Idaho can’t overcome 14-point deficit against NKU
Following an 81-60 loss at Eastern Washington last Wednesday, Northern Kentucky coach Dave Bezold joked that he started to question whether he deserved to keep his job.
“We weren’t comfortable at all and after playing Eastern Washington, I wanted to fire myself for signing the contract to come out here, because I know how good these guys are,” said Bezold about playing the Eagles and Vandals in a span of three days.
The termination papers, however, can be put on hold as Bezold’s Northern Kentucky team bounced back with a 79-74 victory over Idaho Saturday in Memorial Gym.
Bezold said his team was more comfortable and made shots they weren’t making against EWU.
“I do think being out here a couple extra days helped us,” he said. “Being out here and getting acclimated and not having to play right when we got off the plane I think really, really helped us.”
With the loss, Idaho’s record is now 2-3, while NKU improved to 3-3. The Vandals now shift their focus to the Wednesday matchup against rival Washington State.
The Vandals’ third consecutive loss included a stretch in which they only held a lead for a combined two minutes and 21 seconds — none of which came in the game against Northern Kentucky.
Right from the opening tip, Idaho looked a step slower. Idaho coach Don Verlin said his team didn’t guard the ball well enough and let the NKU players drive past them.
“Give them credit, they got us in some isolations and drove our guys and we weren’t tough enough to make the stops,” Verlin said. “They drove around us and got to the basket time and time again … They shot way too many layups and the bottom line is we’ve got to keep them out of the lane.”
The deficit peaked when it got to 14 points early in the second half, but thanks to senior shooting guard Connor Hill, the Vandals were able to slowly chip away at Northern Kentucky’s lead.
In the first half, Hill went into the locker room with just three points and was 0-for-3 from behind the arc. On Idaho’s first possession in the second half though, Hill started making shots with his first of four 3-point baskets.
Hill finished with a team-high 22 points, but the deficit was too much for the Vandals to overcome.
If the opposing team is hot at the start of the game, Hill said the team needs to be able to weather the storm and not fall behind by such a large margin.
“Both games, on Tuesday night (against Boise State) and tonight, we did that — we rode the storm,” Hill said. “We were just down too much in the first part of the game to come back, and we can’t allow ourselves to do that.”
The Vandals made it close, however, and with three minutes left, Hill made a 3-pointer that cut Northern Kentucky’s lead to one point. After NKU missed one of two free throws, senior point guard Mike Scott tied the game at 68-68 with a floater over two defenders, but that was as close to the lead Idaho would get.
For the rest of the game, Northern Kentucky locked down Idaho’s offense and converted at the free-throw line.
“We just started playing a little harder,” said Verlin of the second half performance. “We just did a better job staying in between our man and the basket. Simply put, we didn’t do a very good job in the first half at that … Bottom line is we’ve got to find a way to win, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org