Vandals battle back from 12 down, fall 66-64

IT IS THE LONGEST RUNNING, CONTINUOUS RIVALRY WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER -- the "Battle of the Palouse" between the University of Idaho and Washington State University. This year marked the 107th meeting between the schools, and the game was a gem despite the Cougs hitting a buzzer beater for the 66-64 victory. WSU holds a 160-107 advantage in the series, and has won the last nine matchups.

It was college basketball at its finest. Over 3,000 fans rocking the Cowan Spectrum for the 107th "Battle of the Palouse" -- and the game came down to the final nanoseconds.

Washington State shot well in the first half and threatened to blow the game open leading by 12 points with 48 seconds left in the first half. The Vandals regrouped and got a huge lift from Djim Bandoumel to close the gap. The Vandal offense caught fire. The game was tied as the clock ticked down.

In the end WSU's stellar guard Reggie Moore stepped up on the last possession despite a smothering defensive effort by Idaho's Deremy Geiger to drain a two-pointer from the left wing with nine-tenths of a second remaining sending the visiting Cougars to a 66-64 non-conference victory.

Vandal coach Don Verlin summed up the game succinctly. "It comes down to a one possession game, and Reggie Moore, like I said before the game, is an excellent player. He's an all-Pac-12 type guy, and he made a heck of a shot for them to win this basketball game."

The Vandals got off to an icy start, and several defensive lapses allowed the Cougars to hit five three-points in the first half including two each by front liners Dexter Kernich-Drew and Patrick Simon. "In the first half it was more the post guys that gave up those three-point shots… on a couple of missed assignments there," Verlin commented. "They got a couple against the zone. I was not happy in the first half because I thought we let Simon get a couple easy looks and that was a game plan emphasis…We didn't really talk much about that at halftime to be honest with you. What we talked more about was executing our defensive game plan. I thought we did a lot better job in the second half."

With WSU leading 38-29 and about 17 minutes remaining in the game, senior forward Djim Bandoumel came off the bench for the Vandals and ignited a rally by scoring six points in 90 seconds. Stephen Madison hit two free throws and Mike McChristian stole the ball from D.J. Shelton and scored, then Kyle Barone converted a pass from Mansa Habeeb into a field goal and suddenly WSU was clinging to a 41-39 lead.

The Vandals tied the game a short while later and the scored was knotted at 47 when the Cougs ran of seven unanswered points. Still the Vandals battled back finally catching up at 64-64 on a Landon Tatum jumper with 24 seconds left. WSU called time out and put the ball in Moore's hand and the senior delivered the decisive buzzer-beating jumper.

In the final stats the Vandals shot 60% from the field and 43% on threes in the second half along with a perfect 6-6 at the line to pull back into contention. Overall Idaho outscored WSU in the pain 34-22, 14-6 off turnovers, 15-12 off second chance points, and 8-2 on fast breaks. Both benches had 26 points. Idaho had only 9 turnovers to 14 for WSU, and the Vandals collected 10 steals compared to 1 for the Cougars. WSU had a 31-25 edge in rebounding.

"I thought we played hard enough to win this basketball game. No question about it," Verlin said. "You've got to give WSU credit. When it came time to make the winning plays they did. We got a number of stops in the second half and we don't come up with the rebound. I really thought them getting those extra possessions in the second half was the difference in the game. It comes down to a one possession game, and Reggie Moore, like I said before the game, is an excellent player. He's an all-Pac-12 type guy, and he made a heck of a shot for them to win this basketball game. I think you're right in your assessment. I thought we got better the first half of this week. I thought we battled really hard and we showed a lot of heart and a lot of guts coming back against a very well-coached team."

Asked why Bandoumel did not see action in the first half, Verlin explained, "Well, Djim didn't make the last road trip. I haven't been happy with his effort in practice, but I felt like tonight in the second half he gave us a tremendous lift. He gave us a lot of energy, was able to score the ball down there and did a lot of good things. I think for your team to grow as a basketball team and a basketball coach everybody's got to bust their tail, and I didn't think Djim was giving this basketball team the effort that we needed, but we're working through that and obviously he came out and gave us a huge lift in the second half. We need him to continue to give us a lift because he can really help this basketball team."

Madison led all scorers with 18 points and Bandoumel finished with nine.

The Vandals will return to the road Friday to face Oregon State.

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