It could have been easier. Much easier. But the Vandals will certainly take their 69-67 victory over Drake in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
Idaho nearly frittered away a 12-point lead in the closing minutes, but held on for the program's first postseason win since 1982.
Keep reading for my game story from Memorial Gym.
By JOSH WRIGHT
MOSCOW, Idaho – It was their first foray into the postseason since 1990, and the Idaho Vandals seemed intent on squeezing every heart-stopping second out of Wednesday night's game that they could.
Their 12-point lead with 3 minutes left evaporated in a hurry. So did a four-point cushion with under a minute remaining.
But thankfully for the Vandals, the small but rambunctious crowd inside the tight quarters of Memorial Gym was on their side. It was an edge they desperately needed.
Buoyed by 1,502 rowdy fans, Idaho continued its stellar homecourt advantage and held off late-charging Drake 69-67 in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
The Vandals (17-15) pocketed their first postseason win since 1982, when the program featured Phil Hopson. This time, it was his son Mac that helped usher UI into the CIT's quarterfinal round.
“It's very special to me,” the youger Hopson said. “It's just so huge I can't really explain it. I transferred here (from Washington State) to put Idaho on the map.
“I'm just so happy inside. It's so huge for our program. I just can't express it.”
After reaching its highest win total since 1993-94, Idaho moves on to face Pacific, which dropped Portland on Wednesday night. The Vandals and Tigers will meet Monday in Stockton, Calif.
Idaho advanced on the strength of perhaps their most balanced effort of the season. Five players reached double figures, and point guard Hopson and Kashif Watson combined for 16 assists.
A Terrence Simmons' 3 and Brandon Wiley layin extended the Vandals' cushion to 67-55 at the 3:22 mark. But then the Bulldogs (17-16) staged a gutsy rally.
Aided by three UI turnovers, they went on an 11-0 spurt. Josh Parker's trey from the right wing sliced Idaho's lead to 67-66 with 55 ticks left.
After Trevor Morris canned two free throws with 4.3 seconds remaining to make it 69-66, the Vandals opted to foul Drake before it could get off a 3. Yet Hopson put both arms around Craig Stanley and was called for an intentional foul.
Stanley made 1 of 2 foul shots and Josh Young, who had been sensational in the first half, clanged a 3-point try over the long arms of Luciano de Souza at the buzzer.
Afterward, Drake coach Mark Phelps bemoaned Craig Stanley's errant layup attempt with 4.3 seconds left. Stanley appeared open, but Morris closed quickly to contest the shot. He then corralled the rebound and sank the decisive free throws.
“He would make that shot 99 out of 100 times,” Phelps said of Stanley. “I guess tonight was the 100th.”
Both teams, short on interior presences, traded 3-point blows for much of the night. A total of 57 long-range heaves were released, with Drake draining 10 of 34 attempts.
Young unleashed 14 points in the first half. But with Watson guarding him after the break, he shot 0 of 8 from the floor and made just four second-half free throws.
“I really thought the key to this game was Kashif Watson,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “... He locked that kid down, and that's a really good Missouri Valley player. That was a heck of an effort by Kashif.”