Idaho (6-8, 2-2 WAC) committed 12 second-half turnovers and 18 total in the game, which Denver (8-7, 4-1 WAC) turned into 19 points.
“I knew the game was going to be like it was, a grind-out game,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. “I knew it was going to be like that and I thought we did a lot of good things. We did a good job defensively, but we just didn’t take care of our ball well enough to win this game.”
In the first 36 minutes of the game, Idaho had held the WAC’s most prolific 3-point shooting team to just three made triples, but DU’s Chase Hallam drained threes on back-to-back possessions with three minutes to play. Those two shots snatched away an Idaho 44-41 lead and put the Vandals in a 47-44 hole with 2:36 to play.
Vandal senior Mike McChristian gave Idaho a 48-47 lead with a layup at 1:35, but Idaho committed two more turnovers and didn’t attempt a shot by the end of regulation, while DU re-took the lead on a layup at 1:14, then made all six of its free throw attempts to finish the game.
“I thought we defended it pretty well, but we let Hallam get loose there a couple times late and he makes two big 3-point shots,” Verlin said.
As a team, Idaho shot 17-of-35 (.486) overall and 3-of-9 (.333) from 3-point range, along with a 12-of-15 (.800) showing at the free throw line. DU went 19-of-44 (.432) from the field, 5-of-18 (.278) from 3-point range and 12-of-13 (.923) from the free throw line.
Idaho held a 25-17 rebounding edge, but gave up a key offensive rebound after forcing a miss with 26 seconds to play and facing a one-point deficit. The Vandals had to foul and saw themselves in a three-point hole instead.
“I thought they came up with big plays when they needed to come up with them,” Verlin said. “It gets late in the basketball game, we get them to miss a shot, then we don’t come up with the rebound.”
Vandal junior Stephen Madison led all scorers with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, along with four assists. Sophomore guard Connor Hill added 12 points on 3-of-6 shooting, all from long range, and added his NCAA-leading third four-point play of the season.
Leading scorer Kyle Barone tied his season low with five points on 2-of-7 shooting, along with six turnovers. Verlin said DU did a good job of attacking him with the double teams and frustrating him all night long.
DU outscored Idaho in the paint, 26-24, off turnovers, 19-15 and off the bench, 9-4. Idaho held a 2-0 margin on the fast break and had a 10-5 edge in second-chance points in the game.
After the Vandal men took a 28-24 lead into the halftime break, the Pioneers opened the second half with a 7-0 run to take a 33-28 lead at the 14:55 mark. Idaho answered immediately with a 15-3 run of its own for a 43-36 lead – its largest of the game – but then Denver ended with a 19-6 scoring tally over the game’s final eight minutes.
The Vandal men stay at home on Saturday, when they host New Mexico State (9-8, 3-2 WAC). The Aggies outlasted Seattle U in double-overtime on Thursday by an 83-82 margin at KeyArena. Idaho and NM State split the season series last year, with the home team winning each time.
Saturday’s game tips off at 7:05 p.m. (PT) at the Cowan Spectrum.