Vandals win thriller over Fresno, finish No.3

In front of a boisterous home crowd in the Cowan Spectrum on Senior Night, the Vandals battled back from an 8-point halftime deficit to take the lead with 2:14 seconds left and complete the season sweep of Fresno State. With the 59-56 victory the Vandals earned their first winning season since 98-99 to finish third in WAC standings - a remarkable finish for a team picked last in the preseason.

LINK: OFFICIAL SITE: Idaho men secure third with huge comeback

LINK: OFFICIAL SITE: Idaho women beat Boise State, clinch No. 4 seed


COMMENTARY:

It was not a good first half for the Idaho Vandals. It was a spectacularly good first half for the Fresno State Bulldogs. The last place team in the WAC had the Vandals on the ropes shooting 58% from the floor, 56% from behind the 3-point line, and holding an 18-14 edge in rebounding. Midway through the first half the Bulldogs were up by 12. Dreams of a third or fourth seed in the conference tournament for Idaho were starting to fade.

The second half started promisingly enough for Idaho as the Vandals, down 36-28 at intermission, got a slam dunk and a layup from Brandon Wiley off two Mac Hopson assists to cut the lead in half, but Fresno answered with a 7-0 run to build the lead to 11 points. A Cowan Spectrum crowd of 2,679 was getting nervous. Vandal coach Don Verlin was having doubts but never expressed them, continuing to tell his players during time outs that he knew they would find a way to win, the tide would turn, and things would turn out fine.

The tide did indeed turn. Trailing 49-42 with 5:28 left in the game, Kashif Watson sank two free throws. Fresno came down the floor and Sylvester Seay drove in for a layup that was blocked by Mac Hopson. Hopson grabbed the rebound, headed down the floor, and 10 seconds later fed Marvin Jefferson who sank the layup and the lead was down to 5 at 49-44. Thirty seconds later Hopson picked up a steal. A Vandal 3-point attempt was off but Hopson rebounded and buried a jumper to make it 49-46 with 4:12 left.

The crowd was back into the game. Fresno missed a 3-pointer, got the rebound and drew a foul but missed a free throw. Jefferson rebounded, 12 seconds later Kashif Watson hit a layup, and it was 49-48 Fresno with 3:11 left. The Bulldogs temporarily halted the charge making one of two free throws, but when Seay missed the second and Wiley rebounded the Vandals took a time out to discuss strategy. It worked. With Fresno playing tenacious defense and the shot clock winding down, Hopson passed to senior Trevor Morris who buried a 3-pointer from the right elbow giving Idaho its first lead of the night, 51-50 with 2:14 left.

It was the only lead change of the game. Mychal Ladd sank a free throw at 1:21 to tie the game at 51-51, but he missed the second. Fresno got the rebound and reset the offense to run time off the clock. The Bulldogs passed the ball into the corner, but Luciano DeSouza, who had been fronting the post, read the pass, leaped towards the sideline, and intercepted the pass starting the Vandals back up the floor. Seconds later Hopson was fouled. He missed the front end of a one-and-one but grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made the next two. Fresno hit a layup and a free throw. The lead was down to one, but two clutch free throws each from Hopson and Morris sealed the win as a three pointer to tie with 4 second left by Dwight O'Neil was off the mark for Fresno.

"I didn't think we were gonna win this game. I really didn't," Verlin told the media after the contest. "I thought Fresno did a really good job of disrupting our rhythm. I thought they did a good job of making some shots, and I didn't think we were gonna get over the hump. Then once we got over the hump it was, ‘Okay. We're gonna be okay here.' It was a heck of a ball game."

What was the coach saying to the team during the time outs down the stretch? Morris said, "He always talks about, in close situations like that, ‘We ARE going to win this game. We will find a way to win this game.' That's what he kept telling us. That's what he told us every time out until the end of this game. ‘We're gonna win this game. We need to find a way to win it.' That's what we did."

What were some of the key plays that turned the game around? Hopson pointed to the three by Morris. "Probably T-Mo's 3 when we took the lead in the second half. That was the first time we took the lead. That was huge. The clock was winding down and he hit a big shot that gave us confidence, gave us energy, and the crowd went wild. We needed that. We just needed a big play like that and it paid off for us."

In the second half the Vandals held Fresno to 22% from the floor, 29% from three-point range, and out-rebounded the Bulldogs 25-15. Verlin said, "I stressed to the guys at halftime (that) we didn't guard their personnel very well. We didn't guard the drivers as drivers, we didn't guard the shooters as shooters, and I thought we did a lot better job of that in the second half. I thought we did a horrible job of stopping the drivers' penetrations in the first half. I thought we did a horrible job of getting to the shooters. We didn't do a good job on ball screen defense. In the second half we did, and that was kinda the difference. We got in front of ‘em, we got ‘em slowed down. We outrebounded ‘em by 10 in the second half and that was the difference in the game."

