Idaho coach Don Verlin made an astute point in his postgame session with the media: Utah State doesn't lose back-to-back games under Stew Morrill, at least not usually. So when USU dropped a game Thursday at Seattle U, Verlin knew it would be that much more difficult to beat his old ballclub.
Somehow, the Vandals found a way. Read on for more about UI's 57-54 victory at Cowan Spectrum.
The first thing Verlin said to reporters, before commenting on Utah State: “You look at the stat sheet and I really don’t know how we won.” USU shot 49 percent from the field (to UI's 41 percent), outrebounded the Vandals 33-26 and led for the majority of the game.
But there were a few telling stats that tipped the game in Idaho's favor: The Aggies had 16 turnovers while Idaho only had eight (and four of those were early in the first half). And they made just 2 of 13 3-point attempts, after going 5 of 28 from long range last year in Moscow.
Some notes before I post my game story:
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – More than anything, Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin looks for one thing from his springy starting forward, Djim Bandoumel – energy, and lots of it.
Bandoumel provided more than that Saturday night; for a long stretch in the second half, he carried the Vandals against Utah State.
And in the closing moments, the senior finally got some help from his teammates.
Stephen Madison splashed in a 3-pointer from the corner with 26 seconds left, and Landon Tatum coaxed a charge on the next possession to vault Idaho past USU 57-54 at the Cowan Spectrum.
Madison, a sophomore from Portland, came through after a woeful night shooting. He injured his toe in the first half and was 2 of 9 from the field before hitting the open triple.
The Vandals (10-9, 3-2 WAC) rewarded the second-largest home crowd of the season – 2,359 – with the program’s second straight home win over the reeling Aggies (10-10, 2-3). UI rallied from a nine-point deficit to claim a game Verlin labeled a “schoolyard brawl.”
“It’s really special because they’ve been so good for so long,” said Verlin, a former USU assistant. “They’re extremely hard to play. They’re extremely well-coached. They have a lot of pride in their program.”
Bandoumel, an athletic 6-foot-7 native of Quebec, scored nine straight points at one point to keep UI within range of the Aggies. He tied a career high with 16 points and came up with two key offensive rebounds and putbacks down the stretch.
“He’s high energy. He gets us going,” Madison said of Bandoumel. “You see that big smile … it gets you hyped up.”
USU, the four-time defending WAC champion, has lost of four of its last five games. It came into Saturday night with the worst record through 19 games for Stew Morrill in his 14 years in Logan.
The Aggies didn’t convert from the field in the last 4 minutes and turned the ball over on three straight possessions. The Vandals capitalized each time, tying the game at 53-all on two Kyle Barone free throws.
Then, after USU’s Danny Berger went 1 of 2 from the foul line with 44.3 seconds left, Barone found Madison alone in the corner for the decisive 3.
“Stephen made a heck of a shot, and he waited for the right time to make it,” Verlin said.
Utah State missed all six of its 3-point attempts in the first half and finished 2 of 13 from long range. Leading scorer Preston Medlin had a chance to tie with under five seconds left, but his off-balance 3 was well off the mark.
Bandoumel picked up the rebound and launched the ball into the air as the buzzer went off.
Asked to explain the source of his energy, he said, “It’s all about the smile. When you smile on the court, it goes easy. Just having fun playing basketball.”
You can follow me on Twitter for Vandal updates: @SR_JoshWright.