Vandals storm back to top Eagles in OT

Vandals storm back to top Eagles in OT

There was a little bit of everything on Thursday night at Reese Court, as Idaho men’s basketball came back from down 17 to claim an 81-79 overtime victory at Eastern Washington.

It was sluggish, then bad, then really bad, then suddenly great – and that’s before things got close. The game featured eight ties and 22 lead changes – seven in overtime alone as Idaho moved to 3-4 on the season and EWU slipped to 2-6.

The 17-point comeback was tied as the biggest under head coach Don Verlin and is the biggest road comeback during his tenure.

“I thought we were dead to rights,” Verlin said of the 50-33 deficit with 15:53 to play. “They came out and went on a 16-0 run to start the half after we’d made a couple defensive mistakes, but I couldn’t be prouder. I thought we battled very hard in the second half and we found a way to win the ball game.”

A Connor Hill four-point play with 2:38 left in OT was the final lead change of the day, and then Idaho senior guard Mansa Habeeb kissed a 10-footer off the glass for the game-winning shot with 20.2 seconds to play.

“Rob (Harris) was penetrating and I was wide open,” Habeeb said of the shot. “I knew I was going bank shot as soon as I got the ball and I just followed through and hit the shot – it brought back some memories.”

Vandals storm back to top Eagles in OT

Habeeb got a hand in EWU guard Justin Crosgile’s face on the ensuing possession to help alter the long 3-pointer and senior center Kyle Barone grabbed the board – his 11th of the game – with two seconds to play. After a foul, Barone missed the front end of the one-and-one, but junior guard Stephen Madison clinched it with his 10th board of the evening.

Madison led all players with a career-high 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting, along with 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. Barone added 20 points and 11 rebounds for his 12th career double-double, as well as a career-high five assists and a career-high-tying five blocks. Hill and Habeeb tallied 10 points each as Idaho’s other two double-figure scorers.

As a team, the Vandals hit 46.5 percent of their shots and went 4-of-13 (.308) from 3-point range. They shot just 57.9 percent (11-19) from the free throw line, but made up for their FT misses and 13 turnovers with a plus-21 rebounding margin (55-34), 17 second-chance points and 17 fast-break points.

EWU’s Crosgile “single-handedly kept them in the game,” Verlin said. He finished the day with 26 points on 8-of-16 long-range shooting, as well as eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in 44 minutes.

Forward Venky Jois had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Eagles, while Thomas Reuter had 11 points and five boards, and center Martin Seiferth had 10 points. EWU shot 38.2 percent overall and 32.4 percent from 3-point range, but capitalized in a big way on Idaho’s 13 giveaways with a 21-4 margin in points off turnovers.

“It’s unbelievable – we shoot 46 percent, they shoot 38 (percent overall) and 32 (from 3-point range),” Verlin said of the game. “We out-rebound them by 21, have 23 assists and 13 turnovers – and we win in overtime. It was just a wild game.”

It didn’t seem like it was going to be much of a game five minutes into the second half. Including a 3-pointer at the end of the first half, Eastern put together a 19-0 scoring run to take a 50-33 lead at 15:53 in the game. During the run, Idaho looked hapless on offense with five turnovers and only one shot attempt – a miss by junior Marcus Bell – during the run.

Verlin said it would have been easy to let it slip away with a loud home crowd and zero momentum, but then it was Idaho’s turn to run. The Vandals scored six in a row to get within 11 at 50-39, then after a Crosgile 3-pointer, rattled off 15 in a row to take a 54-53 lead with 8:16 to play.

In a span of five minutes, Eastern Washington took a 17 lead, but then over the game’s next seven minutes, Idaho completely erased it.

Neither team led by more than five for the remainder of regulation. The Vandals led by five, 67-62, with 2:47 to play, but a Jois layup and a Crosgile triple tied it up at 67. Idaho got several good looks on three offensive boards before time expired, but none of its final three shots fell.

There’s not much time to savor the win for Idaho, because the Vandals fly out of Spokane, Wash., at 6 a.m. for a Saturday game at UTEP, which tips off at 6 p.m. (PT) at the Don Haskins Center.

“I scheduled this game because it’s going to be just like a (Western Athletic Conference) road trip – two games in three days,” Verlin said. “We’re going to enjoy this one tonight and then fly out early tomorrow, get to El Paso and prepare for a very tough UTEP team.”