During the post-game media interviews Hopson and Morris learned that Nevada had defeated BSU handing the Vandals the third seed on the WAC tournament. "T-Mo! We're third place!" exlaimed Hopson. "I know," replied Morris. Hopson added, "That's cool. That's real cool."

The win leaves the Vandals with a 16-14 season record and they finish WAC action at 9-7. They also finished the season with an 11-3 home court record.


VANDAL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS:

Mac Hopson 20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 blocked shot. Brandon Wiley 8 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal. Terrence Simmons 8 points, 4 rebounds. Marvin Jefferson 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocked shots, 2 assists. Trevor Morris 5 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist. Luciano DeSouza 5 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist. Kashif Watson 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal. Luis Augusto 1 point, 5 rebounds. Technical Foul: Kashif Watson. Fouled out: Marvin Jefferson


TEAM STATISTICS:

• FIELD GOALS: Idaho 20 of 56 for 35.7%, FSU 20 of 49 for 40.8%
• THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 6 of 25 for 24.0%, FSU 7 of 16 for 43.8%
• FREE THROWS: Idaho 13 of 18 for 72.2%; FSU 9of 20 for 45%
• REBOUNDS: Idaho 14 offensive, 25 defensive for 39 total; FSU 8 offensive, 25 defensive for 33 total
• ASSISTS: Idaho 11, FSU 6
• TURNOVERS: Idaho 7, FSU 9
• BLOCKED SHOTS: Idaho 5, FSU 8
• STEALS: Idaho 7, FSU 4
• POINTS IN THE PAINT: Idaho 24, FSU 24
• POINTS OFF TURNOVERS: Idaho 8, FSU 7
• SECOND CHANCE POINTS: Idaho5, FSU 25
• FAST BREAK POINTS: Idaho 2, FSU 4
• BENCH POINTS: Idaho 17, FSU 15
• SCORE TIED : Once
• LEAD CHANGES: One
• ATTENDANCE: 2,679
The Vandals travel to Reno this week and will begin WAC conference action Thursday at 6:30 in the quarterfinals. Their opponent will be announced Sunday.


Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin, post-game quotes

Coach V: "Close enough for you (laughter)?"

LARRY JOHNSON: Do you need some heart medicine after that?
Coach V: "I do! I need some heart medicine. I told the guys I've already got a bald spot that got bigger tonight."

Q: What was going on there, coach? Why did it take so long to get everyone started? Any ideas?
Coach V: "I thought Fresno played really well in the first half. I thought they made a ton of shots. I didn't think we played poorly. I thought we missed our shots tonight. I thought we got a ton of open looks. I thought we played extremely hard. I got a cold sore here and it's bleeding. That's from stressing out, too. I thought we played really hard. You've got to give the credit to them (Fresno). They're talented. When we got ‘em slowed down in the second and we were able to rebound our ball, we were able to get the game changed, but we found a way tonight to win an ugly basketball game."

Q: One thing on the stat sheet that really shows up pretty glaringly is the first half (Fresno) was 57% from the field and in the second half they were 21.
Coach V: "Yeah. That's what I stressed to the guys at halftime. We didn't guard their personnel very well. We didn't guard the drivers as drivers, we didn't guard the shooters as shooters, and I thought we did a lot better job of that in the second half."

Q: Was that just getting them to be a little more aggressive on defense or did you make some changes?
Coach V: "No, I think it was more just locking into the personnel. I thought we did a horrible job of stopping the drivers' penetrations in the first half. I thought we did a horrible job of getting to the shooters. We didn't do a good job on ball screen defense. In the second half we did, and that was kinda the difference. We got in front of ‘em, we got ‘em slowed down. We outrebounded ‘em by 10 in the second half and that was the difference in the game."

Q: Third place in the WAC, coach.
Coach V: "Unbelievable. That's all I can say. Unbelievable for this team. I think every coach but one picked us last and every media person picked us last, and that's just a credit to our players to get the third seed, starting 4 out of 5 on the road, midway through the year losing 3 in a row, a tough one at home to Nevada. These kids, they're tough and they showed it tonight. I think it's great for the players and this program."

Q: Is the symbolic value of the number 3 seed almost more important than the matchup it gives you?
Coach V: "Yes, it is. No question. Third seed, I think it helps us for post season. You know, the CBI, the College Insider (tournaments). NIT, I don't if we're high enough RPI, but I think it helps us when the league goes to start recommending people for post season. So yeah, I think that's something we can build on."

GAYLEN WOOD: Free throws again.
Coach V: "Well, we missed a few early, made a few late. Thank God we made ‘em late. I think we only missed one in the second half and Mac missed it then rebounded his own. It was a good way to finish. We shot a bunch yesterday but didn't talk much about it. It was a good way to finish in the second half, that's for sure."

