs outscored the hosts 43-31.
As coach Don Verlin stated in his postgame press conference, Idaho didn’t get the ball into the hands of its best player(s). Appleby would score 22 second-half points while the Vandals’ leading scorers, Stephen Madison and Kyle Barone, combined to score just 14 points.
It didn’t help that nine of Idaho’s 15 turnovers came in the second half, with more than enough of those coming in the final minutes of play.
The Bulldogs, who remain undefeated in WAC play, were swept by the Vandals last season, but returned the favor as they look like a team perfectly capable of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
It’s about time … The Vandals finally get a break from WAC play, and their Ramada BracketBusters match-up with Idaho State will be ultimately insignificant. It looks like Idaho’s only shot at postseason play would be a Cinderella run in the WAC Tournament. If the Vandals did win out, and advance to the conference tournament championship game, they would be 15-16, and even a bid to the CIT or CBI Tournament would be a long shot. This trip to Pocatello may be the best thing for Don Verlin and a weary Idaho team, which will likely be favored on Saturday. A win in Southern Idaho could provide some momentum and if the Vandals did happen to win their final three contests, who knows what could happen at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Yes, Barone was a bright spot. But even if he’d scored 25 points and had 15 rebounds, the Vandals would’ve struggled to win this one. He and Stephen Madison were the only effective scorers, and the guards didn’t get the ball to him enough in the final five minutes of the game.
Madison missed his first 3-pointer in three games and was a mediocre 5 of 11 from the field, despite scoring 13 points. The shifty forward needed to get to the basket early and often, especially since Connor Hill’s shots weren’t falling. He turned the ball over twice but did manage eight boards.
Idaho’s other forward fouled out in the final minutes of the game, and though his hustle plays were appreciated, Habeeb also turned the ball over five times. He scored 10 points on 3 of 7 shooting and went 4 of 4 from the charity stripe.
McChristian was the second-best point guard in this one, as La. Tech’s Kenneth Smith had a near-perfect evening, dishing out 10 assists while not turning the ball over. Still, Idaho’s senior guard was a beast on the boards and tied his career-high with 10 rebounds. McChristian went 0 for 3 from 3-point range but was 3 of 4 from the line and scored nine points.
All shooters go cold. Hill suffered a poor shooting night that saw him make 1 of his 5 field-goal attempts. He knocked down one 3-pointer and didn’t do much else to contribute.
The bench was a nonfactor Saturday, with four players combining for 40 minutes and just seven points. Robert Harris Jr., Denzel Douglas, Wendell Faines and Joe Kammerer went 2 of 11 from the field, while Harris and Douglas would turn the ball over four times.
Theo Lawson can be reached at email@example.com