Idaho coach Don Verlin said the five years he’s been at Idaho have been among the best stretches in recent Idaho memory. He may be right – after all, it’s been 23 years since Larry Eustachy delivered Idaho its last conference championship.
Idaho has finished with a winning record in three of Verlin’s five years in Moscow, accompanied with berths to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
What Verlin has yet to do is win a game in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Idaho was once again sent home in the initial round of the Las Vegas bout, this time by No. 3 seeded New Mexico State in a game that wasn’t much in doubt mid-way through the second half.
After defeating Idaho twice by a combined three points in the regular season, New Mexico State did it soundly, 65-49 at the Orleans Aena on March 14.
“I thought tonight New Mexico State just wore us down with their pressure and their athleticism. There in the second half we just ran out of gas, and you’ve got to give the credit to them,” Verlin said. ” I thought when they needed to make the plays at the end of the shot clock I thought they did that.”
In Kyle Barone’s last game as a Vandal he did his best to stave off elimination – 19 points on only 10 attempts. But foul trouble marred Barone’s ability to make a lasting impact on the game. He had two fouls quickly into the first half, but was still able to play 32 minutes.
“I thought this year we had a good enough team to make a run at this tournament,” Barone said. “It hurts a little right now knowing that I’m not going to be able to play again.”
But at the end of the afternoon it was the lack of defense Idaho will lament. The Vandals crashed the boards early in the first half to get out in transition, finding offense running the floor and keep New Mexico State on its toes.
Daniel Mullings put an end to that, because when there are no missed shots to rebound there is no ability to run the floor. When Idaho went man, he sliced by Connor Hill and Mike McChristian by moving without the ball and bursting to the bucket. When Idaho played zone he found the holes in the zone and found open mid-range lay-ups. He led all scorers with 23 points on 14 shots.
The program will now have to move forward without Kyle Barone, one of Idaho’s five all-time leading scorers and the first player to win conference player of the year honors at Idaho since Orlando Lightfoot won it in the in 1994.
“You’d always like to give the player of the year more than 10 shots and we didn’t do a good enough job about getting him the ball, that’s for sure,” Verlin said.
Verlin spoke at length about returning Stephen Madison, Connor Hill and getting Ty Egbert off his redshirt. In addition, the Vandals return guards Robert Harris Jr. and Denzel Douglas and will look forward to the athleticism that highly recruited shooting guard Perrion Callandret will bring to the program.
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org