Vandals erase 17 point deficit, win thriller

ON TUESDAY NIGHT IN THE COWAN SPECTRUM the Idaho Vandals overcame a 17-point first half deficit to register a final 70-69 win over Seattle U on DEREMY GEIGER'S clutch 3-point shot with just over a minute remaining in the game. The remarkable comeback was the largest of the Don Verlin era, and gives Idaho a 13-11, 5-4 WAC season mark heading into Thursday's home game with New Mexico State at 8pm.

For whatever reason the Idaho Vandals suffered through arguably one of their poorest halves of the season against the Seattle University Redhawks in the Cowan Spectrum Tuesday night. The Vandals shot a miserable 20% (2 of 10) from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes. Conversely, Seattle shot 50% from the floor, 50% from three-point range and 50% from the line. The Redhawks were up by 17 (38-21) with 6:49 remaining in the first half.

Seattle U was well on its way to a route of Idaho.

It was at this point though that the Vandals got hot, taking care of the ball (only six turnovers in the half) and avoiding getting into foul trouble (just three fouls), while outscoring Seattle in the paint and off turnovers. In the last 6:49 of the first half Idaho managed to put on a 12-7 run to make the score a more respectable 45-33 deficit at halftime.

In the second half the Vandals continued to take care of the ball (again only three turnovers) and started to seize control of the contest. A dunk by Stephen Madison off a pass from Deremy Geiger with 12:12 left gave Idaho a 52-51 lead. Six lead changes and two ties later the Redhawks regained the lead at 67-65 when Chad Rasmussen got a pass from Cervante Burrell and canned a three-pointer. Burrell celebrated the clutch shot at the 3:21 mark with a fist pump as Seattle headed back down the floor.

The celebration was short-lived as 28 seconds later Kyle Barone sank two free throws to tie the game. Aaron Broussard's two free throws gave the advantage back to Seattle at the 2:43 mark. The teams then traded missed shots, and with 1:24 left on the clock Idaho worked an inbounds play where Landom Tatum spotted Deremy Geiger inexplicably alone in the corner. Geiger, a 44% 3-point shooter currently ranked 18th in the nation, promptly buried a three to make it 70-69 Idaho.

But there were still 84 seconds left.

Again both teams missed shots. Tatum stole the ball with 16.3 seconds left and was fouled, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Seattle rebounded.

At that point coach Don Verlin decided to employ a special defensive strategy that took advantage of the team's clean play in the second half. The Vandals had committed only three fouls at this point; so when the Redhawks came down the floor he ordered the Vandals to foul whenever Seattle made a move toward the basket. Geiger gave his first foul with 12.3 left in the game, giving Seattle the ball out on the sideline. On the next inbounds play Geiger gave another common foul at the 8.2 mark. Seattle again had the ball out of bounds on the sideline. When the Redhawks put the ball in play this time Mansa Habeeb committed another foul with 4.9 seconds left.

At this point Verlin used his last time out to set up the defense for the final play of the game. Seattle got the ball in to Broussard, their high-scorer, but Stephen Madison contested the shot all the way and the 10-foot jumper was off the mark to seal the remarkable comeback win for Idaho.

The words "remarkable comeback" were appropriate. The 17-point margin was the largest deficit a Verlin-coached Idaho team had ever overcome.

"What a way to do it," Verlin said after the game. "I thought we played a whale of a second half. I didn't think we came out with the intensity we needed in the first half, but I thought we made up for it in the second half."

Asked about the defensive strategy to close out the game, Verlin said, "What we were trying to do there was just shorten the game as much as we could. I thought that he (Seattle coach Cameron Dollar) may wait to go before they were fouled; so I told (the team) if they start making moves to the basket let's go ahead and foul 'em just so it's hard for them to set up a play…It was gonna come down to a last play on the sideline…We had fouls to give.

"They got the ball in the hands of Aaron Broussard, their leading scorer," Verlin continued. "We figured that was where they were going. That's why we changed Kyle (Barone) and put Stephen (Madison) on him, a little quicker guy. We were gonna switch all screens. We knew Broussard was gonna pop and get the ball. Make him make a tough shot, and Stephen did a great job. He didn't foul him. I thought he made him shoot a tough shot there at the end. Obviously your heart's racing because it's the last shot…You're gonna win or lose on that shot, but I thought we executed that part of the game pretty well."

The Vandal coach had no idea why his team came out flat to start the game but did feel that limiting turnovers and fouls was a key to the win. "That was a big part of it. We made a little adjustment in the press breaker there at halftime. I thought that really helped us. I thought we settled in and played a little bit better from an offensive standpoint as far as taking care of the basketball. Then I really thought in the second half we set down and guarded them some intensity and some focus, and I thought that kinda the difference in the game. It was obviously the reason we came back. I was happy we were able to do that."

Multiple Vandals came in for kudos from the coach. "Deremy (Geiger) hit a huge shot (the three from the corner). We executed that play very well and found him open in the corner and he knocked it down…what a great shot…I thought Kyle Barone rebounded the ball there for a period in the second half as well as he has his whole career here. I felt like there for a while he was dominating the boards, and I really thought that was kinda the key to the game. We were able to out-rebound 'em and that was a good effort on our part."

Djim Bandoumel did not see much action in the first half because "I didn't feel like he had the energy that he normally has," Verlin said. "When Djim has energy he's a really good player. In the second half he did that. He was a spark plug in the second half."

In the first half Wendell Faines replaced Bandoumel for nine minutes. "I thought Wendell did a good job," Verlin said. "I thought he gave us some energy. I thought he played hard. He got his one basket in the second half. I thought he was active in there and I was happy to see Wendell step in and contribute. He's gonna have to play here against New Mexico State because of all their big guys. It was good to see him get some good minutes and have some productive minutes."

Asked about winning the game at the line, Verlin said "We didn't shoot free throws very well for being the league-leading free throw shooting team. The concentration wasn't, in the first half, where we need it to be…We were very fortunate tonight to come out with a win."

Barone indeed was a dominant presence inside with 17 points, 12 rebounds (the Vandals had a 40-36 rebounding edge) and two blocked shots. Madison had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists (including possibly his first career lob to Barone for a dunk). Geiger also had 16 points. Tatum had a team-high six assists and three steals.

The win gives the Vandals a 13-11 season record heading into Thursday's crucial home game against New Mexico State. Tipoff will be at 8 p.m. with the women also in action against NMSU starting at 5:30.

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