MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho coach Don Verlin left Montana three weeks ago after a 42-point drubbing from the Grizzlies and made a simple, candid declaration.
The Vandals didn’t compete, he said.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night in a nonconference rematch with the Griz. But a much more respectable performance didn’t make another loss any easier to digest.
Montana’s Derek Selvig landed a floating jumper in the lane with 6 seconds left, just after Idaho had regained the lead, to push the Griz to a dramatic 64-63 victory with 922 watching at Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals (5-5) had an opportunity in the final moments, but Deremy Geiger’s contested 19-foot shot rattled off the side of the rim.
“Coach (Don Verlin) did a heck of a job getting his guys rallied,” said Montana coach Wayne Tinkle, whose team three weeks ago handed UI its worst loss in a decade. “They confused us at times, and I’m just proud of the way our guys just battled through and pulled it out in the end.”
The Vandals, after shooting 12 percent from the field in Missoula, were much sharper and grittier the second time around against the Griz (7-4).
They bothered UM’s two leading scorers, Will Cherry and Brian Qvale, with an energetic, trapping defense. And they manufactured the big plays on offense that have been lacking for much of the season.
None was bigger than Shawn Henderson’s pull-up in the lane with 15 seconds left, which gave UI a 63-62 lead and capped a rally from five down with 1:14 left.
“That’s a hard one to lose. It’s gut-wrenching,” Verlin said. “I thought our guys played extremely hard. I thought they fought all night long. … I just wished we could have executed a little better the last two possessions of the game.”
After the 7-foot Selvig connected in the paint, Idaho point guard Deremy Geiger inbounded the ball on Montana’s side of the court and drove just inside the 3-point line. But his off-balance shot was well-defended by Cherry.
“I pulled off a decent look, but I just didn’t make it,” Geiger said.
Asked about the final shot, Henderson noted that at least two Vandals were open with the Griz collapsing on Geiger. With so little time left, Henderson said he wasn’t bothered by Geiger’s choice to pull up inside the 3-point line. Yet Verlin was hoping the point guard would drive to the basket.
“I think late in the game, when you’re only down one, you’ve got to make them foul ya,” Verlin said. “But I thought it was a decent look.”
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