Enduring one of its worst offensive showings of the season, the Idaho men’s basketball team suffered a 65-55 road loss at the hands of Fresno State Thursday evening at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.
The Bulldogs, who scrapped together a crucial 17-4 run in the first half, took the game by storm early. The Vandals did everything in their power to cut down a 17-point deficit, but the offensive production wasn’t there as Idaho (11-11, 4-4) dropped its second consecutive WAC game.
“Dug too big of a hole I thought, you’ve got to give Fresno State some credit they were very physical around the basket tonight,” coach Don Verlin said. “I thought we got a bunch of very good looks early that we weren’t able to finish and then our basketball team let our offense affect our defense.”
The Bulldogs sped off to a rip-roaring start that saw them go on an 11-0 run toward the end of the first half and improve their lead to 36-20 by halftime.
Fresno State shot an astounding 63.6 percent from the field in the first while the ice-cold Vandals were 7-25 and 28 percent.
Idaho found an answer to the Bulldogs’ Kevin Olekaibe, who only scored two first-half points, but forward Jerry Brown gave Verlin’s squad the majority of its problems with 10 first-half points and six rebounds.
Mansa Habeeb came off the bench to provide an offensive spark with 10 first-half points, which tallied a career high for the junior.
The Vandals built off Habeeb’s first-half success and came out of the gates hot in the second, but it took a solid 10 minutes for Idaho’s defensive pressure to translate into defensive stops.
“I really felt like we played pretty good basketball for a long period of time, get it back to five and climb almost the whole hill and get a stop and don’t get the offensive rebound, they get an and-one and I thought we were back in control of that game but the hole was so big,” Verlin said.
After erasing a 17-point deficit Idaho decreased the Fresno State lead to five with just less than four minutes remaining. The shooting hand Idaho acquired early in the second half died down in the final minutes, and multiple fouls sent the Bulldogs to the charity stripe 12 times in the final five minutes.
The loss marked Idaho’s second-lowest scoring performance of the season and while its 39.2 percent shooting mark was an improvement from the first half, it wasn’t near enough to match that of the Bulldogs, who shot 50 percent.
Habeeb tallied just two points in the second half, concluding with 12 and Kyle Barone finished as the team leader in points with 14. Barone snatched eight rebounds but turned the ball over five times.
Bandoumel led all players with 11 rebounds but the senior followed a career-high 24-point performance against Hawaii, with seven points Thursday.
“Very disappointed with the outcome, very proud of our guys for how they competed in the second half,” Verlin said.
The Vandals face their most difficult WAC test Saturday at Nevada. The Wolf Pack (18-3, 7-0 WAC), resemble in many ways, last year’s Utah State Aggies. Nevada has won 16 consecutive games, hasn’t lost since Nov. 25 against BYU and has six AP Top 25 votes. Guard Deonte Burton is making his WAC Player of the Year case stronger and the Los Angeles native averages more than 15 points-per-game with 4.5 assists-per-game.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Lawlor Events Center.