Vandals hang on for 69-67 victory over Drake

Wednesday night, in front of a raucous soldout crowd at Idaho's historic Memorial Gym (the Kibbie Athletic Center is currently in the early stages of a $10 million renovation, so the Cowan Spectrum is unavailable), the Idaho Vandals topped Drake University in the first round of the CollegeInsiders.com Tourney. Idaho now faces Pacific of the Big West Conference in the second round Monday.

FIRST ROUND CIT SUMMARY

Idaho (WAC) def. Drake (MVC), 69-67
James Madison (CAA) def. Mount St. Mary's (NEC), 69-58
Bradley (MVC) def. Austin Peay (OVC), 81-74
Belmont (A-Sun) def. Evansville (MVC), 92-76
Pacific (Big West) def. Portland (WCC), 82-76
Liberty (BSC) def. Rider (MAAC), 79-64
Oakland (Summit) def. Kent State (MAC), 80-74

Thursday Night
Old Dominion (CAA) def. The Citadel (Southern Conf), 67-59


COMMENTARY: Memorial Gym on the campus of the University of Idaho stands as an icon for the University and its basketball programs. It was built in 1928 to honor Idahoans who died serving their country during "The World War." Some of the best basketball players ever to don the silver and gold played there. Crowds lined up hours before the doors opened to wedge their way in to see the action.

Because the life safety renovations at the Kibbie Dome made the Cowan Spectrum unavailable, when the Vandals found out they would be playing in the inaugural CollegeInsider.com post season and had a home game against Drake University Wednesday, the decision was made to move the game into the gym. With the students out of town a small crowd was anticipated, but the smaller, more intimate venue could make for a more entertaining environment.

Maybe moving the game to Memorial was a stroke of genius for the Vandals. A capacity crowd of 1,502 came in and saw as amazing a basketball game as has been played there in years. The Vandals defeated Drake 69-67 in a thriller, dodging what seemed like a dozen potentially fatal bullets in the second half to pull out the win and take another giant step on the road to "Restoring The Glory."

Drake came in with a reputation as an outstanding rebounding and shooting team, but the Vandals, who had a welcome three-day break after exiting the WAC tournament in the quarterfinals, played one of their best games of the year, fighting back from a 7-point first half deficit to lead 32-31 at the half. Idaho did an excellent job exploiting Drake's zone defense and also kept the visitors off balance shooting the ball.

In the second half the Vandals started firing on all cylinders and, although slipping into a 41-41 tie with 14:57 left in the game, they pulled back in front on a Mac Hopson bucket. The lead was steadily extended as the crowd rocked the arena with a deafening clamor. The margin reached 12 points at 67-55 with 3:19 remaining in the game. Then things started to slip away for the Vandals who did not score from the field again in the game.

The Bulldogs threw a variety of full-court presses at the Vandals. They started hitting from inside and outside as well as at the free throw line. The Vandals started making mistakes, turning the ball over, missing shots. Drake's Craig Stanley hit both ends of a 1-and-1 after a Vandal turnover to make it 67-61 Idaho. The Vandals missed at the other end of the floor and Stanley sank a layup and it was 67-63 with 1:01 left. Another Vandal turnover six seconds later led to a 3-pointer by Josh Parker off a Stanley pass. The score was 67-66 with 52 seconds remaining -- an eternity against a team that shoots as well as Drake.

That's when things started "happening." After slicing the lead to a single point Drake called a timeout to discuss strategy. The Vandals took the ball down the floor working a deliberate half court play. Idaho called time out with 28.2 seconds on the game clock and 13 seconds left on the shot clock. When play resumed Trevor Morris missed a 3, the ball bounced high off the rim, nicked the backboard support wire, and Drake got the ball out of bounds. Time out Drake, setting up the possible winning play with 14 seconds remaining.

The Bulldogs moved the ball up the floor. A set play worked to perfection as Stanley, one of Drake's most dependable players, drove the key for a sure layup with five seconds left on the clock to apparently take the lead. Except for one thing: The ball bounced around the rim and fell out into the waiting hands of Trevor Morris. Morris was immediately fouled. At the other end of the floor Morris capped what may well have been his best game of his senior season by hitting both ends of a one-and-one to make it 69-66 Vandals with 4 seconds remaining. Drake took the ball out of bounds.

