Idaho (6-10, 2-4 Western Athletic Conference) turned the ball over a season-high 23 times – a majority of which were unforced – which gave Louisiana Tech (15-3, 6-0 WAC) 15 extra shot attempts and 33 points off turnovers.
“It’s one of those situations where we aren’t able to secure the ball,” Verlin said. “Our guards get a little loose with the ball and get going a little fast, we turn it over, they get easy baskets, the game swings and we’re on the wrong side of it again.”
Idaho led by as many as 11 points early in the game and held a lead for the game’s first 27 minutes by controlling the tempo, contesting jump shots and limiting the Bulldogs to just 2-of-15 (.133) shooting from 3-point range in the first half.
While LA Tech couldn’t make a long-range shot in the first half, it was the complete opposite case in the second 20 minutes. The Bulldogs went 8-of-18 (.444) from long range in the second half and capitalized on 14 Vandal turnovers in the period to get 20 extra points.
Vandal sophomore guard Connor Hill broke open a 42-42 tie with his NCAA-leading fourth four-point play of the season, then Idaho junior Stephen Madison went on a personal 7-2 run to give the Vandals a seven-point lead, 53-46, with 9:37 to play.
After a Kyle Barone three-point play dunk gave the Vandals a 56-50 lead at the 7:07 mark, Idaho struggled. The Vandals turned the ball over three times in their next four possessions and the Bulldogs scored eight unanswered points to take a 58-56 lead.
After a Madison free throw, Hill gave Idaho its final lead of the game at 3:08 with a baseline jumper to make it 59-58, but LA Tech’s Kenyon McNeail slipped free for back-to-back 3-pointers. Kyle Barone cut the lead to one point with a layup at 1:43, but Idaho turned the ball over on its next four possessions and LA Tech went on an 8-0 run to put the game away in the final minute.
Madison led Idaho with 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He also added a team-high eight rebounds and three assists in the game. Barone added 19 points and seven rebounds with an 11-of-12 free throw shooting night. Hill finished with nine points and six rebounds.
Guard Kenneth Smith led LA Tech with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and 5-of-8 long-range shooting. He also added eight assists and four steals. Preseason All-WAC guard Raheem Appleby came off the bench and scored 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting.
Idaho went 24-of-52 (.462) from the floor and 3-of-10 (.300) from 3-point range in the game. The Vandals went 15-of-18 (.833) from the free throw line. Idaho also out-rebounded Louisiana Tech by a 42-29 margin.
LA Tech went 27-of-67 (.403) from the floor and 10-of-33 (.303) from 3-point range, along with 8-of-11 (.727) 3-point shooting. The Bulldogs held a 31-4 bench scoring advantage in the game.
Louisiana Tech ran a full-court press defensively all game. Idaho managed the press well, but mistakes after breaking the press hurt the Vandals all night long.
“I thought we did a decent job of handling the pressure, but then we made a bunch of un-fundamental mistakes,” Verlin said. “We’ve got to be strong, we’ve got to be tough, we’ve got to find a way to take care of our basketball.”
Those mistakes included several traveling violations and off-the-mark passes, which gave away too many possessions and gave the Bulldogs too many extra chances.
“The bottom line is shot attempts,” Verlin said. “They get 67 and we get 52.”
Idaho continues the road trip on Saturday at UT Arlington, which is 8-7 overall and 3-3 in WAC play after taking a 61-44 home loss to Seattle U on Thursday.