A Cowan Spectrum crowd of 1,893 went home happy late Saturday night as the Idaho Vandals racked up their first win of the season defeating the University of Great Falls Argonauts 79-47. Because of final exams at the U of I, the Vandals will not see action until Saturday when they travel to take on Southern Utah.
The Vandals padded a 35-25 halftime lead by coming out of the locker room to outscore the Argos 12-1 in the first 5 minutes of action putting the game out of reach.
After the game, coach Leonard Perry said it was a good feeling seeing the Vandals' hard work and dedication rewarded with the elusive victory. " I feel happy for the guys," he said. "It's a group that stuck together. They've never given up. We haven't had a guy quit like most teams would after an 0-7 start. Someone is usually disgruntled or ticked off about something and they give up and quit. This team has never quit. I've never had to have 14 individual meetings as the head coach. The kids have continually come into the gym and worked, and I'm happy for them from that standpoint. It's a reward for them although I really wish we could have gotten some wins in the other games. I couldn't be prouder or happier for a group of guys. They just really hung in there, and I really believe that good things are going to happen to them in the end."
The Vandals turned up the defensive intensity in the second half after leading 45-35 and limited Great Falls to just 24% shooting from the floor (25% from 3-point range) after intermission. Perry said, "I thought our zone was really good in the second half. Our guys were active, and they got the principles of our man-to-man defense into our zone, and we rebounded it really hard early. (Great Falls) got quite a few offensive rebounds on us towards the end of the game, but I thought the kids did a good job to get a lead. They may have chipped into the lead one or two times -- I think they got it to 17 -- but the kids fought hard to get it right back where we felt it should be, and we were able to maintain that. To me that's a sign of a group of guys who are coming together."
By the end of the contest the Vandals were able to work all 12 players into the game, and all 12 contributed. On the game the Vandals shot 54% from the floor and 64% from the free-throw line forcing 19 turnovers and outrebounding the Argos 44-38. Senior guard Dandrick Jones led the scoring with 19 points in 13 minutes and Tanoris Shepard had 12 points. Crowd favorites Jason Rose (2 points) and Matt Anderson 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots) also saw action. Tihon Johnson and Mike Kale checked out with 9 points each, Lionel Davis added 6, Anton Lyons 5, Tihon Johnson and Jerod Haynes 4 each, Dillon Higdon 3, and Jason Bowden-Key 1.
Argonaut coach Antonio Veloso was impressed with the Vandals' second half defense. "They did a really good job on defense. Granted we're NAIA, but they held us to 24% in the second half. There's a lot to be said about their effort defensively...Holding a college team to 24% is a hell of a job." Veloso, a Santa Clara graduate in his second year at Great Falls, has built a roster including 11 transfers: 9 from California JCs and two from other 4-year programs.
Haynes, who appeared to be fully recovered from an injury that had previously limited his action, dished out 5 assists, pulled down 2 rebounds and added a steal in 20 minutes on the floor. After the game Haynes was asked how it feels to picked up the win. "It feels good," he said. "It doesn't feel bad. It's a good win for us." However, like his coach and teammates, Hayes realizes there's still a lot of work to be done. "Now we've got to start climbing up," he said. "We fell down. Now we've got to get back up. We started off losing, but we've stopped losing. Now we've got to end strong. We've got a chance to do something now; so this is a stepping stone for us right now."
As a final note, Haynes added, "I want to thank the fans who kept supporting us even though we were 0-7."
Jones said the Vandals were happy to see the losing streak come to an end. "We were happy to finally get a win, he said. "It feels good. Hopefully it'll help a lot of guys' confidence on the team. A couple of guys have been feeling down; so a win will probably help us a lot...It feels like a sigh of relief to play well and get a win. It's fun playing well, but losing takes a lot of the fun out of basketball..."
Perry was asked if the victory might improve the atmosphere at practices next week for the Vandals. "No. Absolutely not, he said. "These kids have bounce every day, and believe me I've been extremely hard on them since the season started. They have bounce every day. We've had a couple of bad days of practice, but not very many...I'd tell you if they were not very good in practice, but they really work hard in practice for the most part. We may have a few minutes during practice that don't go well, but they don't allow themselves to have bad practices any more. They really deserve to win these games that they've been in that have been so close."
The Vandals plan to take advantage of the extra practice days this week to sharpen their attack against zone defenses. "We can really continue to work on facing a zone because we're going to see it," Perry said. "That's what we're going to see the rest of the year. That just the way it is. On Saturday against Southern Utah it'll be 40 minutes of zone. Trust me. It gives us time to prepare and work against the zone we're going to see.
Next home action for the Vandals will be the Big West Conference opener December 23 when they host defending conference champion Utah State.
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