In a span of seven minutes, the Vandals’ 17-point lead turned into a three-point deficit after Western Illinois scored 20-unanswered points in the second half.
The Leathernecks carried that momentum all the way to the end and won the game 78-75.
“This is life on the road,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “You can’t play for 20 or 25 minutes and expect to win. I mean for 23, 24 minutes of the ballgame we were really good … then they go on the run and we can’t sit down and guard them.”
The loss put an end to the Vandals two-game winning streak and brought their record back to .500 at 4-4. The team has two days off before it plays at South Dakota State — a team Idaho beat 82-77 back on Nov. 17.
“When we walk out of the Hampton Inn tomorrow morning at 6:30 a.m., we need to all go flush our toilets,” Verlin said. “We need to flush this thing down and get ready for the next one.”
After just two points in the first half, WIU’s Garret Covington gained momentum in the second half. The sophomore guard led all players with 27 points and was 6-of-11 from behind the arc.
Covington was a player who gave Idaho trouble when the two teams played last season in Memorial Gym. As a true freshman, he scored 22 points in a losing effort as the Vandals won 67-63.
“Garret Covington got hot, and once he got hot, we couldn’t stop him,” Verlin said. “I knew this Western Illinois team was a solid basketball team, it’s a good team and they’ve got some good players, especially one in Garret Covington.”
The Vandals leading scorer was sophomore guard Sekou Wiggs, who finished with 17 points and was a perfect 3-of-3 from 3-point range.
Idaho led by 11 points at halftime and appeared to have complete control. Verlin said the first half was some of the best basketball his team has played all season.
“We were moving it up and down the court, we were aggressive, we were moving the ball,” Verlin said.
In the locker room at halftime, Verlin said he told the players they have to stay aggressive and not let up — his speech must have fell on deaf ears.
The Vandals had nine turnovers in the second half and finished the game with 17.
Senior point guard Mike Scott, who came into the game leading the nation in assists-to-turnover ratio, turned the ball over six times. He finished with 14 points, seven assists and eight rebounds.
“We just made a ton of mistakes,” Verlin said of his teams play in the second half. “You cant turnover the ball the way we did … it was probably our worst half in the second half, then we threw gasoline on the fire with some turnovers.”
He said the team has to find a way to sustain its intensity for longer periods of time.
“We had our shortcomings tonight,” Verlin said. “You got to move on and you can’t dwell on this one, we gotta get to the next one … we got a very good South Dakota State team that’s playing very, very well.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com