MOSCOW, Idaho – Midway through the second half Shawn Henderson planted a 3-pointer at the top of the key and started to backpedal with his shooting pose – right arm high above his shoulders, wrist locked and pointed down – intact as he strode down the court.
Henderson is far from a pure long-distance shooter. But he and other Idaho perimeter players were locked in Saturday night from the 3-point line … at least when the Vandals needed them to be.
UI capped its finest regular season since 1993 by erasing another large first-half deficit to beat Seattle University 78-69 in nonconference men’s basketball at Cowan Spectrum.
With 2,109 on hand, Idaho (18-12) honored its three seniors – Henderson, Jeff Ledbetter and Brandon Wiley – before the game and then promptly slipped into a 12-point hole in the opening minutes.
It was eerily similar to Thursday, when the Vandals were plagued by a sluggish start and trailed Fresno State by 13 before rousing themselves.
“We’ve been doing that lately,” Ledbetter said. “That’s one thing we’ve got to fix going into the tournament.”
The Vandals earned a first-round bye in the WAC tourney as the fourth seed and will play the winner of the fifth-place/eighth-place game at noon Thursday. If they prevail in their quarterfinal matchup, they’ll take on top-seeded Utah State on Friday.
UI coach Don Verlin is worried with more than his team’s slow starts in recent games. He also expressed concern with the team’s deteriorating defense.
Seattle U often used its quickness to glide past UI defenders for open layups. It shot 53 percent from the field after Fresno State hit 50 percent of its buckets against the Vandals.
“We’ve got to do a better job of defending our basket,” Verlin said. “We just have to.”
UI more than made up for its defensive lapses with a late-arriving 3-point assault. The Vandals hit four straight from 3 to start the second half and knocked down 7 of 10 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes until two late misses.
UI also compiled 23 assists. Henderson had five of those assists to go with 13 points while Deremy Geiger had a team-high 15 points with four assists and three steals.
But on senior night, it was true freshman Stephen Madison who was “one of the differences,” as Verlin put it. He scored seven straight points in the first half to help the Vandals get back in the game and knocked down a 3-pointer in transition with 6:43 left to give Idaho its biggest lead to that point, 66-59.