Despite missing eight of its first nine shots and coughing up every bit of a 17-point second-half lead, the University of Idaho found a way to finish at Reese Court on Saturday.
And it was the visiting Vandals’ ability to defend, rebound, work the clock and knock down a couple of long-range shots in the final five minutes of their nonconference men’s basketball game against Eastern Washington University that helped secure a 70-60 win over the undermanned Eagles.
Jeff Ledbetter and Deremy Geiger dropped in 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions following an EWU timeout with 5:08 left to play, and UI (2-3) held Eastern (1-4) – which had gamely battled back from a 47-30 deficit to tie the score at 60 – scoreless the rest of the way in at least partially atoning for a nasty 75-33 road loss to Montana last Monday.
Yet, it was the hustle plays made by 6-foot-3 senior wing Shawn Henderson, who chased down four of this game-high 14 rebounds – including two on the offensive end of the floor – in the final five minutes that impressed Vandals coach Don Verlin even more that the big buckets by Ledbetter and Geiger.
“We did a great job of finishing tonight,” Verlin said. “Obviously, we didn’t have a very good game that last time out, and all week, I talked about making winning plays.
“And I thought Shawn came up with some huge rebounds and huge plays down the stretch – offensive rebounds and getting on the floor – that I felt were the difference in the game.”
Geiger finished with 24 points for Idaho, which made 11 of 23 attempts from 3-point range, while Ledbetter added 15. And the Vandals needed every one to offset the shooting performance of Eastern’s sophomore guard Kevin Winford, who buried a single-game school-record eight 3-pointers in amassing a career-high 28 points.
The Eagles were once again playing without a true point guard after junior Cliff Colimon re-sprained his ankle at practice earlier in the week and sophomore Glen Dean watched once again from the sidelines with a stress fracture in his foot.
In addition, EWU was without the services of first-year junior forward Rashano McRae, who suffered a concussion in practice.
The fact that his team was able to battle back and tie the game, before missing its final eight shots, was one of the few positives Eagles coach Kirk Earlywine took from the defeat.
“I was really happy with it,” he said of the comeback, which was fueled by Winford’s 8-for-16 shooting from 3-point range. “We were guarding and rebounding and making smart adjustments in our zone, so that was encouraging.
“And our guys started figuring out how to get a shot for Kevin once they figured out he had the hot hand. And that’s not an easy thing to do when you don’t have a point guard on the floor.”
According to Earlywine, Dean’s foot will be examined again on Dec. 6, and Colimon’s status remains uncertain heading into Tuesday night’s game at Gonzaga.
Earlywine thought the two late 3-point daggers by Lebetter and Geiger were key to the game’s outcome.
“Ledbetter his a really tough 3 for them, and give the kid credit, he’s a hell of a shooter,” said Earlywine, who added that Geiger’s 3 from the top of the key was the result of a missed assignment in the Eagles’ end-of-court, out-of-bounds zone defense. “ Earlywine said. “Hopefully, it will be a learning experience, and we won’t let it happen again.
“But when (UI’s lead) went from 66-60, I thought it kind of gave them a sigh of relief, and I don’t think they felt as squeezed at that point.”