Tanoris Shepard led Idaho with 12 pts, 5 assists.
"> Tanoris Shepard led Idaho with 12 pts, 5 assists.

Vandals Down Titans

After struggling for 39:32 at the free throw line, when "the game was on" (to use one of coach Leonard Perry's favorite sayings) the Idaho Vandals sank 3 critical free throws in 4 attempts and pulled out a 61-58 win over Cal State Fullerton Saturday night in one of the most exciting games at the Cowan Spectrum this season. Senior guard <b>Tanoris Shepard</b> led Idaho with 12 pts, 5 assists.<br>

LINK: Official Site game article & stats

The Vandals moved into sole possession of 3rd place in the Big West with a 5-2 record while Fullerton dropped to 3-4. In other action Saturday league-leading Pacific moved to 9-0 winning 58-43 at Santa Barbara (4-4), Northridge (now 7-2) beat Cal Poly (1-7) 81-73 after trailing at halftime, and Utah State moved to 4-3 with a 77-52 win over Riverside (2-5).

A crowd of 2,438 - 2nd largest home crowd of the season - was into the game all the way as Fullerton set the tone with an up-tempo fast-breaking transition game. The Vandals matched up well with them and clamped down defensively holding the Titans 6 points below their season average scoring. Fullerton also shot just 33% from the floor and 50% from the line after coming into the game averaging 46% and 72% respectively. The trouble was, the Vandals were ice cold from the line and wound up making only 7 of 18 for 41% missing; 8 times they missed the first free throw in either a 2-shot situation or the front end of a 1-and-1 keeping the game close.

There were 11 lead changes in the game, the last one coming with 3:33 left in the contest when, following a Lionel Davis offensive rebound, Jerod Haynes hit Dandrick Jones who canned a jumper to make it 53-52 Idaho. At the other end of the floor Bobby Brown missed a 3-point try and Davis grabbed the rebound, and the Vandals cashed it in 20 seconds later when Haynes fed Tanoris Shepard for a clutch 3 pointer to give the Vandals a 4-point lead.

Still Fullerton continued to fight back and narrowed the game to 2 at 58-56 on an off-balance jumper by Yaphett King with 41 seconds left. After a Vandal time out, Brown fouled Haynes, and the freshman point guard calmly sank both ends of a 1-and-1 with 28 seconds left to extend the lead to 4 points. A tipin of a missed layup by Ralphy Holmes made it 60-58 with 18 seconds remaining, and after a time out Shepard was fouled. He made the front end of a 1-and-1 to make it 61-58, and the Vandals hung on for the victory.

"Free throws almost cost us this game," Perry said afterwards. "I thought if we made our free throws the score may be a little bit different."

Still, he was happy to beat a quality team. "Their team is very well coached," he said. "I thought we beat a very good team first of all, and with 24 hours to prepare I thought our kids really tried to execute defensively. I knew that they (Fullerton) were going to make some very difficult shots because they're very, very talented. I think the coaches have them picked 4th. I thought we defended well for the most part. We gave up entirely too may second shots. Fullerton did a great job of crashing the boards, and that's something we can correct, but I give our kids credit. Down the stretch I thought we played great.

"They've got 6 guys who can get you for 20 or 25 on a given night. Very difficult to guard. That's just a matchup nightmare," he said. "Anton Lyons, who I thought was struggling a little bit offensively...was super on the boards. We gave up 17 offensive rebounds. Ralphy Holmes had 7 of them. I thought we did a great job on Bobby Brown for the most part. He's just so explosive. We held a very, very, very high scoring team to 33% for the game. What more are you going to ask? That's tough to do, and that tells me that the kids have bought in and really trying to defend and rebound the basketball for the most part."

Davis drew praise for his defense and work on the board.s "I thought Lionel was huge in the 2nd half. He was great in the first half. The guy he's guarding, Jamal Brown, can get anybody. I think he's averaging double figures, and Lionel has 1 point and 13 rebounds, but Lionel only shot the ball once and Jamal Brown was 1 for 9. I thought Lionel had a lot to do with that," said Perry.

The coach was also very excited about the supportive crowd. "I thought they were super. What an atmosphere. I asked for it, and you know this community and our students responded. I'm just as proud for them and as I am for this team right now. I just thought they were super tonight. I thought they were totally awesome. It reminded of when I played here."

Jones was also appreciative of the crowd support. "They were a lot more into it than Thursday," he said. "I think it had a lot to do with the way we were playing also. Thursday we were sluggish and it carried over to the crowd being sluggish, but tonight they we were really into it. A lot of us were tired out there...when's the crowd's involved then we feed off that energy.

Shepard didn't mince words about the free throws (he was 3-7). "We work on free throws every day in practice. I really don't have any excuses for it. I just missed it (a second free throw with 17 seconds left). Point blank. I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you it was this or it was that. It was just a missed free throw. I'm going to definitely be in the gym working on it, I can tell you that. Faithfully. Down the stretch later in the year that can cost us a game; so I've got to get that corrected quickly."

Jones, who finished with a game high 18 points, did some key offensive work in the first half after the Vandals went 4:59 without scoring and saw Fullerton pull out to a 10-point lead. "The team was kinda struggling. We were settling for a lot of 3s; so I just decided to start taking it to the hole to try to get 'em in foul trouble; so I worked it in. That got a couple of guys going; so it worked." The Vandals outscored Fullerton 10-3 in the final 6 minutes of action to trail by just 3 at the half.

Lyons finished with a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds (as well as 2 blocked shots); Shepard had 12 points and 5 assists; Haynes had 9 points, 3 assists, and 7 rebounds; Armend Kahrimanovic had 6 points; Tihon Johnson and Mike Kale had 2 points each, and Davis had 1 point to go with 13 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Matt Anderson (2 rebounds) and Dillon Higdon (1 steal) also saw action in the first half for the Vandals.

Idaho will play its next 4 games on the road visiting Long Beach State and UC Irvine next week followed by visits to UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo February 3 and 5.

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