Vandal Men Defeat South Dakota State

It's been a long year so far for first year Idaho head coach George Pfeifer and the rebuilding Vandal squad. But Saturday night, with five Vandals scoring in double figures, including true freshman DAVID JACKSON, Idaho (2-10) picked up their second win of the season, defeating South Dakota State (4-11) 72-67 in the Cowan Spectrum. Both of Idaho's wins this season have come over the Jackrabbits.

Idaho started fast, scoring the first nine points of the game. They stumbled going over eight minutes without a point while their opponents turned a nine-point Idaho lead into a nine-point Idaho deficit. Then, with the game on the line, the Idaho Vandals held South Dakota State scoreless for over four minutes on an 8-0 scoring run, made free throws when they counted, and got four critical points from senior Keoni Watson to beat South Dakota State 72-67 at the Cowan Spectrum Saturday night.

The win was the Vandals's second over the Jackrabbits on the season and gives them a 2-10 record heading into WAC conference action. South Dakota State dropped to 4-11 and saw a two-game winning streak (over Montana State and Missouri-Kansas City) come to an end.

The Vandals scored the first nine points of the game including four on a steal and layup and a tipin by freshman David Jackson, but after Darin Nagle hit a 3-pointer at the 15:05 mark to give the Vandals a 14-5 lead the Jackrabbits turned the game upside down scoring 18 unanswered points to turn a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead on their way to a 33-29 halftime lead. SDSU shot an amazing 78% (7-for-9) from beyond the three point line and 48% from the floor in posting the lead at intermission.

The game was tight the rest of the way, and the Vandals responded to the challenge by clamping down defensively (limiting the Jacks to 32% from the floor including 29% from beyond the 3-point arc) and executing offensively (56% from the floor ad 74% from the line) while outscoring the visitors by nine points in the second half.

After the game, Vandal coach George Pfeifer said the long scoreless spell in the first half was caused by a couple of problems that the Vandals finally fought through. Jackson and Trevor Morris got a lot of credit for the turnaround from Pfeifer.

"We had that dry period," he said. "It took us two time outs and lots of personnel changes to get guys to want to throw in to the high post. They (SDS) were running a 1-3-1 with a small on the bottom, and for some reason we wanted to pass the ball around the perimeter which is what they were hoping that we would do… so we sat on 14 – you'd know better than I, but it seemed like we sat of 14 for the whole holiday period (actually the scoring drought lasted 8 minutes 12 seconds)... and it was two-fold.

"It wasn't just the perimeters not looking inside. It was our high post not asking for the ball, and I tell you I thought one of the keys to the ball game for us tonight was David Jackson. He really responded well. He grabbed some key rebounds for us early. He demanded the ball in the high post, made positive plays from there, and then Trevor Morris coming off the bench tonight, he didn't force stuff. He waited for stuff to come to him and then he got it out of the flow. He didn't make a basket and come right back and shoot it the very next time he touched it which is …kind of his MO. He waited for the next available shot, and in the second half … he had 13 points. He was making them in the second half which was big for us. Balanced scoring. Obviously we like that. We like shooting 56%, we like holding our opponent to 32%. We like only having five turnovers (all) in the second half versus our 11 in the first half."

Late in the ball game the Vandals got clutch plays from Morris, Watson, OJ Avworo and Darin Nagle to secure the win. With Idaho leading 59-58, Morris was fouled attempting a three-point field goal and sank all three free throws to build a 62-58 lead. The Jackrabbits closed the gap to two, but Avworo, with the shot clock down to one second, drained a three-pointer to build the lead back up to five points. The Jacks tied the score at 65 with 2:55 left before a Nagle layup gave the lead back to Idaho.

South Dakota State tied the game at the 1:10 mark, but Watson hit a driving layup with 44.3 seconds remaining then grabbed a rebound after a missed Jackrabbit 3-point try and made both free throws giving the Vandals the lead for good. Clyde Johnson sank a free throw with 8.1 seconds left and then stole the ball four seconds later to end the ball game.

The Vandals put five players in double figures offensively led by Morris with 16, Watson and Nagle with 14, Johnson with 13, and Jackson with 10. Jackson was Idaho's top rebounder with seven and Johnson, Watson and Nagle had six each. Watson also handed out seven assists and Avworo had four.

Nagle and senior Desmond Nwoke rotated at low post during the game and provided a spark for the Vandal offense. Asked about getting some offensive production from that position, Pfeifer said, "Yes we did. Darin gives you some of that. Darin does definitely give you some of that. We still had 6 turnovers between Darin and Desmond. That's pretty hard. I know that sounds finicky, but your 5 guys ought not be 50% of your turnover population; so we need to work on that."

Still, Pfeifer was happy with the victory. "I was really pleased with our effort, he said. "You know, for a team that hasn't been in very many of these kinds of situations I thought we did a really good job of making some plays. You have a tendency when you have the record that we have and being in the situation that we're in…I've seen people find ways not to get it done, and I thought our kids tonight found ways to get it done. They made plays. OJ's 3, Keoni's driving layup, the defensive stop that we had near the end. Those were critical, and for the most part we made free throws down the stretch."

Asked about the Vandals at the defensive end of the floor, Pfeifer said, ""We muscled the on ball to start with because they shoot 32% from 3. Mackenzie (Casey) is five for 18 from 3 coming into the game, and he had three of those in our game at their place. At some point in time you play the odds. They shoot 32%. Of course, he's now 8 for whatever…he is (3 for 4 tonight), but I thought we changed the way we played the on ball in the second half, played it more aggressive. We stepped up, got out in front of it. We got some stops out of our zone which is going to be critical for us as we explore the WAC. Guys are starting to figure some things out. We got a rebound out of it, but we were able to change some defenses at times versus in games in the past we'd change defenses and half of them would be in zone and the other half would be in man, or four would be in zone and one would be in man. We only had that happen to us once tonight."

Jackson turned in a solid performance getting the start. After the game Pfeifer was asked about Jackson's appearance in the starting lineup. He said there were a couple of factors involved. "We've decided that we're going to shrink our bench. That doesn't mean to say that some of those other guys aren't going to get opportunities. What we did is we decided to shrink our bench. The thought process that we had is we … were playing like an AAU team. Everybody was getting their 10 of 12 minutes. It didn't matter…so we definitely shortened our bench, and in the process in the last three or four days, it was kind of like October 15, 16, and 17 at practice. At the end of the day he rose to the top, obviously deservingly. He obviously played a very, very good basketball game for us tonight. We were really pleased with is effort. He's committed to what we want to do. He sometimes lacks strength, but he is committed to what we want to do. He will execute what you ask him to do…that's invaluable to us right now."

The Vandals will open WAC play next week with road games at Fresno State Thursday and Nevada (which defeated Gonzaga 82-74 in Seattle Saturday night) Saturday night. Next home action for the Vandals will be against New Mexico State January 11.




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