POCATELLO — It’s been a long time since Ryan Looney has been in a slump like this.
Fifteen years, to be exact, since he was a 28-year-old, first-time college head coach at Eastern Oregon University.
He’s experienced a lot of success ever since, stringing together 14 consecutive winning seasons at three different schools. He reached new heights last season, when he took Point Loma Nazarene to the Division II national championship game.
So Idaho State’s current eight-game losing streak can only really be compared to that first voyage into being a college head coach, when Looney’s 2004-05 Eastern Oregon squad went 4-22.
ISU’s 16 losses this season are more than a Looney-coached team has had since his first year at EOU.
“I don’t know in that season that we necessarily ever did really get out of (our rut),” Looney said Monday. “For us right now, we’ve got to focus on things more than just winning and losing the game. We’re trying as hard as we can to establish the right culture and get our guys to understand what’s important in a program and what’s not.”
The latest loss for Idaho State (6-16, 3-10 Big Sky Conference) was Saturday, 63-59, to Sacramento State in Reed Gym. It marked the sixth time during ISU’s losing streak and the seventh time this season that ISU lost a game it either led, was tied or was within one possession in the final minute of regulation.
Looney detailed his team’s deficiencies at length during Saturday’s postgame press conference, and they all came back to a couple key points: Looney taking responsibility for not teaching his team the right habits, and ISU’s players not executing crucial effort plays throughout the game — namely blocking out during rebounding opportunities.
ISU has been outrebounded in four of its last five games and is 0-8 this season when losing the rebounding margin. That’s especially frustrating for Looney, whose best teams over the years have been dominant on the glass.
“You’re never going to be a great block-out team defensively if you’re not attempting to create that habit every single day,” Looney said after Saturday’s loss. “You’re never going to give great effort on the offensive glass every possession if you don’t really try to give that effort every single day, and I’m not talking about just in games, I’m talking about when we’re practicing, when we’re watching film together. If we watch film and we don’t have a guy blocking out, that’s got to hurt us, it’s got to be painful to watch.
“And if it’s not, we’re probably not moving in the right direction in those areas.”
ISU looks to rectify those details this week on the road, at Montana State (12-11, 6-6 Big Sky) and first-place Montana (14-10, 10-3) on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
The Bobcats survived 12 lead changes and 11 ties and pulled away from ISU late in the second half of a 75-64 win Jan. 25 at Reed Gym. Forty-four points in the paint helped MSU shoot 49.1% from the floor, with big men Jubrile Belo and Devin Kirby combining to make 12 of 18 for 30 points.
The Grizzlies held off Idaho State’s second-half surge and beat the Bengals 77-74 on Jan. 23 at Reed Gym. ISU trailed 41-29 at halftime, but tied the score midway through the second half and got within 75-74 with 9 seconds to play.
Two games that could have gone either way, but ended as losses for Idaho State.
“Sometimes, luck goes to the team that’s more prepared, and we’re not prepared in some crucial toughness areas right now,” Looney said Monday. “... Us having a better opportunity to win some of these close games, and especially what might be these two on this upcoming road trip, we’re going to have to clean up those areas.”