Idaho Tops Eastern Oregon

Senior point guard MAC HOPSON wrote himself into the Idaho record books Saturday with a perfect 12-for-12 night at the free-throw line, tying Ken Owens for second place on the all-time single game free throw percentage list. The effort at the line was critical as Idaho (6-3) overcame 17 turnovers to post an 82-77 victory over NAIA member Eastern Oregon (7-5) in Memorial Gym on the Idaho campus.

It could have, and probably should have, been a lopsided victory for the Idaho Vandals Saturday evening as NAIA member Eastern Oregon visited Memorial Gym for a 5 p.m. nonconference men's basketball game. The Vandals led by as many as 19 points in the first half but failed to deliver a knockout punch and wound up settling for a 82-77 win following a last-second three-pointer by EOU's Jacques Wilson.

"You've got to give (Eastern Oregon) some credit," Vandal coach Don Verlin commented after the game. "They made some shots in the second half and did some things. I was a little disappointed in our defensive pressure and our intensity, but I'm obviously happy with the win.

What happened?

"For whatever reason, we didn't play our best second half," Verlin said. "We kind of lost our energy a little bit. I'm happy about the win. We've had four games in 10 days – three emotional games – and on the road in two of those four, and obviously, the big one on Wednesday (Washington State). This team might be a little fatigued, and I hope that's what it is."

The Vandals pretty much took care of business in the first half. Still, without the services of power forwards Brandon Wiley and Luiz Toledo due to injuries, Verlin started 6-10 sophomore Kyle Barone to pair him up with 6-10 senior post Marvin Jefferson, seeing how that front line combination would work together with regular starters Mac Hopson, Steffan Johnson and Kashif Watson.

The results were positive. Eastern's second and final one-point lead (5-4) came at the 18:44 mark in the first half. The Vandals worked to get the ball inside offensively and their efforts paid off well as Idaho hit 55.2% from the field in the first half and 55.1% for the game. The Vandals also drew a huge number of fouls – 20 – leading to 26 free throws. Idaho sank their first 18 in a row from the line and wound up cashing in on 23 of 26, a dazzling 89%. Hopson wrote himself into the Idaho record books with a perfect 12-for-12 night at the line, tying Ken Owens for second place on the all-time single game free throw percentage record. Owens is #1 with a 15-for-15 night against UW in 1981 and also went 12-for-12 against Iowa in 1982. Four Idaho players scored in double figures. Jefferson racked up a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. The Vandals also held a commanding 35-21 edge in rebounds.

Despite all those positive numbers offensively, the Vandals did not play well -- particularly in the second half. In the final tabulations the game was won at the free-throw line. Idaho outscored Eastern 23-7 at the charity stripe, but the Vandals did not take care of the ball. Nine different Vandals turned the ball over a total of 17 times, including 11 in the second half. Eastern cashed the errors in, leading to 23 points off turnovers; Idaho had 12 in the game. Eastern collected 10 steals, Idaho six. Eastern also shot 56% from the floor in the last 20 minutes, paced by 6-4 wing Dan Stafford who went off for 19 second-half points to finish the game with 24 total.

Hopson led the Vandals with 16 points, 6 assists and 3 steals, Watson had 11 points and Barone scored 10 to go with 6 rebounds. Johnson was close behind with 9 points and 4 assists. Jefferson was in the game for a team-high 30 minutes, Hopson and Johnson both logged 29 minutes, Barone 27 and Watson 25. Shawn Henderson came off the bench for 8 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 18 minutes. Jeff Ledbetter finished with 6 points, Corey Stern 5, and Marcus Lawrence 3.

The Vandals will now be idle until Dec. 22 when they travel to Portland for a rematch against the Portland Pilots. One week later they will travel to Qwest Arena in Boise to face Lewis-Clark State College as part of the Humanitarian Bowl activities. It will be their final tuneup before opening WAC play Jan.2 at Hawai'i.

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