Spartan long-range bombers take down Vandals

THAT WAS QUICK. Idaho (18-13, 9-7 WAC) earned a first round bye in the WAC Tourney, but Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals lost 74-69 to a San Jose State team who seemingly couldn't miss from 3-point range and two Spartans knocking down six threes each. Idaho, coming off its best season in 20 years, must shake this loss fast as they accepted an invite to the CIT to face USF next Wednesday.

LAS VEGAS – The game was there for the taking. The Vandals had battled back from a nine-point deficit to tie the game at 68 with 3:01 left on a rebound and coast-to-coast layup by junior guard Deremy Geiger.

But as so often happens in this city, the Vandals wound up with their hearts broken. In the final two minutes they turned the ball over four times in five possessions and San Jose State ran off the final six points of the game to pull out a 74-68 win, their second straight last-second victory in this WAC Tournament, to earn the right to face top seeded Utah State Friday night at 6 p.m.

The Vandals see the regular season come to an end with an 18-13 overall record (9-7 WAC and tied for third in the regular season), but will have to shake the disappointment in a hurry as they announced right after the game that Idaho had accepted an invitation to play in the Tournament (CIT). Idaho now begins preparing to play at the University of San Francisco (USF) next Wednesday (March 16th). This is Idaho's second invitation to the CIT, as the Vandals landed a berth in the new post-season tournament during Verlin's inaugural season at Idaho two years ago.

But Thursday the Spartans were devastating from the outside with guards Adrian Oliver and Keith Shamburger each hitting six three-pointers. Shamburger, a freshman, was 6-of-9 and Oliver, a senior who many feel should have been name the WAC's Player of the Year, was 6-of-10 from behind the arc. As a team the Spartans sank 13 of 23 three pointers.

The Spartan defense had a lot to do with the climactic final two minutes. Spartan Justin Graham had two steals in that brief span, including one on an inbound pass under his own basket. Two Vandal turnovers led to SJSU baskets. And Vandals fouled twice as San Jose made four of five free throws to account for the final margin.

"Wow, what a game," Verlin said. "You've got to give San Jose all the credit. They made 13 threes, and we are the best three-point field goal percentage team in the conference. Tonight we weren't, and I thought that was the difference in the game. I thought Adrian Oliver and Keith Shamburger were really hard to guard tonight. I didn't think it was from a lack of effort or preparation on our team's part. I thought San Jose did a great job of making their shots. They played a heck of a game.

"I thought we executed pretty well offensively," he continued. "I thought we got the shots we wanted. They played us in a matchup zone just like we thought all night long. I thought our guys did a good job getting in there. Obviously we turned over four of last five possessions…I think we had five assists and eight turnovers in the second half, but I thought we executed pretty well. This is a tough one to lose. No question about it."

Verlin, as is his custom, accepted responsibility for the loss. "I made some bad calls down the stretch, there's no question about it. I'm in charge of how this team plays and I made some bad calls, and for whatever reason we didn't execute maybe like I'd like to, but those possessions fall on me," he said.

He also lauded Oliver and Shamburger. "I thought we left 'em open a couple of times early, but they made some tough shots, too. There were a couple late in the half when Oliver was deep and Shawn (Henderson) was hanging on him. That's what makes them so dangerous," Verlin said. "I knew going in this was a scary team because they can really, really score the ball, and they did tonight. You've got to give them the credit. They made the shots when they had to. They made the plays when they had to. Adrian Oliver showed us why he's the best scorer in the league, and Keith Shamburger being a freshman played a whale of a game. I thought our guys played extremely hard. I thought our plan was good. We just came up on the short end of this one tonight."

Spartan coach George Nessman said his team's ability to maintain composure was a key. "I was real happy with our composure and our discipline throughout the game," said Nessman. "Idaho did what you expect them to do, just kept fighting. It was a heck of a ball game, and Keith (Shamburger) made a big play when he got the (midcourt) steal - that really was the pivotal play down the stretch. We're proud to be moving forward…"

Vandal senior Jeff Ledbetter contributed 21 points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal, but it didn't ease the disappointment in the loss. "It's tough," he said, "especially when you're right in their face and they still make it. It's discouraging, but I think we did a great job of fighting and overcoming a lot of their shots, and even with them hitting all their shots still having a chance to win. They deserve the credit as far as making them when they count."

Ledbetter credited the Vandal defense for getting the team into a position to win. "It all started with defense. We got stops, got clean rebounds, and we were able to get out and run and executed our break and our offense," he noted. "It started with defense and not turning the ball over. We're a good shooting team. If we get shots, it's gonna be a good night for us."

Junior Luiz Toledo ended up with 12 points and 4 rebounds, Brandon Wiley had a perfect five-for-five afternoon from the floor for 10 points and added three rebounds. Shawn Henderson had 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. Landon Tatum finished with 6 points and three rebounds, freshman Stephen Madison added six points and four rebounds in 12 solid minutes. Kyle Barone was held to three points and two rebounds and Deremy Geiger had two points.

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