BOISE — Despite a quick start and furious second-half comeback attempt, there was no Cinderella upset bid for the Idaho men’s basketball team Wednesday in the first round of the Big Sky tournament at CenturyLink Arena.
Montana State held off Idaho’s second-half rally and defeated the Vandals 75-71 for its first tournament victory in more than a decade.
“Always tough when it comes to an end and I think looking back on this basketball game, our guys came out with a lot of energy tonight,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “Cam (Tyson) knocked down a lot of shots and Tre (Allen) picked us up in the second half.”
Idaho trailed by as many as 15 points in the second half before steadily chipping away at the Bobcat lead.
An Allen fadeaway jumper cut the Bobcats’ lead to two points at 73-71 with 31 seconds remaining.
Idaho twice had a chance to tie or take the lead after Montana State’s Harald Frey and Tyler Hall missed the front end of a pair of one-and-ones, but Hall stole the ball from Allen at midcourt with seven seconds left and was fouled.
The second time around, Hall made both free throws to make it a four-point game with four seconds left, which put the game out of reach for Idaho.
“There was just no way I was going to miss those after I missed the first one,” Hall said. “I was just telling myself it was going in.”
Hall, a senior guard and the Big Sky’s all-time leading scorer, boosted the Bobcats with a 24-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Idaho was paced by the trio of Allen (21 points, six rebounds), freshman forward Jared Rodriguez (18 points, seven rebounds) and Tyson (17 points, 4-of-11 from 3).
Idaho shot out to a 10-0 lead early in the first period behind a pair of 3-pointers by Tyson and a pair of buckets inside by Rodriguez.
MSU took its first lead at 24-22 on a Frey 3-pointer midway through the half, and the Bobcats led 32-30 at halftime.
MSU’s biggest lead was 57-42 with 12:21 to play. Then, Allen and Rodriguez took over, scoring 27 of Idaho’s remaining 29 points.
The Vandals got within five points of the Bobcats four times, but each time, MSU responded on the other end. It wasn’t until a Rodriguez putback at the 1:21 mark that Idaho got within four. Allen’s jumper cut it to two moments later. Then, Hall ended the craziness and sealed the game for MSU.
Verlin said he was proud of how Idaho fought back in the second half.
“Like I told them in the locker room after the game, three, four weeks ago when we got down 15 we would have quit, and we didn’t,” Verlin said. “We fought like crazy and had a chance to steal it against a good Montana State team.”
Idaho played short-handed with only eight available players. Guard Geno West and backup center Cassius-Smits Francisco didn’t make the trip to Boise due to being on concussion protocol.
UI starting center Scott Blakney played 34 minutes, nabbing seven points and seven rebounds.
Four players reached double figures for MSU. Joining Hall were Frey (17), Keljin Blevins (10) and Devin Kirby (10).
The senior-less Vandals end the season 5-27 overall — tied for the most losses in program history with the 2006-07 team. The Bobcats improved to 15-16.
“A tremendous amount of credit to Idaho (and) coach Verlin, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Montana State coach Brian Fish said. “They play incredibly hard, certainly set the tone out of the gate with a 10-0 lead … so credit to them.”
Blakney 3-7 1-2 7, Rodriguez 5-9 8-8 18, Tyson 5-13 3-3 17, Allen 7-19 4-5 21, Kamara 0-1 0-0 0, Samb 2-2 0-0 4, Smith 2-3 0-0 4, Mitchell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-54 16-18 71.
MONTANA ST. (15-16)
Blevins 4-9 0-0 10, Kirby 4-4 2-4 10, Hall 8-19 2-3 23, Daniels 1-2 2-2 4, Frey 7-14 0-1 17, Quinlan 0-1 0-0 0, Neumann 4-4 0-1 9, Nikkarinen 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-54 6-11 75.
Halftime — Montana St. 32-30. 3-Point Goals — Idaho 7-19 (Tyson 4-11, Allen 3-5, Kamara 0-1, Rodriguez 0-1, Smith 0-1), Montana St. 11-24 (Hall 5-12, Frey 3-6, Blevins 2-4, Neumann 1-1, Daniels 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Idaho 29 (Blakney, Rodriguez 7), Montana St. 29 (Hall 10). Assists — Idaho 10 (Kamara 4), Montana St. 20 (Frey 8). Total Fouls — Idaho 15, Montana St. 16.
Stephan Wiebe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (208) 883-4629 and on Twitter @stephansports.