MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho men’s basketball was on a roll, leading by 17 points and in the driver’s seat at home against Texas State, but a sloppy finish in the first half switched the momentum and Idaho never recovered in a 78-73 home loss Thursday.
Idaho (7-11, 3-5 Western Athletic Conference) took 32-15 lead at the 6:09 mark of the first half on a Stephen Madison layup to cap a 13-4 scoring run. At that point, the Vandals were 12-of-22 (.545) from the floor, while Texas State (6-14, 2-6 WAC) had made just four of its first 22 attempts for an 18.2 field goal percentage.
Idaho had 18 turnovers in the game, many of them unforced, and gave the Bobcats easy shots and 10 more field goal attempts overall as a result.
“The bottom line, for this team to win, we have to take care of our turnover woes,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said.
Fueled by Idaho giveaways, Texas State outscored the Vandals of the final six minutes of the half by a 15-2 margin on 8-of-11 (.727) shooting. In the meantime, Idaho turned it over five times and missed its final five shots of the half to take a 34-30 lead into the break.
The second half was more of the same for Idaho. While showing flashes of strong play early in the second period, Idaho extended its lead quickly as high as eight points at 38-30 and again at 40-32. With the Vandals holding a 45-38 lead at the 15:31 point, TXST went on a 9-2 run to tie the game for the first time since 0-0, at 47-47 with 13:13 to play.
The game stayed within two possessions for the remainder of regulation, but the final two minutes of the game were defined again by key Idaho turnovers in clutch situations. Tied 67-67 with less than two minutes to play, Idaho committed three turnovers and made just one field goal, while Texas State’s Wright rattled off seven-consecutive points on his own to give the Bobcats a six-point lead that Idaho could not overcome in the final two minutes.
Along with Barone’s career-high total, junior Stephen Madison added 14 points and three rebounds, while senior Mike McChristian scored 13 points, all in the first half, to go along with eight rebounds. No other Idaho player netted more than six points. Barone, Madison and McChristian went a combined 18-of-26 (.692) from the floor, but the rest of the team combined for 6-of-24 (.250) shooting.
Wright’s 37 points led Texas State, while Phil Hawkins added 16 points and Reid Koenen put in 10 as the only other double-figure scorer. As a team, the Bobcats went 28-of-60 (.467) from the floor, 7-of-24 (.292) from 3-point range and 15-of-23 (.652) from the free throw line.
“He beat us from the inside, he beat us from the outside,” Verlin said of Wright. “I knew he was a good player coming in. He gets 18 points a game and we really stressed him coming in. We just couldn’t guard him.”
Idaho went 24-of-50 (.480) from the field and 5-of-17 (.294) from the perimeter, its worst long-range percentage in WAC play, and earned a 20-of-24 (.833) clip from the free throw line. The Vandals out-rebounded the Bobcats by a 37-28 margin and outscored TXST in the paint, 38-36.
Texas State outscored Idaho off turnovers, 15-7, and off the bench, 47-9. The Bobcats became the first team since Wright State in Idaho’s season opener on Nov. 9 to outscore the Vandals on the fast break (10-8).
“I think we’re giving the effort that you need to give defensively,” Verlin said. “Tonight, they shoot a good percentage, but we gave them a bunch of turnover layups and we have got to figure that out.”
The Vandals will be back at the Cowan Spectrum on Saturday to face UTSA, which took a 78-75 win at Seattle U on Thursday and enters the game with a 5-13 overall and 1-7 WAC record. That game tips off at 7:05 p.m. (PT).