LONG BEACH, Calif. - Rodney Hilaire came up big all night. Bethuel Fletcher came up big in the final seconds and, for the night, the University of Idaho Vandals came up huge in coming back from a 15-point halftime deficit to win 64-62 at Long Beach State University.
The Vandals improved to 8-14 overall and 5-8 in the Big West and are alone in seventh. Long Beach fell to 8-16 overall and 4-9, which, coupled with UC Riverside's victory over Cal State Fullerton, dropped the 49ers to ninth.
"We knew in the first half we didn't play like we should," Fletcher said. "We weren't flying around playing aggressive. They were playing tougher than us."
Toughness went to the Vandals in the second half. They cut the 49ers' lead to 10 with a 17-9 run to start the second half. They followed that run with a 15-7 spurt that, at 52-51, gave them their first lead since 16:36 of the first half.
Long Beach State came back to tie the game at 52 and again at 55 but the Vandals had the crucial late-game momentum on their side.
After a free throw by Travis Reed cut Idaho's lead to 60-59 with 1:50 to go, neither team could score until Hilaire sank two free throws with :07 to play after being fouled on a defensive rebound.
Then came Fletcher's heroics. He grabbed Long Beach's in-bounds pass and Tony Darden fouled him in a desperate attempt to regain possession. Both Fletcher's free throws - with :06 to play - were good for a 64-59 lead.
Ron Johnson made his seventh 3-pointer of the night with :02 to go but all it meant was a closer final score.
"In the second half they came out and dug themselves out of a hole," said UI coach Leonard Perry after watching the Vandals struggle through an abysmal first half that showed just 20 points and 26.7 percent shooting, which included 0-of-11 from 3-point range.
"I was very disappointed in the first half. That was not the team that comes out every day and works out in the Cowan Spectrum."
It was the 49ers' 3-point barrage - fueled by Johnson - that gave them their 15-point halftime lead on the night following the announcement that their coach, Wayne Morgan, was resigning at the end of the season.
Yet as much as it was the 3-point shooting that gave LBSU its early lead, it was 3-point shooting that Perry thought would be the 49ers' ultimate demise.
"We figured Long Beach State would continue to shoot those 3-point shots," Perry said. "We thought they were in a rhythm and felt like the averages would catch up with them and eventually they would start missing a few. And when they did, we gave them one crack at it."
Which brings up the Vandals on the board. Somehow, someway, they outrebounded the taller 49ers by 10 - 37-27. Hilaire had 11 to go with his 22 points, while Matt Gerschefske worked his way in for eight and Moe Jenkins had seven boards to go with 10 points.
After possibly one of their worst offensive halves of the season in the first half, the Vandals came out for one of their best in the second.
They connected on 55.6 percent of their second-half shots with Fletcher and his backcourt mate, Justin Logan, providing some of the biggest firepower with 11 points each. Both were scoreless in the first half and, in the opening 20 minutes, were a combined 0-7 from 3-point range. In the second half, they were six-of-11 (three-of-nine each).
"They came in here and got it," Perry said.
The Vandals return to the Cowan Spectrum for their final homestand of the season when they take on UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton on Thursday and Saturday.