It was an unbearable end to an unforgettable season for the Idaho men’s basketball team, who were thrashed by WAC opponent Utah State 76-56 in the second round of the Collegeinsiders.com Tournament Saturday in Logan.
After defeating UC Santa Barbara in Wednesday’s first round game, the Vandals experienced one of their worst shooting nights of the season, digging themselves into a hole during the first half that saw them go 27 percent from the field.
“It’s a very tough place to play, they’re very well coached,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “This game needs to be flushed down the toilet, really. I don’t think we need to focus on this game as far as our season.”
The Vandals, who went scoreless for the game’s first four and a half minutes, scored just 16 points in the first half. A Utah State team that also struggled offensively started out shooting 1-7. However, a 13-0 Aggie run followed and the hosts found themselves up 19-3 midway through the first.
Five minutes later, the Aggies scrapped together a 12-0 run to extend their lead to 24 points. Stew Morrill’s squad cruised into halftime with a 39-16 lead.
The teams traded 7-0 runs to begin the second but a Vandal comeback would prove to be too demanding a task, despite shooting a much-improved 52 percent in the second half.
Though no Idaho players scored in double digits, juniors Kyle Barone and Mansa Habeeb each poured in eight second half points to help the cause of an offensively flat Vandal side.
Aggie guard Preston Medlin tallied a career-high 32 points against the Vandals earlier this season but Idaho held the sophomore all-WAC first teamer to 50 percent from the field and 17 points this time around.
Idaho out-rebounded the Aggies 30-25 but committed 17 more turnovers. Utah State shot 49 percent from the field and was led by Brockeith Pane, who dished out 11 assists despite scoring just seven points.
For Verlin, Saturday’s result in no way reflected what Idaho achieved during the regular season.
“What this Vandal team did is they played with their heart all season long. This team did a number of unbelievable things and things you have to be proud of,” he said. “They came to work every single day, it didn’t start in the season, it started early this summer.”
The dedication and hard work paid off for a team that accomplished a number of impressive tasks this season.
For starters, the Vandals lengthened the season by winning their opening round game in the CIT Tournament, a feat they failed to achieve last season when falling to the University of San Francisco in the opening round. Their postseason appearance was the third in four years.
The Vandals posted their best WAC mark (9-5) in school history and beat every team in the process, including an away win at then undefeated Nevada.
Lastly, four of Idaho’s five starters received all-WAC honors, including each of the team’s three seniors; Deremy Geiger, Landon Tatum and Djim Bandoumel.
“Our seniors were as good as three guys as I’ve ever seen,” Verlin said. “They all did their jobs, so mainly their hard work and dedication to Vandal basketball enabled them to put together a great season.”
Verlin’s 19-win team returns two starters in Barone and sophomore Stephen Madison, while all eight of the team’s bench players will also be back.
“We’ve got to continue, we had lineups out there that we’ll play a bit next year, I like the foundation,” he said. “We have 10 guys coming back, and I think we’ve recruited well.”