Jackson at the line.
LINK: CLICK HERE to go to the Official Idaho Men's Basketball Story
It's been a brutal rebuilding season for the Vandal men's basketball team and first-year Idaho head coach George Pfeifer this year. The worst season in Idaho history, as has been stated in the past. The team was completely overhauled this offseason, and by December was starting true freshman O.J. Avworo (6-0, 180) at point guard and true freshman David Jackson (6-8, 200) at forward.
With a team that included seven transfers this year, both of Idaho's projected top centers (Mike Kale at 6-8, 240 and Sebastien Taulbee at 6-10, 255) missed the season with injuries. Star forward recruit Darin Nagle (6-10, 220) was unable to join the team until late December, and at least 10 different starting lineups were experimented with this season.
Watson goes airborn against Gonzaga earlier this year.
Tonight, with the Vandal cheerleaders and band lending support, this team put to bed a 12-game losing streak, the longest in the NCAA going into the game. The first round WAC Tournament victory came against San Jose State, a 5-25 team that had swept Idaho during the WAC regular season.
With just three seniors on the team, Idaho would be needing as much veteran leadership as possible for the win. They got it tonight.
Keoni Watson led Idaho with 18 points, all scored in the second half. He went 6-7 from the free throw line and grabbed eight rebounds in the game (six defensive boards). His last second, coast-to-coast drive and bucket gave Idaho the final 1-point victory over the Spartans, and punctuated a 2-year career at Idaho in which he has been a team leader since day one...despite playing for two coaches in two years and a complete team overhaul this offseason.
Nwoke was Idaho's top player off the bench much of this year.
Off the bench freshman Jackson scored 8 points while grabbing nine rebounds (six defensive), adding a steal, an assist, and blocked shot in 24 minutes of play. Also off the bench, sophomore Trevor Morris scored 9 points while grabbing three defensive rebounds and blocking a shot in 22 minutes of action.
The Vandals advance to take on WAC powerhouse Nevada (27-3, 14-2 WAC) Thursday at noon in Las Cruces. The Wolfpack have been ranked among the nation's Top 25 virtually the entire season (currently ranked #10 by AP), and will be a heavy favorite in the quarterfinal game.