It was far from pretty but the Idaho Vandals managed to pull out a 82-77 win NAIA foe Eastern Oregon at Memorial Gym. Keep reading for my game story.
MOSCOW, Idaho – One by one, they sat on the bench looking bewildered and concerned. Idaho coaches and players alike didn’t seem sure what to think Saturday night with Eastern Oregon whittling away at the Vandals’ once-comfy lead.
Neither did the 1,023 fans at Memorial Gym.
Facing the small NAIA Division II school from La Grande, the short-handed UI men’s basketball team used terrific free throw shooting and not much else to eke out an 82-77 win at Memorial Gym.
Idaho improved to 6-3, but it was perhaps the club’s most puzzling performance of what’s been a seesaw season. The Vandals led by 19 early in the second half before turning the ball over on six straight possessions while the Mountaineers (7-5) engineered a 15-2 outburst.
EOU’s Jacques Wilson sank a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to make game appear a bit closer than it was. But if it weren’t for UI’s 23-of-26 performance from free throw line – including a 12-of-12 effort from Mac Hopson – the Vandals would have been in serious danger of a stunning upset.
“We kind of lost our energy a little bit but I am happy with the win,” Vandals coach Don Verlin said. “We’ve had four games in 10 days, three emotional games. … So this team might be a little bit fatigued. I hope that’s what it is.”
Coming off a 76-64 loss at Washington State, Idaho played again without starting power forward Luiz Toledo. The 6-foot-7 sophomore suited up but sat out for undisclosed medical reasons.
Although Toledo is cleared for practice early next week, the Vandals will be without senior Brandon Wiley – last year’s starting power forward – perhaps much longer. He hasn’t played since Nov. 15 with an ailing back.
“It obviously changes our rotations,” Verlin said of not having the two interior players.
Center Marvin Jefferson helped pick up the slack by snaring 14 rebounds to go along with 11 points – his first double-double of the season – while Kyle Barone started in place of Toledo and finished with 10 points.
“A win’s a win,” Barone said. “We’ll take a win anytime we can get it but we played good, I thought. They came back into it. We got a little lazy with the ball.”
Eastern Oregon wing Dan Stafford led all scorers with 24 points. The crafty junior did most of his damage around the basket and posed multiple matchup problems for the Vandals.
Stafford was the latest opposing player to drop a big point total on UI. WSU’s Klay Thompson went off for 25 last week and Cal State Northridge’s Kenny Daniels exploded for 39 in a win over the Vandals.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Verlin said. “I’ve got to get this basketball team more consistent. I’ve got to get some roles established on this team. Somewhere in the mix I’ve got to find a defensive stopper. We’ve got to find a guy that we can lock on to somebody.”