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UI solidifies seed with victory

MOSCOW, Idaho – Kyle Barone has been on the receiving end of plenty of lobs this basketball season that ended with easy buckets or dunks. But perhaps none was as pleasing to the eye as Landon Tatum’s perfectly timed pass and Barone’s alley-oop flush to give Idaho its first lead Thursday night.

And none was more important than Barone’s two-handed breakaway slam in the final seconds – courtesy of a length-of-the-court pass from Brandon Wiley – to help push the Vandals past Fresno State 69-66 at Cowan Spectrum.

Barone snapped out a recent slump with 19 points, and the Vandals finished the Western Athletic Conference regular season by clinching at least the fourth seed and a first-round bye for the WAC tournament next week in Las Vegas.

Idaho (17-12, 9-7) will move up to the third spot if New Mexico State loses to Nevada on Saturday.

“It was a huge,” reserve guard Landon Tatum said of Idaho’s biggest come-from-behind win of the season. “I think it was a little bit in the back of our minds. We knew it was a big game that we needed. Everyone wants a bye in the first round, and I think if we had lost to this game we would have just been sick to our stomach … ”

In their first home game since a Feb. 9 upset of Utah State, the Vandals looked to be in a daze for much of the first 20 minutes. They trailed by 13 points midway through the first half, and at one point had twice as many turnovers (six) as field goals (three).

But UI mustered a small run before halftime, capped by a drive and bucket in the lane by Shawn Henderson, to cut the FSU lead to four.

“They came out in the first half and took it at us,” UI coach Don Verlin said of FSU. “I thought our guys did a great job of not folding – something this team has done all year.”

The Vandals didn’t take their first lead until the 13:04 mark of the second half, when Tatum hit a streaking Barone for an alley-oop near the end of the shot clock. The lob was one of five assists for Tatum, and it was part of a 9-0 flurry for the Vandals.

Idaho pulled ahead by six, but the Bulldogs (13-16, 5-10) clawed back to regain the lead. They rallied again with 1:14 left on Garret Johnson’s follow of his miss to go up 64-63.

The Vandals, though, connected on four straight free throws from Henderson and Deremy Geiger before Fresno State’s Jonathan Wills was called for traveling with 11 seconds left.

On the ensuing inbounds play, Wiley found Barone down the court barreling toward the lane. He finished the play with a rousing dunk, which induced a roar from the 2,046 in attendance and smiles and fist pumps from UI players.

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