With many students still on winter break, only 1,081 seats in the Cowan Spectrum were occupied for Thursday night’s Idaho men’s basketball WAC season opener.
Little did those fans know though that they were paying for front row seats to the Deonte Burton show.
The sophomore guard almost single-handedly guided the Nevada Wolfpack to a 73-55 trouncing of the Vandals, who fall to 7-8 (0-1) with the loss. Burton, the WAC Preseason Player of the Year torched the Idaho defense for 26 points and six assists for the conference leading Wolfpack, who extended their winning streak to eight and now stand at 11-3 (1-0) on the year.
Idaho coach Don Verlin said that Burton was the difference maker in the game, and as only a sophomore, he still has time to get better.
“Burton can really get it going, he’s certainly got it going against us every time we’ve played him.” Verlin said. “You have to do a good job on him. You can’t allow him to go to his right or step into his jumper, you’ve gotta slow him down and we didn’t. He’s a good player and probably the best candidate in our league to play at the next level.”
Nevada started hot out of the gate taking a six-point lead over Idaho in just over three minutes after two Burton three-point shots were hit and senior forward Dario Hunt snatched an offensive board and converted the easy lay-up.
Idaho kept the game close for the next eight minutes until another three from Malik Story gave Nevada a double-digit advantage. Story finished the game as the team’s second leading scorer with 17.
Idaho’s third leading scorer on the year, Stephen Madison, who led the Vandals in points with 13, hit a three with just over eight minutes to go to cut the deficit to seven, but the Vandals were unable to score for the next four minutes. In that time Nevada was able to push their lead to 13. Idaho guard Deremy Geiger and center Kyle Barone, the teams’ two leading scorers on the year each finished with eight points on the evening.
Part of the reason for the offensive struggles in the first half according to Verlin was the changing of defensive pressure and style from Nevada, which he puts on his shoulders for not properly preparing his players.
“It was exactly what we expected, but for some reason we were confused on a lot of plays,” Verlin said. “We put that press breaker in a few games ago, and for whatever reason we really struggled with the execution of that tonight. Give the credit to Nevada, they did a good job of changing their defenses in the first half and the Vandals didn’t do a good job of attacking.”
The half ended in dramatic fashion for Nevada as Geiger missed two free throws with only four seconds left, Olek Czyz grabbed the board for the Wolfpack and as the buzzer sounded Burton connected with his third make from beyond the arc. Going into halftime Nevada led 42-25. Turnovers were also key in the first half for Idaho, as the Vandals committed 13 compared to only seven for Nevada.
Burton ended the half with 15 points and the entire Nevada team shot 57 percent from the floor.
The second half was much of the same for Idaho, as the Wolfpack extended their lead at one point to 22 with just more than 15 minutes left to play in the game.
Both teams settled down more in the second half, as Idaho only committed two turnovers in the final 20 minutes. Nevada’s shooting hand also cooled down at the end, shooting 50 percent from the field.
Both teams played back and forth basketball for the final 15 minutes, but with 6;12 left in the game, Nevada lost their backup to Hunt as Devonte Elliott threw an elbow to the forehead of Idaho guard Matt Borton while the two were on the ground. Initially ruled as a loose ball foul, the referees reviewed the play and called a flagrant two foul against Elliott who was then ejected. The WAC reviews all in-game ejections so Elliott’s status for their game against Utah State on Saturday is unsure. Borton stayed in the game after the foul but looked to be in pain and was subbed out with four minutes left.
“I haven’t talked to (Borton) yet, but I know the trainers are looking at him,” Verlin said.
In the end, the Vandals just couldn’t match up with the smaller, but more athletic Wolfpack squad who had more steals, blocks and made three pointers. Idaho though did win the battle on the boards and in the assists column.
Coach Verlin said that the quick start from Burton and lack of offense in the first half was the eventual downfall for Idaho, who have to develop a short memory as they host the Fresno State Bulldogs in the Cowan Spectrum Saturday at 3:05 p.m.
“If we expect to play at the top of this league, and we do, we have to play better with more energy, more intensity and we have to execute a lot better.”