It came down to the little things on Wednesday night in the 268th men’s basketball matchup between Idaho and Washington State, but it was the Cougars who made the plays in a 64-55 loss.
Idaho (1-4) went through several scoring droughts and after surrendering a 13-1 first-half WSU (4-3) run, the Vandals simply could not make the plays to get over the hump and complete its comeback.
As a team, the Vandals shot 41.5 percent from the floor overall and 33.3 percent from 3-point range, but went just .370 overall and .167 in a first half which they scored just 25 points and turned the ball over seven times.
“They made those plays and we didn’t execute quite well enough and they came out on top tonight,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. “
A strong Idaho rebounding advantage and shoddy free throw shooting by the Cougars – four makes on 11 attempts in the first period – kept the Vandals within striking distance. The Vandals opened the second half on an 8-2 run, then put together an 8-0 late in the half to pull within two points, 53-51.
WSU forward D.J. Shelton hit a back-breaking 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to answer Idaho’s run and put the Cougars back up by five, 56-51. Idaho missed its next attempt, then WSU drew a foul and converted both free throws on the other end to suddenly re-take a seven-point lead. Idaho gave up layups on WSU’s final three possessions and couldn’t get closer than five points in the game’s last two minutes.
“That was obviously a huge shot,” Verlin said of Shelton’s three. “I didn’t think we got the stops we needed to in the second half, especially down the stretch. We were really good there until the last five minutes of the game, and then they made the plays.”
WSU senior Brock Motum led all players with 26 points and nine rebounds on 11-of-20 shooting. Guard Dexter Kernich-Drew added 15 points on a 5-of-7 shooting day, while Shelton added 14 points and six rebounds.
Overall, Washington State went 26-of-57 (.456) from the floor, 3-of-15 (.200) from 3-point range and 9-of-17 (.529) from the free throw line. They had only nine assists, but also turned the ball over just four times. Idaho took a 36-33 rebounding edge and had 13 assists on 22 made shots, but also turned it over 11 times.
The Cougars outscored the Vandals in the paint by a 44-24 margin. They held a 13-8 points off turnovers margin, while second-chance points were an even 6-6.
Junior guard Stephen Madison led Idaho with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, while senior center Kyle Barone had 11 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Connor Hill put in 10 points and dished up a team-high four assists in the game.
Verlin said it wasn’t any glaring issue that kept the team from coming back, it was several small things that need to become the team’s focus moving forward.
“We had a couple screw-ups defensively, didn’t get to help side, missed block outs and didn’t execute how I’d like to,” Verlin said. “We just have to keep getting better. There’s no just one thing to fix, there are a lot of things and we just have to stay after it.”
Idaho struggled in the early going. Senior Wendell Faines made the team’s first two shots from the field, but the Vandals made just three of their next 16 attempts as WSU built a 24-11 lead by the 7:38 media timeout.
Turnovers hurt early on, as the team coughed it up seven times in the opening stanza. The giveaways hurt more in terms of lack of offense than in Cougar points. WSU only converted the turnovers into six points, but still shot 41.2 percent from the floor and outscored Idaho in the paint, 22-14.