Losing a string of close games can be frustrating enough without dropping three in a row to close rivals.
Idaho men’s basketball followed up a loss to Boise State in which it was within five points of the lead late in the second half with a one-point loss to Washington State when a buzzer-beater attempt by Connor Hill clanked off the rim.
The Vandals fared no better Wednesday night in Missoula, Mont., falling to Montana 69-58 after being tied at 52 with 5:40 remaining in the game.
Free-throw shooting was the tormentor on Wednesday — Idaho finished only 7-of-18 from the charity stripe, which equated to the difference in Idaho’s loss. Five of those missed free throws came after that 5:40 mark.
“We get the game how we want and we don’t finish the game like we need to. If you’re going to win on the road, you can’t shoot 7-of-18 from the free-throw line,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “Bottom line is we didn’t do what we needed to do to finish this basketball game.”
The crippling moment came with 2:54 remaining when Montana’s Kareem Jamar hit a 3-point basket to make it 62-56. Idaho’s Joe Kammerer couldn’t convert an easy shot on the other end and seven seconds later Mike Weisner hit another 3-point basket for Montana to put the game out of reach with 2:28 remaining.
The loss drops Idaho to 3-6 on the season, and 0-3 in rivalry games. Idaho will get another crack at Montana on Dec. 28 in the Cowan Spectrum. Before that is a road trip to Portland to take on Portland State on Saturday. The road trip will be rounded out with a trip to Boise to face Idaho State on Dec. 20 and to Northridge, Calif., to face Cal State-Northridge.
Coming back to the Cowan Spectrum with a .500 win-loss record may require better individual performances than Idaho was able to get on Wednesday against Montana. Perrion Callandret and Mike Scott played 18 minutes each, but only combined for seven points, one assist and four rebounds.
Senior leader Stephen Madison had a tough night, finishing with nine points, five rebounds and fouling out.
“We had some other guys, didn’t have good performances, play out there for some minutes and didn’t score, didn’t rebound, didn’t do some things to win the basketball game,” Verlin said. “We have to find a way to play for our teammates and not for ourselves.”
Junior Connor Hill did his best to get Idaho back in to it in the second half. He finished with 24 points on the night on 9-of-17 shooting and 4-of-10 from beyond the arc. Forward Bira Seck had a breakout game to support Hill. He finished with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds. But the two also contributed to the woes at the free-throw line, finishing a combined 5-of-10 from the line.
“Connor Hill missed three of them tonight, Glen (Dean) missed two of them. Seck shot them okay,” Verlin said. “You end up 7-for-18. We didn’t do the things we needed to do to win this game. There’s not much more than that.”
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org