The bad news, Idaho lost to Idaho State, 67-65, in the final game of the season. The good news, though, Idaho clinched a Big Sky Tournament berth with Portland State’s 86-73 win over Southern Utah.
“I’m glad we’re in,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “Bottom line is we had it in our own hands, we just didn’t take care of it like we should have — we got a break.”
Idaho (13-16, 8-10) enters the conference tournament as the No. 7 seed and will take on the No. 2 seed Eastern Washington (23-8, 14-4), Thursday in Missoula, Montana.
“Now we get to play Eastern (who) has beaten us twice this year,” Verlin said. “I was telling the guys in the locker room … it doesn’t matter if we get Eastern, Montana or whoever — we gotta beat them all anyway if we’re going to go to the NCAA Tournament.”
With the loss at Idaho State, the Vandals go into the tournament on a two-game losing skid and an overall road record of 2-12.
Verlin said he expected Idaho State to come out and play well for its last game of the season — especially on Senior Night.
“Tough game tonight,” Verlin said. “We knew it was going to be a different game … You got to give Idaho State credit, they played a whale of a game on senior night … I thought Chris Hansen was really, really good tonight.”
Hansen, who scored 13 points in the first half, came out in the second half on fire and scored his team’s first seven points of the half. The Bengals went on an 18-8 run, and would eventually have a 15-point lead — their largest of the game — with just less than eight minutes left to play.
Hansen was not going to be denied of a Senior Day victory, as the 6-foot-4, senior guard led all players with 23 points and was 5-of-10 from beyond the arc.
The Vandals would battle back, however, and after trailing by 15, went on a 19-6 run to cut the deficit to two points with 14 seconds remaining.
“I thought we had a heck of an effort tonight,” Verlin said. “We battled there. Our guys stayed in it mentally. We just didn’t find a way to get this win … We had two chances, one to tie and one to win.”
After senior shooting guard Connor Hill came up just short on a 3-point attempt that would have gave Idaho the lead with three seconds left, the Vandals had one more chance with less than a second left on the clock.
“We ran a little lob play that (Washington State) ran against us a few years ago,” Verlin said of the last play, which was a lob pass from underneath the hoop to freshman guard Perrion Callandret who was in the middle of the key.
“We throw a perfect pass, and he’s got the ball in the air — and then there’s a collision,” Verlin said. “He’s not able to get the ball into the hoop. The officials obviously didn’t think it was worthy enough of a foul call … We executed it the way we wanted to and got a look.”
With Callandret trying to gather himself on the floor after the violent collision, the buzzer sounded with no foul being called and Idaho State escaped with the victory.
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com