Q: When Trevor (Morris) made a 3-pointer to finally put you up, were you just like, "Finally, a lead."
Coach V: "Yeah. I didn't think we were gonna win this game. I really didn't. I thought Fresno did a really good job of disrupting our rhythm. I thought they did a good job of making some shots, and I didn't think we were gonna get over the hump. Then once we got over the hump then it was, ‘Okay. We're gonna be okay here.' It was a heck of a ball game."

Q: The technical foul by Kashif (Watson). That was in a pretty untimely spot for you guys. What happened there?
Coach V: "He slapped the ball out of bounds. It wasn't a very smart play as I told him in the locker room and I told him at the time it happened. Kashif's a good kid. He plays his tail off, but that was not a smart play, and he'll learn from it because he's a good kid."

GAYLEN WOOD: Talk a little about Chevy (Luis Augusto). You started him and all of a sudden he winds up with five rebounds.
Coach V: "Probably should have played him more. I thought he played really hard. He did a good job when he was in there. He had a couple of big rebounds. I thought he gave us a huge lift off the bench especially in the second half. He came in and got some great rebounds for us. I was so happy to see him play well, and like I said it's just…I don't know if it's more me than him, what he's done, it's just that I've gone so long with those same three guys, and our offensive package is kinda set up for those three guys, and I probably don't give Chevy a fair shot. It's hard. It's kind of a confidence thing for me."

GAYLEN WOOD: How about Luciano's (de Souza's) steal out in the corner in the second half?
Coach V: "Huge. Huge. He got the post fronted like we had been working on, and it was a huge steal. I thought that was a huge part of the game to come up with that play. We made some plays down the stretch. We really did. I can only remember us missing one block out in the second half and that was that big rebound Seay got over Marvin. Other than that I thought we were on it from a defensive standpoint and a rebounding standpoint."

Q: Can you talk about the crowd, the atmosphere? I thought it was one of the most electric games since at least Boise.
Coach V: Yeah. I thought it was a great crowd. I was really happy that they came out and supported our seniors. I'm glad that we were able to treat ‘em to a win the last night we're in the Spectrum. It was a good crowd. It was loud, it was boisterous, and it felt like we were climbing the hill all night. And they stayed with us, and that was good. They helped us get a win tonight. That's for sure."

Q: Marvin kinda reverted a little back in terms of minutes when he fouled out, but he had three blocks in the second half and it seemed like those were just huge to kinda energize your kids.
Coach V: "They were huge. I thought Marv played pretty well except for just a couple of tough fouls, but I thought the blocks in the second half were big. I thought they were game-changing blocks; so it was a fine line. I thought the third foul…his third or fourth foul…wasn't a great call, but the last one he definitely fouled him. You get 8 and 5 from Marvin (points and rebounds), 4 blocks; he got 3 blocks in the second half. That really helps your defensive field goal percentage when he blocks some shots. I thought he made a huge block on (Dwight) O'Neil. I thought he played big in there tonight, but yeah. Obviously one of our keys is to keep him out of foul trouble."


Mac Hopson, Trevor Morris, post-game quotes

Q: Well, you guys sure made that a close game.
MH: "They (Fresno) made it a close game. They were playing tough."

Q: What was going on? A tough night from the field or were they pushing you around a lot?
MH: "It was nothing like that. They were making shots, really. That's what it pretty much came down to. We weren't making shots. We were kinda slow. We made ‘em when it counted, though. That's all that counts, but they played hard and we grinded it out. We played hard too. We're glad we got the victory, though. The W."

Q: Trevor, what was going through your head when you made that 3-pointer? Anything?
TM: "Not really. It's kinda the same thing as last game. Shot clock's winding down. I've just got to try and be available so if he doesn't put it up I need to put it up. It was like, ‘Set your feet and let it fly,' because you have to. After that it was exciting because we finally got the lead. It was good for us, I guess."

Q: Did you have any thoughts like "Gosh, we haven't been hitting 3's" or "I hope I make this?" Was any of that going through your head or was it just like, "I got the ball. Here we go."
TM: "You can't think about it. You've just got to let it go. The more you think about it the more you're gonna mess something up. I just let it fly and it went in."

Q: Mac, tell us what it's like, and Trevor I guess this is for you too. You guys are both at the free throw line in that last 30 seconds of the game. (The Cowan Spectrum) was I think as quiet as I've ever heard it. Was there anything going through your head?
TM: "Not really. That just comes down to what we practice every day. Coach does a good job of making us shoot lots of free throws. You've just got to stick to your routine. That's why we shoot ‘em, you know, for any game situation like that. You've got to keep to your routine and knock ‘em down."

