Vandals fall to Long Beach State 77-66

Saturday night Idaho senior center MARVIN JEFFERSON recorded a double-double with 13 points and 14 boards, but it wasn't enough for Idaho (13-13, 4-8 WAC) against Long Beach State (13-14, 6-7 Big West). The 49ers jumped out to an early lead and led throughout, scoring a convincing 77-66 win at the Cowan Spectrum. The Vandals return to conference action Wednesday at New Mexico State (on ESPN2).

Long Beach coach Dan Monson, a UI graduate and son of legendary Vandal coach Don Monson, had a very apt description of the circumstances surrounding his 49ers' 77-66 win over the Idaho Vandals in a 2010 ESPNU BracketBuster game in the Cowan Spectrum Saturday night.

"For this game…it's two teams that need to find themselves in a hurry," Monson said. "We don't have a lot of time and we can't just waste this game, and our guys came and did some things better. I mean, we certainly didn't play great and ( Idaho ) didn't either, but we did some things better. That's what you're hoping to accomplish in a game like this."

Vandal coach Don Verlin summed it up from his point of view. "They out-hustled us, they out-physical-ed us, they beat us in every aspect of the game. That's how things went," he said, his voice trailing away. "We had good scouting reports on ‘em. We had the team ready to play. For some reason we didn't hook up and play with the energy and passion that we needed to in this game. These games, BracketBuster games, are who wants it the most. When you're in situations like us and Long Beach are, probably the only chance for post season is to win the conference tournament. It's who wants it the most, and tonight they wanted to play more than we wanted to play, for whatever reason.

"Dan did a good job tonight," Verlin continued. "He shocked his team by not starting some guys. He got them ready to play, and we weren't ready to play. They come out and go 9-2, we kinda get back in it, but then after that they just took it to us and we didn't respond to it."

Monson said he was, "Proud of my guys. We've been really struggling. We played one of our worst games, especially the last 10 minutes, on Wednesday…We're in the middle of our conference. It would be easy for our kids not to come up here and care. We sat in the locker room from 9 to 11:30 on Wednesday night (after a 74-52 loss to Pacific) to try to figure some things out. We're certainly not cured or anything like that, but at least our guys tried to make some changes. I sat some guys. They had a good attitude about it."

The 49ers played hard throughout the night in all phases of the game. Defensively they smothered Vandal point guard Mac Hopson. Hopson led Idaho with 15 points, but he did not get his first field goal until he hit a layup with 1:07 left in the game and the 49ers comfortably ahead by 13. Marvin Jefferson had a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, and Steffan Johnson had 13. TJ Robinson had 22 for LBSU and Casper Ware added 20.

In the end the game was decided by a problem that has cost the Vandals dearly this season: turnovers. "We turned the ball over for layups; 21 points on turnovers tonight. That's the difference in the game," said Verlin. Idaho had 16 turnovers to 14 for Long Beach . "When you turn it over as much as we did, 10 in the first half and dig yourself a 14-point (deficit) it's hard to come back against a well-coached Long Beach team," Verlin said.

The Vandals held a 36-34 edge in rebounds, but Robinson cleaned the glass with 15 (the most by an Idaho opponent this year) including 7 offensive rebounds. In other statistical categories Idaho held an edge in points in the paint (40-36) and second chance points (15-11), but the 49ers were on top 15-13 in bench points, 8-0 in fast break points, and 21-12 in points off turnovers.

Again the Vandal coach expressed his disappointment with the team's seniors. "I'm very disappointed in my seniors' effort…let me rephrase that: my seniors except Marvin Jefferson. Marvin Jefferson played his tail off tonight. Seniors have to lead this team as I told you before, and I didn't think they had their team ready to play tonight. We're two years into this deal, and our senior leadership has to show itself, and it didn't tonight…I was disappointed. I thought this team was playing better and we obviously did not play well tonight."

Senior Luciano DeSouza was suited up but did not play. Verlin said it was a coach's decision.

Verlin did see some good things by some of the players who came off the bench, including Shawn Henderson, Jeff Ledbetter and Marcus Lawrence. "They did some very good things because they played harder," the coach said. "They came out and they just played hard. This game is an interesting game. If you don't play hard you get your tail kicked no matter who you're playing. Tonight we didn't play hard enough. You don't show up against anybody in the WAC or the Big West…we were all in the Big West at one time…and if you don't hook up they'll beat you, especially a team as good as Long Beach. Long Beach was picked to win the league. They're a very talented team."

The loss was a disappointment, but the Vandals have still won three of their last five games and have four conference games to prepare for the WAC tournament next month in Reno.

"We still have a lot of basketball left to play. We've still got a lot to play for," Verlin said. "All those guys are good kids and all good players. We just need them to play good at the same time and get ready to play. At this point I don't think it's a situation where you don't start someone or do something like that. I think you just keep doing what you're doing and find a way to play well. I thought we were playing well until tonight. We just didn't play very well tonight."

Idaho returns to conference action next week with games at New Mexico State Wednesday (at ESPN2 at 8 p.m. Pacific Time) and Louisiana Tech Saturday.

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