Vandal Men 69, Monmouth 66

IDAHO FOUGHT OFF A LATE SURGE BY MONMOUTH Saturday night in the Basketball Travelers Classic Tournament this weekend in Memorial Gym. The Vandals are 4-3 on the season and 2-0 in the tournament, and will take on Eastern Michigan Sunday at 6 p.m. PST in the final round of the tourney. Monmouth is 1-1 this weekend and will go against North Dakota which beat Eastern Michigan 54-49 Saturday evening.

With the host Vandals posting a hard fought 33-25 halftime lead against Monmouth University Saturday night, the visiting Hawks from West Long Branch (New Jersey) caught fire, opening the second half at Memorial Gym in Moscow by making seven of their first nine field goal attempts in the second half to slice the Vandal lead to 42-41 with 14:41 left in the game.

The Vandals, despite their lack of experience, did not buckle. In fact their response was dynamic as they hit 64.7% from the floor in the second half on their way to a WAC single-game team high 58.1% from the field while clamping down defensively dropping the Hawks' percentage from 78% to 56.7% in the second half and claiming a 69-66 win in the second round of the Basketball Travelers Classic Tournament.

The Vandals are 4-3 on the season and 2-0 in the tournament and will take on Eastern Michigan Sunday at 6 p.m. PST in the final round of tournament play. Monmouth is 1-1 in the tournament and will go against North Dakota which beat Eastern Michigan 54-49 Saturday evening.

Coach Don Verlin saw his Vandals continue to bounce back from a clunker of a game at Montana to climb back over .500 on the season. Saturday night the play of the point guards, particularly 5-11 junior Deremy Geiger who had 17 points, 6 assists, a steal and a rebound in 34 minutes on the floor.

"The point guards were a key to our game tonight because they had to drive for the ball," Verlin said, "and I thought Deremy had a great night driving the ball. I thought Deremy was great driving the lane and finding the open guy. He did a great job of that. He gave us great spark. This was his best overall game since he's been here."

Another important factor in the Verlin system was the discipline the Vandals displayed and their ability to make adjustments throughout the game despite their relative inexperience at the NCAA Division I level.

"Like I told you guys all along," Verlin said, "I like this team, and the reason I like them is because they pay attention. They did a great job making adjustments in shoot around today. One of our keys to the win tonight was being disciplined…because these guys (Monmouth) play a different style, and this style is hard to play against. I thought we did a great job of finding the open guy. We had as good a point guard play tonight as you can have tonight."

The Vandal point guards had 9 assists and only one turnover. "That's phenomenal," Verlin said. "We turned it over too much again (16 compared to the more experienced Hawks), but you've got to give our guys credit. Deremy started and made some huge shots. Landum Tatum (7 points, 3 assists, 1 turnover) played well. I'm very happy with the way we played tonight."

As always, Verlin gave a lot of the credit to the win to his assistant coaches. "Besides a few turnovers there in the second half we shot it awfully well. I was really proud of our coaching staff. Coach (Ray) Lopes did a great job (defensively). Coach (Tim) Murphy is in charge of the offense and we were fortunate enough to make some shots."

After two nights of play, it has become apparent that all four mid-major teams in the tournament are closely matched, leading to some very exciting action for the fans in attendance. "When I saw the (tournament) field, I knew that there were good coaches," Verlin said. "The Eastern Michigan coach is a good friend of mine. Monmouth has been to three NCAA tournaments under this coach. I knew it was going to be a good tournament. I didn't know if (the games) would be quite this close, but I knew that they would be competitive games and fun games for everybody to watch. It's been good basketball in Memorial Gym this weekend."

In addition to Geiger's outstanding game, senior Jeff Ledbetter (12 points, 2 steals and a rebound) and junior Luis Toledo (12 points, 5 rebounds and a steal) also reached double figures. In what might be a trademark of their depth, eight Vandals played 10 minutes or more in the game. Brandon Wiley, Tatum and Kyle Barone all had 7 points with Wiley also collecting 2 rebounds, 2 blocks and an assist. Tatum checked out with 3 assists and a block and Barone had 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Shawn Henderson had a solid 6 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal; Stephen Madison chipped in a key free throw in the second half, and Djim Bandoumel also saw action.

The 4-3 record and 2-0 mark through two days of tournament play is nice, but Verlin is also cognizant of the process of getting his team ready to face the rigors of WAC basketball. He likes what he is seeing develop in his third year at the helm.

"We're getting better," he said. "We've just got to continue to get better. I really like where our frame of mind has been all year, even after our shellacking at Montana. These guys came back and went to work. That's what you've got to do. You've got a young team that doesn't have much experience. You've just got to get better every day. If you get better every day you get a whole lot better. That's what we're trying to do."

After the tournament concludes tomorrow the Vandals will be at Seattle University Dec. 11 before hosting Montana in a return matchup December 18 at 7:05 p.m. A visit to Eugene, Oregon to face the Ducks Dec. 21 will wrap up non-conference action. The WAC schedule begins in the Cowan Spectrum Dec. 29 against New Mexico State and Dec. 21 against Louisiana Tech. Both games will start at 7:05 p.m.




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