Vandal men snap losing skid, beat Fresno

AGAIN A GAME WENT DOWN TO THE WIRE FOR THE VANDAL MEN, but this time Idaho got a great defensive play from junior guard MANSA HABEEB with a two-point lead and two seconds left, followed by two insurance free throws to defeat Fresno State 63-59 in the Cowan Spectrum Saturday afternoon. The loss helped ease some of the pain from a 73-55 loss Idaho suffered at the hands of Nevada Thursday night.

Not having recorded a victory since trouncing Cal State Bakersfield Dec. 17, the Vandals corrected some critical issues that had been costing them throughout the season – turnovers and free throws, especially down the stretch in tight games. Idaho (8-8, 1-1 WAC) was credited with 16 turnovers against Fresno State (7-10, 0-2 WAC), but an amazing seven were the result of offensive fouls.

The Vandals won the game at the free-throw line making 22 of 25 (88%) including 13 of 14 in the first half. Idaho shot a decent 41% from the floor and held a 29-23 edge in rebounds, but things were still in doubt with seconds remaining. A seven-point lead with a little over seven minutes remaining had dwindled away and a layup by Fresno State's high-scoring Kevin Olekaibe off a Larry Mcgaughey steal tied the game at 59.

Stephen Madison sank a put-back to put the Vandals back on top 61-59 with 5.8 remaining in regulation. Fresno took a time out, put the ball in play then called another time out with 4.9 seconds after seeing how Idaho set up its defense for the next play. With both teams out of time outs, the Bulldogs brought the ball to the attacking zone putting it in the hands of Jonathan Wills who was guarded by Habeeb. With 1.9 seconds remaining Wills set up for a three-point attempt. Habeeb, who was playing slightly off Wills, leapt straight up into the air as Wills jumped to launch the shot. Habeeb's monumental jump startled Wills, who brought the ball back to the floor with him, resulting in a traveling violation turning the ball over to the Vandals. Habeeb set up at the free throw line and sunk both to end the game.

Habeeb was asked by the media if he had blocked the shot by Wills. "He had a shot and I contested it enough that I was going to block it if he got the shot off," Habeeb said. "So he just came down with it and got the turnover… I didn't tip it. He just hung onto the ball."

Vandal coach Don Verlin said, "Mansa was right there to contest it. We talked about not fouling obviously at the end, and it looked like he went up and down. Shoot, I don't know exactly what happened. We'll watch it on tape. It did look like a travel to me. He's a good athlete and played at a very good junior college and was a very good player there. I like the way he played tonight. I thought Deremy Geiger and Mansa Habeeb did a great job on (Kevin) Olekaibe…15 points below his average. Those guys had the assignment all night long. They were trying to deny him the ball, make it tough on him. I thought they did a good job in the second half. We defended him a little bit better than we did in the first half, and I thought our post guys did a better job in the second half than they did in the first half. Our defensive effort was pretty good. I thought we executed okay offensively. I just don't think we made our shots, but we did make our free throws, and that was nice to see."

Djim Bandoumel also electrified the sparse Cowan Spectrum crowd with four thunderous slam dunks (Idaho has started a promotion where gift certificates are given to the crowd if the Vandals have five or more dunks in a game).

Verlin was extremely happy to see Bandoumel assert himself in the game. "I tell you what. It was great to have him play as energetically, and that's what I've been on him about for the last 48 hours (since the loss to Nevada). Djim Bandoumel can bring energy to this team. He can make energy-type plays, and he made 'em tonight. I've been on him really hard about his rebounding. He had three offensive rebounds. We need to get him a few more defensive rebounds, but his ability to change the game around the basket can really help our team. I thought he played with a lot of energy and a lot of passion, a lot of emotion tonight. And you're exactly right, he gave us a spark all night long when Kyle (Barone) was in foul trouble."

Bandoumel with 16 points and Stephen Madison with 14 led the Vandal scorers. Madison also added eight rebounds, five of them on the offensive end of the floor. "Stephen plays hard, and he kinda leads by example," Verlin commented. "He really plays hard. He's a very good rebounder. He's not the highest jumper on our team, he's not the biggest or strongest, but he's got a great knack for the ball and good hands, and he leads by example. When Kyle was in foul trouble and they were playing small all night long, it was really hard for our matchups. Basically they were playing (Jonathan) Wills or (Larry) McGaughey. Both those guys are guards and we basically had to have a guard on him I thought; so they caused some tough matchup problems. I thought Stephen played a lot of minutes, but I thought he did a very good job."


It's hard to tell exactly what caused it. Perhaps it was the fact that oddsmakers had installed the Vandals (7-7 coming into the game) as two point favorites. But the Nevada Wolf Pack (10-3 entering the contest) came into the Cowan Spectrum with fire in their eyes Thursday night and totally dominated the Vandals, starting with back-to-back three pointers by Deonte Burton who checked out with 26 points and six assists in Nevada's 73-55 win.

"I thought they dominated us in every phase of the game tonight," Verlin said after the loss. (Coach) David (Carter) did a good job getting 'em ready to play. I thought they played harder than us. I thought they played with more energy than us. They're obviously a very good team that came in on a roll. They took us out of everything we wanted to do in the first half, and … we turned it over 13 times. We turned it over 2 in the second half and played 'em even, but against a good basketball team you can't give them the ball 13 times, whether it was their pressure or us not being strong with the ball. Whatever the case may be, that's unacceptable. If we expect, which we do, to play at the top of this league we have to play better with more energy, more intensity and we've got to execute a whole lot better."

Verlin was asked if he felt his players came out flat. "Obviously Burton had a lot to do with that early," he continued. "He comes out on fire making the threes against us…I certainly hope (we weren't flat). I thought we worked really hard as coaches trying to get 'em ready to play, explaining to them what they're in for, and Nevada jumped us and we were never really in it. I'll tell you, they dominated us really from start to finish."

Verlin also said Nevada did not surprise the Vandals with their pressure defense. "It was exactly what we expected. We, for some reason, were confused. The plays that you were talking about, we were confused in a press breaker that we had put in a couple games ago, and for whatever reason we really struggle with the execution of that press breaker. That falls on my shoulders, nobody else's. They have to be able to execute at a higher level and a better level. Give the credit to Nevada. They did a good job in the first half of changing their defenses, extending their pressure, and the Vandals didn't do a good job of attacking the way they needed to."

Madison was the only Idaho scorer in double figures, checking out with 13 along with six rebounds and two assists. Barone finished with eight points and Bandoumel had six points and seven rebounds.

The Vandals will be on the road next week for conference action at Louisiana Tech Thursday and New Mexico State Saturday.

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