Idaho men’s basketball was close to hitting rock bottom. A loss to Texas State on Saturday and all of a sudden the Vandals would have their backs against the wall against Seattle next week — All of this after starting 2-0 in conference play.
But Idaho responded with a much needed victory, defeating Texas State 90-81. Granted, the Bobcats are bad, but a road win is a road win for an Idaho team which has lost its last five conference games.
“It was a big win for us,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We control our own destiny, if we can beat Seattle U at home on senior night, that will allow us to be the six seed and go into the WAC tournament with a little momentum, having won three of our last four games.”
Actually, Idaho has already wrapped up the No. 6 seed with a 6-11 conference record, thanks to Seattle downing UTSA tonight. This means Idaho will avoid having to play on the first Tuesday of the conference tournament.
The much needed victory had Idaho going back to the roots it’s used to when the Vandals are successful — Offensive efficiency and dominance in the paint. Idaho shot 30-54 on the night, the same amount of buckets Texas State had but on 11 less attempts. Idaho also boarded 29 defensive rebounds off of 35 Texas State misses, and garnered 12 second-chance points off of nine offensive rebounds.
Most impressive, however, was the re-emergence of Kyle Barone in the offense. Barone posted 26 points and 14 rebounds off of 12-17 shooting, leading Idaho in shot attempts. Feeding the ball in to Barone allowed Stephen Madison to attack the basket for 20 points (10-of-12 from the free throw line) and gave Connor Hill enough good looks to get 22 points on 5-of-7 3-point shooting and 8-of-12 overall shooting.
“Our guys showed a lot of character today,” Verlin said. “We got up 15 with about 13 minutes to play and they came all the way back within four. This is a team that can get runs going. It felt like we were up 10 then all of the sudden it would be two.”
Texas State’s Joel Wright, who tormented Idaho with 37 points in the Bobcats win in Moscow earlier in the season, was held to just 12 points this afternoon.
“We did a pretty good job on Wright,” Verlin said. “We left him free a couple times there but we made some other guys shoot it.”
Next Saturday, March 9, will be senior night at the Cowan Spectrum and will be the last home games for four Idaho seniors — Kyle Barone, Mansa Habeeb, Mike McChristian and Wendell Faines. Barone is the only non-JC transfer of the group.
Idaho’s first WAC tournament game in Las Vegas will be March 14.
With the No. 6 seed locked up the result against Seattle next Saturday won’t have any bearing on Idaho’s post-season match-ups. It’s still up in the air who will play Idaho in the 3-seed v. 6-seed match-up, but New Mexico State currently sits at third with a 12-4 conference record. The Aggies fell to Denver tonight, and are two games behind the Pioneers with each having two games remaining.
Idaho has three possible opponents — Denver, New Mexico State and UT-Arlington.
The Denver scenario
Both Denver and New Mexico State host UT-Arlington and La. Tech the final weekend of the regular season.
If we’ve interpreted tie-breakers correctly, if Denver loses out and New Mexico State wins out then the Aggies will have the No. 2 seed and Pioneers will have the No. 3 seed by virtue of NMSU having a better record against the first place team. La. Tech has already clinched the regular season conference crown.
Denver can’t finish lower than third, so in that scenario Denver would then play Idaho.
The New Mexico State scenario
The Aggies host La. Tech on Thursday and then UT-Arlington on Saturday. If the Aggies simply win either one of these games than they would clinch the No. 3 seed. By beating La. Tech they’d win the tie-breaker over a 13-5 UT-Arlington by virtue of a better record against the WAC champion.
The UT-Arlington scenario
New Mexico State has to lose to La. Tech on Thursday, with the Mavs sweeping the weekend against Denver and New Mexico State being the only way for UT-Arlington to get the No. 3 seed.