As the Bulldogs started toward mid court the Vandals, knowing how well Drake could shoot 3-pointers, decided to foul hoping that the shooter would either miss one, miss both, or worst case scenario make both giving the Vandals the ball out of bounds. There were 1.5 seconds left on the clock. Unfortunately, when Mac Hopson reached out to foul Stanley in the back court it was ruled an intentional foul because he wrapped his arms around Stanley giving Stanley two free throws and Drake the ball out of bounds after the free throw attempts.

Stanley, a 74% free throw shooter, missed the first free throw. He made the second. The score was 69-67 Idaho, but Drake had the ball at half court with 1.5 seconds to tie or win the game. The ball went in to Josh Young, Drake's leading scorer on the season. Under pressure the junior set up outside the 3-point line and cast off. The buzzer sounded as the ball clanged off the rim. The crowd erupted, and the Vandals advanced to the next round of the tournament.

After the game Bulldog coach Mark Phelps talked about Stanley's missed layup with the game on the line. "Craig Stanley…really unfortunately for him he was right at the rim for a right-handed layup, and he would make that shot 99 out of 100 times. I guess tonight was the 100th."

Young, averaging nearly 16 points a game, was on fire in the first half lighting up the Vandals for 14 points, making 5 of 8 field goal attempts. In the second half Young was 0-for-8 from the floor. What happened?

How was it that when Stanley missed the critical layup the ball went to Morris, Idaho's leading free-throw shooter, giving him his second rebound of the game, while the subsequent foul gave him a chance to add to the lead -- which he did.

Was it the new lighting system in the building? Was it the loud, supportive crowd?

Here's a theory. Everyone who's ever been around Memorial Gym says the building has "character…it's a special place to be. It's special to the University of Idaho." If that's true, maybe somehow some of the Vandal legends who have played in this building so many years ago were able to somehow exert their influence on this game, the next step in the Vandal mission to restore the glory that was once the Idaho basketball program. After all, it would be nothing for someone, say Gus Johnson, to affect a player trying to sink an easy layup at a critical point in the game. Maybe there really was some special magic in the brick structure with the unique gargoyles on the outside walls. The Vandals were certainly smiling after the victory. All the Vandal fans were. Maybe the Vandal legends were smiling as well.

Idaho placed five players in double figures led by Morris with 16, Brandon Wiley and Kashif Watson with 13 each (Wiley added 8 rebounds and Watson 7 assists), Luciano DeSouza with 11, and Hopson with 10 and 9 assists.

The win was the first post-season tournament win by Idaho since 1982 when another Hopson – Mac's dad Phil – was playing for the Vandals. Nothing official will be announced until tomorrow, but it looks like the Vandals will be traveling to California Monday to take on University of the Pacific in Stockton in the next round of the tournament setting up a game between coach Don Verlin and his twin brother Ron who is the associate head coach at Pacific.


VANDAL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS:

Trevor Morris 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal. Brandon Wiley 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocked shots. Kashif Watson 13 points, 7 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal. Luciano de Souza 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist. Mac Hopson 10 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds. Terrence Simmons 5 points, 2 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, 1 steal. Marvin Jefferson 1 points, 4 rebounds, 1 blocked shot.


TEAM STATISTICS:

• FIELD GOALS: Idaho 25 of 51 for 49%; Drake 21 of 59 for 35.6%
• THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 8 of 23 for 34.8%, Drake 10 of 34 for 29.4%
• FREE THROWS: Idaho 11 of 15 for 73.3%; Drake 15 of 20 for 75%
• REBOUNDS: Idaho 5 offensive, 24 defensive for 29 total; Drake 16 offensive, 22 defensive for 38 total
• ASSISTS: Idaho 19, Drake 10
• TURNOVERS: Idaho 10, Drake 9
• BLOCKED SHOTS: Idaho 4, Drake 1
• STEALS: Idaho 5, Drake 4
• POINTS IN THE PAINT: Idaho 28, Drake 18
• POINTS OFF TURNOVERS: Idaho 7, Drake 12
• SECOND CHANCE POINTS: Idaho3, Drake 12
• FAST BREAK POINTS: Idaho 0, Drake 2
• BENCH POINTS: Idaho 27, Drake 17
• SCORE TIED : Once
• LEAD CHANGES: Nine
• ATTENDANCE: 1,502
Up next, Idaho prepares for a second round battle against Pacific of the Big West Conference on Monday in Stockton, California.



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