GAYLEN WOOD: Can either of you point to anything, any one particular thing that turned the game around? Any turning point, a particular play or run of plays?
MH: "Probably T-Mo's (Trevor Morris's) 3 when we took the lead in the second half. That was the first time we took the lead. That was huge. The clock was winding down and he hit a big shot that gave us confidence, gave us energy, and the crowd went wild. We needed that. We just needed a big play like that and it paid off for us."

Q: Brandon Wiley hit a put back with about 6 minutes left and coach Verlin called an immediate time out. Do you remember what he said to you in that time out?
MH: "'Just keep on pushing, keep on playing hard. We're gonna make some shots.' That's basically what he said. Just be smart. That's what he usually says. I'm pretty sure he said that, that and giving us our defense, whatever we have to do to stop ‘em on defense. That's pretty much what he said."

TM: "He always talks about, in close situations like that, ‘We ARE going to win this game. We will find a way to win this game.' That's what he kept telling us. That's what he told us every time out until the end of this game. ‘We're gonna win this game. We need to find a way to win it.' That's what we did."

GAYLEN WOOD: Trevor, this is your third year here and you've been through a lot with this program. How does it feel right now to walk off that floor with an 11-3 home record, at least the #4 seed in the conference, winning season record guaranteed…how does that feel to you personally? Does it make it all worthwhile?
TM: "Oh yeah. I mean, there've been obviously ups and downs through my three-year stint here, and to go out on a note like this, it's feels amazing to be honest with you. We look back and we could have won a couple more games if we would have done this or played harder, but it's amazing, you know? Compared to the other two years that I've been here to go out on such a high note, I couldn't ask for anything more."

Q: It seemed like for the longest time…I don't want to put it this way, but it was almost like you guys didn't have any business winning this game. Shots weren't falling…it seemed really frustrating. Did you guys kinda get that sense too, like ‘What can we do?'"
MH: "Some things weren't going our way, but that always happens to us, especially when we're on the road; so we know how to deal with it. That was our last game of the season; so we're not thinking about that. We know things aren't going to go our way because they never do with anything. Things never go our way; so we've got to fight through it, and that's what we usually do."

TM: "He put it the best. We've been in that situation numerous times before this year; so it's not new territory. If you look at Boise State when we went down 15-2 or whatever we climbed back out of that. We've been put in tough situations like that, and we…do our best to try to find a way to win those games. It's not new territory for us."

Q: Mac, I'd like to ask you about Trevor's 3-pointer. What was going through your head when finally one went down?
MH: "I kinda knew he was gonna hit that. He's got quick feet; so I saw him set his feet up and then he released. He's got a quick release; so I thought he had a good chance at it going in. When it did I was so happy I didn't take the shot because it probably would have been a bad shot. I'm glad I passed it to T-Mo. It was a better decision. I'm happy about that decision. It was a great shot. It helped us out so much. It was the biggest play of the game to me in my opinion."

Q: In that first half it seemed like every time you guys would get going, get something started, get a run, that a big 3 would turn it right back around. In the second half their shots didn't fall. Did you make an adjustment?
MH: "No, we just kept on grinding it out on defense. We try to get stops on defense and get rebounds. That's about it. We just did a better job of that in the second half. They kinda ran out of gas. Coach told us sooner or later they were going to not make any shots, miss shots, and that's our time to make a run."

GAYLEN WOOD: Either of you have any thoughts, or are you thinking about it in terms of…
MH: "We're thinking about that game! Thinking about that game. We want third place. [NOTE: The score is announced with Nevada ahead by 8 with 28 seconds left] "Woooooh! (claps). Yes! Yes! Oh my goodness! Yes! That's so big! That is so huge. We got picked, what? Last, right? I mean, that tells you that right there. That's just so huge. I knew from the get-go it wasn't gonna be like that. I knew we had a good coaching staff that knows what they're doing, that believes in us, and then teammates that believe in themselves. We've got leadership – me, T-Mo and the seniors. We just play hard every night. We should have won some games like T-Mo said, some more games, but other than that we had a great year. It was so fun. That's all I've got to say. I'm so happy we got third, though. That is so huge for this program and for our fans."

Q: Marvin (Jefferson) had some really huge blocks in that game. Can you tell me what a big block does for you guys?
MH: "It pumps up the crowd first of all and it pumps him up. Once he gets a block and he does something good he's gonna play his heart out. He's always going to play hard. As soon as he makes a big play you can expect him to get every rebound, you can expect him to block some more shots. As long as Marvin's playing hard, there aren't too many people that could get a rebound over him or get a shot up over him. Marvin's a good player. I think he's been playing huge for us these last…I don't know how many games. He's been playing huge for us."

The final score is announced – Nevada 69, BSU 60.

MH: "T-Mo! We're third place!"

TM: "I know!"

MH: "That's cool. That's real cool."



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