A golden opportunity was presented to the University of Idaho men’s basketball program.
That opportunity was not seized.
Sitting at 3-4 in conference play the Vandals came home with a 3-2 road conference record with its next four games at home and the next two against two of the bottom three teams in the conference.
The Vandals responded by handing the Texas State Bobcats their second conference win, falling 78-73 to Thursday evening at the Cowan Spectrum.
By hand the Bobcats the win, we mean the Vandals handed the Bobcats the win by turning the ball over continually when being up by as many as 17 points.
With the loss the Vandals have now lost five of their last six conference games and the loss represents their fourth in the conference schedule in which Idaho has relinquished a second half lead.
At 3-5 the Vandals have to win their next three against Texas-San Antonio, Utah State and San Jose State at home to go to the next road trip with a winning conference record. Idaho has yet to record a three-game winning streak this season.
To say the way in which Idaho lost to Texas State was a surprise would just be a lie. The only thing that is surprising is that Idaho lost to a team with only one conference win.
A further look at the numbers explain why Idaho deserved its loss to the Bobcats, and overall why Idaho is struggling in WAC play — Dropping five of six after starting 2-0 on the road in conference play.
In eight conference games the Vandals have lost the turnover battle every time, including Thursday night losing to Texas State 18-8 on Thursday night. The Vandals have also lost the shot attempt battle, giving Texas State 60 shot attempts in 40 minutes compared to Idaho getting off just 50 shots.
Idaho ranks among one of the most efficient offensive units in the country despite its inconsistent point guard play, but that is all for naught if the opponents get more opportunities at the bucket which is why Idaho ranks among the worst defensively efficient units in the nation.
The Vandals led the Bobcats 30-13 with six minutes remaining in the first half before the Vandals became lackadaisical on defense and the Bobcats more efficient on both ends of the floor. It didn’t help that Idaho’s best all-around player, Stephen Madison, found himself in foul trouble at the end of the first half and the start of the second half.
The bottom line, however, goes to Idaho’s turnover rate. The Vandals rank dead last in the Western Athletic Conference turnover margin. The Vandals straight up just do not force turnovers. That’s fine. Good field goal defense would suffice, except for the fact that the Vandals cannot take care of the ball themselves. Turning over the ball 18 times to Texas State isn’t conducive to victory. The Bobcats shot an inferior percentage from the field, but it hardly mattered since they sank four more shots from the field thanks to 10 more attempts. Idaho only forced 8 turnovers to Texas State’s 18.
Idaho is 0-for-8 in conference play in forcing more turnovers and getting more looks at the basket.
Idaho has yet to lose a conference game by more than ten points.
Idaho has yet to lose a conference game in which the game isn’t within at least two possessions with two minutes remaining.
Those statistics right there should tell you how heart-wrenching Idaho’s 3-5 conference record is for its fans.
Upcoming the Vandals have Texas-San Antonio which won its first conference game Thursday evening at Seattle.
After that is a Utah State team next Thursday which lost its two best players to injury and just fell at home to UT-Arlington, followed by a San Jose State team which Idaho beat earlier in the year.
These games are at home.
It’s put up or shut up time for the Idaho Vandals, who need a top-six position in the conference to avoid a play-in game in the conference tournament come March. Idaho can only pray for that position if it loses to Texas-San Antonio on Saturday.