Bobcats a bit too savvy for young Vandals

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MOSCOW — Despite a career day from freshman RayQuawndis Mitchell and Trevon Allen’s third straight home game of 20-plus points, the Idaho men’s basketball team couldn’t stick with the veteran-laden Montana State Bobcats on Thursday night at Cowan Spectrum.

Idaho got within three points in the second half, but MSU never trailed and held on for a 77-67 victory.

It was a tale of two halves for Idaho — the Vandals played their best defense in the first half, holding MSU to 30 points, but tallied only 21 points in the frame themselves. In the second half, Idaho’s offense got going and its defense faltered.

“We just couldn’t get a big stop there down the stretch,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We didn’t play well at all in the first half offensively, but we played well defensively. The second half, we played well offensively, didn’t play very well defensively.”

Idaho (4-12, 1-4 Big Sky) relied heavily on Allen, who led all scorers with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field.

Mitchell helped Idaho dodge disaster in the first half and get within striking distance in the second. Idaho started 0-for-8 from 3-point land before Mitchell hit a pair of treys. Allen followed with a long, contested 2-point shot that made it 16-14 Bobcats with 6:55 to go in the period. But the Bobcats (7-8, 4-1) started and ended the half on 6-0 and 8-0 runs, respectively, and led 31-20 at the break.

Idaho’s best play came in the first 10 minutes of the second half and the Vandals battled to within three points on a Mitchell 3 from the top of the key that made it 48-45. The 18-year-old freshman guard finished with a career-high 15 points and went 4-for-8 from 3.

“I thought my teammates did a good job of finding me on our plays and just had a lot of good open shots,” Mitchell said.

As soon as Idaho got within striking distance for the first time in the second half, the game turned into the Tyler Hall show for the Bobcats. The All-Big Sky guard scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, including a handful of big 3s that halted Idaho’s momentum.

Hall answered Mitchell’s 3 with one of his own hit three triples in a two-minute span to help stretch MSU’s lead to 57-48. Two minutes later, the 6-foot-5 senior threw down a dunk to make it 61-52 Bobcats.

“He’s an all-league guy,” Allen said. “When he started knocking down shots, it hurt us. Going into the game we knew what he could do.”

Junior guard Harold Frey added 19 points and seven assists for the Bobcats.

Whenever Idaho hit a big play, Hall and the Bobcats answered on the other end. Their biggest advantage was second-chance points, where they outscored Idaho 14-0.

“If you look at it, you’d say they out-toughed us because they were able to fight and get those extra possessions,” Verlin said.

The game was a bit of a step back for Idaho after a competitive stretch over its last three games, in which Idaho nearly completed a huge second-half comeback against Weber State, toppled Eastern Washington and fell to Northern Colorado in overtime.

The good news is Idaho heads into a nine-day break before it plays host to Montana on Jan. 19 at Cowan Spectrum. Verlin said the nine-day break is the first he’s seen as a coach.

“We’re going to work out tomorrow, give them the weekend off and get back to work of getting better,” Verlin said. “There’s obviously a lot of areas we need to continue to clean up and take advantage this week from a fundamental standpoint of getting better on offense (and) defense.”

NOTES — The 2018 Big Sky champion Idaho women’s tennis team was honored at halftime with a presentation of their championship rings. … Mitchell stole the ball with 1.8 seconds left and stepped out of bounds as the teams were lining up to shake hands, so Montana State had to go back onto the court and inbound the ball before the game officially ended. … Cameron Tyson joined Allen and Mitchell in double figures with 11 points.

MONTANA ST. (7-8)

Ricketts 3-8 0-0 7, Blevins 3-8 2-3 8, Kirby 2-4 4-6 8, Hall 8-20 0-0 20, Frey 5-11 7-7 19, Guliford 0-0 0-0 0, Neumann 3-3 0-0 6, Quinlan 0-2 0-0 0, Nikkarinen 3-4 0-0 7, Daniels 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-61 13-16 77.

IDAHO (4-12)

Blakney 2-4 0-0 4, Rodriguez 3-9 2-2 9, Allen 10-17 0-2 23, Tyson 4-13 1-2 11, Garvin 1-1 1-2 3, Samb 0-2 0-0 0, Smits-Francisco 0-0 0-0 0, West 0-3 0-0 0, Mitchell 4-8 3-3 15, Smith 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-59 7-11 67.

Halftime_Montana St. 30-21. 3-Point Goals_Montana St. 8-27 (Hall 4-14, Frey 2-6, Nikkarinen 1-1, Ricketts 1-5, Blevins 0-1), Idaho 10-30 (Mitchell 4-8, Allen 3-7, Tyson 2-10, Rodriguez 1-4, West 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Montana St. 35 (Hall, Kirby 7), Idaho 27 (Rodriguez 6). Assists_Montana St. 14 (Frey 7), Idaho 11 (Allen, Smith 4). Total Fouls_Montana St. 13, Idaho 14. A_1,029 (7,000).

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