Vandals fall 75-72 to NMSU

In a game reminiscent of Saturday night's loss to Louisiana Tech last weekend, the Idaho Vandal men dropped another close WAC game in the Cowan Spectrum Monday night when New Mexico State's Jahmar Young exploded for 18 points in the last 9:07 to pace the Aggies to a 75-72 victory. The loss drops Idaho to 8-7 on the season and 1-3 in WAC action. The Aggies improved to 10-7, 3-1 WAC.


Verlin on loss to NMSU Part 1:
Verlin on loss to NMSU Part 2:

Watson on loss to NMSU Part 1:
Watson on loss to NMSU Part 2:
Watson on loss to NMSU Part 3:

Johnson on defensive improvement:
Johnson on team's potential:
Johnson on loss to NMSU:

The game was close all the way with the Aggies holding the lead throughout most of the contest. Finally, after trailing 47-41 with 5-1/2 minutes in the second half, the Vandals sank four straight free throws – two each by Kashif Watson and Luis Toledo, and then Marcus Lawrence hit Steffan Johnson who buried a three to tie the game at 47 with 12:47 remaining, bringing the crowd to life. A layup by Shawn Henderson put the Vandals up by two and the crowd was on its feet.

The game seesawed back and forth until, with Idaho on top 51-50, the Aggies started running plays to free up Young who responded big time scoring 18 of NMSU's final 25 points. The Vandals battled back but missed opportunities – a shot here, a turnover there – were cashed in by the Aggies.

The game was similar to Saturday's loss – in fact with 5 minutes remaining the score was the same as it was Saturday with Idaho trailing 59-58 – and turnovers plagued the Vandals. However, New Mexico State's Jahmar Young was the difference, winding up with 31 points hitting 11 of 18 from the floor and all 7 of his free throws.

Vandal coach Don Verlin was succinct in his post game media interviews. "He (Young) got some uncontested (shots) and he also made some tough ones," he said. "And they did a good job freeing him up. We missed a couple of switches there late in the second half…just a little lack of communication. We've got to look at the tape and evaluate that and make sure we're doing the right things.

"The last two games we've had a wing player go off for big numbers in the second half which has carried each of their teams to victory, and some way, either by schemes or by personnel, we've got to find a way we can lock down a quality wing player in this league," he continued. "It's kinda been showing its head all year when we need stops. We've got to evaluate that as coaches and make sure we're doing the right thing."

Johnson (9 points, 4 rebounds) said, "It's something we need to work on every day. We have a pretty good focus on it right now, but there are a lot of times that we don't sustain our intensity on defense. We don't execute on defense as well as we would like to. We had a couple of breakdowns at the end that were pretty crucial for us – guys getting some wide-open looks, but it's just something that we've got to get better at every day…coach was saying that these last two games don't define our season. We've got a lot of games left to play. We've just got to come into practice ready to buckle down and get it done.

"We're disappointed," Johnson continued. "We came into the season with a lot of expectations. Our fans had a lot of expectations for us, and these last two showings weren't really our team. We had bits and pieces of our team, of how we like to play, but we couldn't sustain it."

Watson, who finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists, concurred. "It's very frustrating. We came out and we had a lot of effort in the beginning, fought hard, kept ourselves in it at halftime, but in the second half we came out a little sluggish a little bit and that's been the story of our season…not going out as hard as we did in the first half. It was tough for us as a team but we're staying together. Coach V won't let us break apart…we're gonna stay together and come out back next game in Nevada and get a win."

"It was a tough one tonight," Verlin added. "We played hard. I thought we gave it a heck of an effort. Those guys in that locker room, they care. They busted their tail. They busted their tail all summer, the busted their tail in practice, and it might not be showing in wins and losses right now but we're getting better. I think you're gonna see this team play some good basketball, and we're not that far off. We're right there. We've lost three close games, and obviously that hurts, but we've got to keep grinding."

Luis Toledo had a great game inside for the Vandals, posting a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Mac Hopson led all Vandal scorers with 17 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds. Attendance was listed at 1296, but there was a great turnout of Vandal students considering classes are not scheduled to resume until Wednesday.

Idaho will be on the road Saturday for a 7:05 p.m. game in Reno against Nevada then will host a critical three-game home stand against Utah State (Jan. 23), BSU (Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. in a game to be televised on ESPNU) and Fresno State (Jan.28).

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