Vandals fall to Broncos in OT

After sweeping Boise State last year enroute to an outstanding turnaround season, Idaho (8-10, 1-6 WAC) lost the first meeting with the Broncos (10-11, 1-7 WAC) Monday night, dropping a hard-fought overtime battle on ESPN to their rivals 77-67 in front of 4,104 boisterous Vandal fans at the Cowan Spectrum. After the game, a somber Coach Verlin summarized it best: "That's a gut-wrenching loss."

No athlete likes to lose, but Monday night's Vandal home loss to Boise State hurt.

Big time.

The Vandals had the game in the palm of their hands. After fighting back from an 8-point deficit early in the second half, they were up by 9 points with 4:49 remaining. A season high 4,104 fans in the Cowan Spectrum were rocking the building.

Then in a matter of moments it all slipped away. Turnovers happened. There were problems at the free throw line. As Boise State narrowed the gap things got more and more tense. Finally with the Vandals up by three with time running out BSU's Anthony Thomas, under tight defense, buried a 3 as the horn sounded to send the game into overtime. Boise scored the first four points and the Vandals never regained their lost momentum.

Final score: Boise State 77, Idaho 67.

To quote BSU coach Greg Graham, "Anthony hit a big shot for us, and I think you could see it energized us for overtime and we stepped up in the overtime."

Marvin Jefferson, who had a career high 6 blocked shots and helped the Vandals control action in the paint for much of the game, said "We didn't close it out. We turned the ball over and made mistakes, both physical and mental. We didn't take care of the ball and we were impatient. We didn't slow the ball down. We threw the ball away. Mistakes down the stretch." Asked about Thomas's shot, Jefferson said, "He got a lot of air under it. It was like a movie, just nothing but net with a hand in his face. There's nothing you can do about that."

The statistics were telling. In the first half Idaho held an 11-4 edge in points off turnovers and trailed by only three despite shooting an icy 27% from the floor. The Vandals pulled themselves together and shot 54% from the floor until the final stretch. In the last 3:49 the Broncos scored eight points off turnovers. They racked up seven points in 40 seconds on a Thomas three and back-to-back layups off turnovers, including a steal of an inbounds pass by La'Shard Anderson that turned into a layup by Daequon Montreal to tie the game at 55.

Idaho continued to fight and pulled back out to a five point lead with 1:28 remaining. The Vandals led 62-59 with 21.3 seconds left after two Kashif Watson free throws. But with 7.7 seconds remaining Idaho missed the front end of a 1-1 to set the stage for Thomas's heroics.

Idaho coach Don Verlin was grim faced. "We just didn't execute. Turned the ball over on our press breaker a number of times, made some errors coming out of the press breaker, and missed a couple of free throws there at the end. There's an old saying: ‘A basketball player's gotta play,' and we just, for whatever reason (we've said that a bunch this year) we just didn't find a way to capitalize on the opportunity we had tonight.

"I thought we played hard. I thought it was a hard-fought struggle in the first half. I thought it was intense. We didn't shoot the ball very well. I thought we came out in the second half and played very well offensively and battled back and showed a lot of heart…we were up by three with seven seconds to go and he makes a heck of a shot with the guy in his face…you've got to give Anthony Thomas credit for making that shot. It was a heck of a shot."

Verlin was asked what he said to his players after the game.

"Not a lot. I'm not sure there's a whole lot I can say to make ‘em feel better at this point. I'm not sure there's a whole lot they can say to me to make me feel better, or to our fans. That's a gut-wrenching loss. Sometimes it's best not to say anything. I didn't say a lot today."

Looking at the task of recovering from the loss, Verlin was asked what he would do. "Keep doing what we've been doing. I don't know if there's one right answer. I think we've just got to keep plugging along. You've heard me say this a lot, but we do what we do. The system we run is good and we've just got to keep going. You can't lose your fight. That's gonna be my job over the next two days is to get this team back emotionally because there's no one more hurt in the locker room than them, the guys who put it on the floor every night."

Watson had a stellar game for the Vandals with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal. Mac Hopson had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Steffan Johnson also reached double figures with 11 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists before exiting the game with cramps with about five minutes left in regulation. He did not return.

Jefferson had a final observation. "We've got a packed house, everybody's cheering for you, and you come out and you think you've got it done. Then they find a way to win. Everybody's really down right now."

The Vandals will close out the three-game home stand Thursday at 7 p.m. against Fresno State.

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