If Idaho coach Don Verlin and Idaho State coach Bill Evans had their way, Saturday’s contest between their two teams wouldn’t have happened. Both are annoyed that the BracketBuster took away from preparation for conference games. Both have been struggling in their respective conferences, but both have conference tournament positioning to play for at the very least. Evans has to be very annoyed since Verlin’s team is the one who came out of Pocatello with the win Saturday.
The Vandals took a hot streak of shooting from sophomore guard Connor Hill in the second half to fend off the Bengals for a 75-69 victory.
The victory is all the more impressive considering Idaho held a one-point lead with under five minutes remaining and held that lead all the way through, proving that perhaps the Vandals do have what it takes to keep it tight in the second half and close out opponents.
What also stuck out was the ridiculous advantage in rebounding Idaho had, grabbing 21 offensive boards and scoring an obscene 34 second-chance points. In comparison, Idaho State had 23 rebounds overall, only 15 defensive rebounds off of 38 missed shots from Idaho.
Couple that with Idaho turning the ball over 11 times and the recipe for a Vandal victory was written, even with Idaho only shooting 24-for-62 from the field.
Idaho needs to shore up its offensive efficiency, something that wasn’t an issue earlier in the conference schedule. Idaho cannot afford for Connor Hill to go 1-for-7 from 3-point range in a single half alone. Sure, the ‘shooters have to shoot’ adage paid off in the second half, but ultimately Hill only went 7-for-19 from the field. Hill has been streaky all season, and it’s not likely Idaho pulls off many victories with him taking more shot attempts than Kyle Barone.
Conference play. And if Idaho can’t take this solid road victory and use it to lock up its top six spot in conference seeding, then this team was a lost cause to begin with. All Idaho likely needs is a win at Texas State next Saturday and it’s all but wrapped up to finish No. 6 in the WAC. If Idaho loses both of these games, the Vandals will be feeling the pressure at home against Seattle.
Kyle Barone – 3 ½ stars
Going only 3-for-9 from the field, Barone did work at the free throw line and collected seven offensive rebounds. I’m not sure why Barone only had nine shot attempts, but Verlin has to take a hard look at his offense because of it.
Mansa Habeeb — 2 Stars
It might be time for Habeeb to come off the bench again. He’s a solid hustle player who gets it done at the free throw line, but had only eight points, three boards and four fouls.
Connor Hill — 3 stars
So what, he had 20 points? Those 20 points came on 19 shot attempts and zero free throws. That is incredibly inefficient, and on most nights, detrimental to the offense. If Taco Bell likes to think outside the bun, Hill needs to start thinking inside the arc.
Mike McChristian — 3 stars
McChristian did his job on the perimeter, providing defense and length, ending up with 10 points and five boards, and not turning the ball over. McChristian doesn’t try to do too much, but does enough.
Stephen Madison — 3 stars
Not Madison’s best game, but the fact he is trying to take command of the offense is a good thing. He is Idaho’s most versatile scorer. 19 points and 9 rebounds is a good stat line, but efficiency has to get better. Madison went 7-of-17 from the field, but went 6-of-9 on attempts from inside the 3-point arc, tacking on four free throws. Madison attacking the basket in the second half played a large part in Idaho closing it out for the win.
Denzel Douglas – 3 stars
Douglas was the only main contributor off the bench, having one of his better games. He only had one turnover in 22 minutes, tacking on six points and five rebounds, going 2-for-2 from beyond-the-arc.
Wendell Faines – 2 stars
Robert Harris – 1 star
Joe Kammerer – 1 star
Sean Kramer can be reached at email@example.com