Vandal men fall 70-61 at Utah State

On the road in Logan (Utah), the University of Idaho (7-8, 1-1 WAC) put up one of its best battles in years against perrenial power Utah State (13-1, 1-0). The Vandals fell behind early by a 16-point margin in the first half, but battled back before falling by 9-points to the Aggies. Idaho caused 17 turnovers in the game, and held the Aggies to just 36-percent shooting in the second half.

The following is an official press release from the University of Idaho Sports Information Department.

LOGAN , Utah – The University of Idaho men's basketball team played the role of pesky visitors, but the Vandals couldn't overcome an early deficit in a 70-61 loss at Utah State in Western Athletic Conference action.

Idaho (7-8, 1-1) caused 17 turnovers and held the Aggies (13-1, 1-0) to just 36-percent shooting in the second half, but Utah State's early shooting barrage created a 16-point deficit which proved too much for the Vandals to overcome.

"Our guys did an unbelievable job tonight considering it's the second game of the road trip and we're playing at 5,000 feet of elevation," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "We had our chances, but we made a few errors and didn't finish some opportunities."

The Aggies, ranked first in the nation for field-goal shooting and eighth for turnovers, hit nine of their first 11 shots, including 5-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc, to jump out early.

Idaho, playing in a building where the home team has won 93-percent of its games, cut the margin to three points midway through the second half, but the Aggies held off the charge for the nine-point victory.

Kashif Watson scored 15 points and hit 9-of-10 free throws and Marvin Jefferson scored 12 points despite playing just 23 minutes with foul trouble. Mac Hopson struggled for the first time this season as he finished with 12 points but hit just 5-of-16 shots to go along with five assists and four steals. Luciano de Souza hit three 3-pointers for the third consecutive game to finish with nine points and Brandon Wiley scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds.

Two key statistics for the Vandals were a 36-19 disadvantage in rebounding and just 19 points scored on 17 Aggie turnovers.

"(The rebounding) was the difference in the ball game. If we don't fix our rebounding woes it is going to be a long WAC season," Verlin said.

Idaho trailed 5-4 early in the contest before the lead changed four times in less than three minutes and Utah State grabbed the lead for good at 9-8 with 15:44 remaining. Idaho trailed 11-10 when the Aggies strung together a 16-2 run, aided by an 11-0 stretch, that pushed Utah State ahead 27-12 at the 9:52 mark. Idaho stopped the run with two free throws, but a dunk and ensuing free throw gave the Aggies their largest lead at 30-14 with 8:34 remaining. At that point, Idaho put together a 10-1 run to pull with seven points and the Vandals later ended the half on a 5-0 run to pull within 40-34 at halftime.

Idaho ended the half shooting 50-percent from the floor, however Utah State shot at a 74-percent clip and ended 5-of-6 from the 3-point line.

The Vandals continued their run as the second half began and pulled within four points at 40-36, but the Aggies seemingly always found an answer. The margin never hit more than eight points until Utah State strung together four points to build a 52-43 advantage with 11:42 remaining. The Vandals weren't done yet and used an 8-2 run to pull within 54-51 at the 7:16 mark, but Utah State responded with five points to push the margin back to eight points. Idaho trailed 60-54 with 4:45 remaining when the shots stopped falling and Utah State scored the next six points to move ahead 66-54 with just 2:43 remaining. The Vandals missed three 3-pointers and a free throw while the Aggies connected on a dunk and four free throws. Hopson hit a 3-pointer to push the margin under double digits, but it was too little, too late as the Aggies held on for the 70-61 victory.

Utah State shot just 8-of-24 (.364) from the floor in the second half, but Idaho finished with the same shooting percentage for the half.

Idaho returns home to face Hawai`i Thursday (Jan. 8) at the Cowan Spectrum at 7:05 p.m. PT.

LINK: Game Summary, Idaho Official Athletic Site

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