After Idaho gritted out an 83-77 win over Grand Canyon, it felt like a festive family reunion on the Memorial Gym court. Glen Dean's cousins shot hoops with a few of the Vandals. Stephen Madison took photos with his baby, girlfriend, sisters and parents. Dean and Madison had just played for the final time on their homecourt, and they wanted to soak it in.
You can read an early version of my story on Idaho's fourth straight win to close out its home schedule below.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – With 13 seconds left, Stephen Madison rose above the best rebounder in the WAC, stretched his arm as high as he could and came down with the biggest rebound of the game – a ferocious one-handed board.
Then, after icing Idaho's 83-77 victory over Grand Canyon with two free throws, a smiling Madison walked to the bench at Memorial Gym to a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,080.
This was the final snapshot of Madison's fine career at home as a Vandal, and it was a fitting one. The 6-foot-6 forward from Portland flashed a dominant touch on Saturday, rattling off 34 points on 15 shots and proving clutch late on defense and on the glass.
"I thought there was a number of times when he came up with the big basket, the big rebound, the big defensive stop," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "I couldn’t be happier for Steve to finish out his career here at Idaho at home like this.
"We’ve got a lot of work left to do, but what a fabulous career."
The Vandals (12-16, 5-8 WAC) won for the fourth straight time at home, in large part because of a reenergized offense that's scored at least 80 points in three consecutive games and the solid effort of their senior class.
Point guard Glen Dean, a graduate transfer from Utah, chipped in 10 points and helped push the pace – something Verlin's been pleading for all season. Meanwhile, fifth-year center Joe Kammerer had five rebounds and played solid defense on Killian Larson, who leads the WAC in rebounding and came up with 20 boards in the loss.
In addition to Madison, Dean and Kammerer were treated to rousing sendoffs with the game in hand. Dean wrapped his arms around Kirk Earlywine, his former coach at Eastern Washington and now an assistant at Idaho. Kammerer gave Verlin a high-five.
"I’m happy," said Dean, who started his career at EWU before transferring to Utah and then Idaho. "I’ve got my mom here. I’ve got my little cousins here. It’s a great day."
After leading by 16 with under 9 minutes left, the Vandals had to work for the win. Grand Canyon, the WAC's third-place team, reeled off an 11-2 run in the final 6 minutes while Idaho's shooting went cold.
The Vandals started the second half by making 15 of their first 20 field goals. But they followed the scintillating stretch by missing their final eight floor shots of the game.
The Antelopes (13-12, 8-4) couldn't quite make UI pay for its drought.
"It’s never easy for this team yet," Verlin said. "It’s such a fine line between us pushing the ball, slowing it down, and when it gets to winning time how we need to go about winning a basketball game."
For much of the first half, it was a back-and-forth scoring fest between two potential first-team All-WAC players – Madison and Grand Canyon's Jerome Garrison. Both had 15 points before the break.
When Madison buried two free throws to put UI up 30-27, he had half of the Vandals' points. He was nearly unguardable off the dribble, either drawing quick fouls or penetrating into the lane to create scoring opportunities.
And he came up big in the final minutes.
"Oh, it’s up there," Madison said when asked where the game ranked for him personally. "It’s the last game at home. It’s got to be up there top five. It was just fun. We came out and had a fun time."
NOTES -- The Vandals next play at Seattle U on March 1, what could be a key game for seeding in the WAC tournament. The Vandals, at 5-8 and with three games remaining, have a chance to climb as high as fourth place in the conference. ... Idaho outrebounded Grand Canyon 40-39 despite 20 boards from Larson. UI got at least five rebounds from five different players, led by Bira Seck's seven.