Vandals edge Riverside 56-54

True freshman <b>Jerod Haynes</b> (34 minutes, 6 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) started at point guard for the Vandals in Thursday night's victory over UC Riverside at the Cowan Spectrum. Idaho climbed to a 4-2 Big West Conference mark and took sole possession of 3rd place in BWC standings.

LINK: Official Site game article & stats

Surviving a lethargic start, the Idaho Vandals still found a way to win in the clutch before 2,143 cheering fans at the Cowan Spectrum Thursday night edging UC Riverside 56-54. The win snapped a 2-game losing streak and moved the Vandals to 4-2 in Big West Conference action, and 6-11 overall. The victory keeps the Idaho in the upper half of the conference standings trailing Pacific (8-0) which beat Cal Poly (1-6) on the road 90-78. Northridge (now 6-2) was upset at Santa Barbara (4-3) 65-52. Utah State improved to 3-3 winning at home against Fullerton (3-3) 84-60, and Irvine (3-4) beat Long Beach 78-55 in Irvine.

The Vandals twice tried pulled away from the Highlanders leading by 9 with 5:27 left in the first half before Riverside fought back for a 25-25 tie at intermission. In the second half Idaho led by 8 with 8:48 remaining but again Riverside scrapped back and finally took a 54-53 lead on a couple of free throws by freshman guard Larry Cunningham with 39 seconds left setting up a fight to the wire.

Riverside took a time out after gaining the lead to set up its defense, but Jerod Haynes fed Tanoris Shepard who sank an 18-footer with 24 seconds left to put the Vandals up 55-54. Riverside used its last time out a few seconds later to set up a play to get Cunningham the ball. The Highlanders cleared out to the left side of the floor allowing the swift Cunningham to drive down the left side of the lane for a layup attempt, but Dandrick Jones beat him to the spot and blocked the shot attempt for a jump ball call with 6.6 seconds left right in front of the Riverside bench. The possession arrow gave the ball to the Vandals who called time out to set up the inbounds play against full-court pressure.

The ball came across the time line to Lionel Davis who was fouled with 2.9 seconds left and made the first of 2 free throws to make it 56-54. The second shot was off the mark and Riverside rebounded but was unable to get off a final shot.

After the game Shepard admitted the Vandals were sluggish at the outset but still found a way to finish out the game for the victory. "We've been saying 'get ready, be ready. Riverside is a team that's going to be scrappy, going to get after us, going to play 40 minutes.' We knew what type of team they were. We were prepared mentally. We just came out sluggish...We started the game sluggish, and it seemed like that stuck on us the whole game, that sluggish play, but down the stretch we just found a way. That's what we stressed in the locker room - just find a way to get it done. It was tough, but we fought the way down the stretch."

Asked to comment on his clutch field goal in the waning seconds, Shepard said he was not the first option on the play but when it came time to launch the shot he felt confident. "It was a play designed I think for Anton (Lyons) - a cross screen play that we run a lot designed to get him open and get him a bucket. It broke down. The second part of the play was for me to come off the stagger screen, and when I come off those the coaches tell me to look for my shot. That's what I did, stepped up and stuck the shot. .. I knew it was in. I always shoot with confidence. There was no doubt in my mind it was going in."

Shepard and Jones pointed out how important it was to pull out the victory despite the off night. "We haven't played that bad in a while," Jones said, "...but we fought through it and came out with a win. It wasn't pretty, but we got the win." Shepard added, "It was huge to break that 2-game losing streak that we just came off the road with. It's important to win at home. You've got to defend home. That's what we preach in the locker room. We can't lose here. That's our mentality."

Reporters asked Jones about his key block which Riverside claimed was a foul. "It was clean. All ball. In the time out (before the play), coach said they were going to run a clear out play for (Cunningham) to go penetrate; so I was just ready and got there before he did." Asked if he thought he might be called for a foul when the whistle blew, he said, "The way the calls were going tonight I did...Then I saw the ref put his hands up for a jump ball...He (Cunningham) felt I got him on the wrist...I felt nothing but ball...He was a step ahead so I had to sprint and beat him to the spot before he got the ball..."

Despite the win, Coach Leonard Perry was not happy with the Vandals' performance. "I was disappointed. I was disappointed in our play. That's to take nothing away from Riverside who I thought played great. I thought they played a very, very good game. We lost the rebounding war. We put this team on the line 22 times in our building. I thought they took it to us. I really did. The just took it to us...I think our kids were trying, it just didn't go our way.

"We took a couple of bad shots, but I thought for the most part we took some pretty good shots and got some looks. We weren't able to score. I thought Riverside did a good job of defending us as well," Perry continued. "I don't think we executed our offense as hard as we're going to have to in order to give ourselves the looks that we need to score the basketball in the areas where we're good at scoring. If we allow the defense to dictate where we're going when we run something and end up with the shot they want us to take it's going to be to our detriment. I thought Riverside did that."

Perry did see some positives in the performance of the Vandal seniors with the game on the line. "I was impressed (with our senior leadership), our composure. I don't think we panicked. We missed some shots and things didn't go our way, but I don't think we ever panicked which is a sign of a good team," Perry said. "It's a tough game. This team's always played us tough. I don't remember going to their place and not playing an overtime, and last year Tanoris made some plays down the stretch to help us win here or that thing was about to go the other way. They're not an easy team to play against. They've got an outstanding freshman in Cunningham. I don't think we defended very well, but believe me it's not easy staying in front of that guy. He's really that explosive, explosive first step, great athlete, good player. He's going to be a heck of a player for them."

Asked for his opinion on Jones' key defensive stop and told the Riverside coach John Masi felt a foul should have been called, Perry said, "We've had our share of calls that didn't go our way. Let me tell you that right now...way too many. We made the plays we had to make down the stretch at the very end. I thought we did a good job when the game was really on - totally on - we made the plays. That's something we haven't been able to do."

Lyons had 15 points and Jones 14 to lead the Vandals offensively while Cunningham led all scorers wit h18 points including 7-of-8 from the free throw line (Riverside was a perfect 12-12 on free throws in the second half). Riverside also outrebounded the Vandals 41-36.

The Vandals host Fullerton State (3-3 BWC, 8-6) Saturday night at 7 p.m.

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