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Courtesy: Ilya Pinchuk (Moscow, Idaho)
Stephen Madison led all scorers with 28 points.
Vandals strong in opener
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 10/27/2012
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MOSCOW, Idaho – As is often the case in these games, there were plenty of bright spots and equal learning points in a 77-71 Idaho men’s basketball exhibition victory over Seattle Pacific on Saturday.

Bright spots like 10-of-18 (.556) 3-point shooting, a 36-26 rebounding margin and a 23-of-28 (.821) free throw clip stood out for the Vandals, but so did 14 turnovers, 10 second-chance points allowed and a lapse that saw a 20-point lead trimmed to five.

Weighing the positives, the negatives and the game situations, Idaho head coach Don Verlin said it was almost exactly what he had hoped to achieve against a strong NCAA Division II team that had knocked off three Division I opponents in its last four tries, notably including No. 16 Arizona last season during exhibition play.

“I thought it played out, believe it or not, about perfect for us,” Verlin said. “We did get some late-game situations where he had to break to the ball, we had to execute our press-breaker, we had to have some guys knock down some free throws and get some good defensive stops.”

That 20-point edge, which come on the back end of a 9-0 run that spanned the end of the first and start of the second half, was keyed by junior Stephen Madison, who showed a variety of skills from long-range shooting to scoring off the dribble to transition buckets, and finally at the free throw line, where he hit 10 of his 12 attempts.

Madison finished with a game-high 28 points and had 22 by halftime. He shot 8-of-12 overall in the game and added four rebounds and one assist in 29 minutes.

“Stephen picked up the slack tonight and I thought some other guys did, too,” Verlin said. “Antwan (Scott) in the first half, and then Connor (Hill) in the second, knocked down some shots.”

Scott finished with 14 points and hit four of his five 3-point field goals, while Hill notched 11 points and hit three of his six triples. Scott notched eight of his points before the break, while Hill scored all his points in the second half.

As a team, Idaho shot 47.8 percent from the floor, 55.6 from 3-point range and 82.1 percent at the free throw stripe. SPU went 21-of-60 (.350) overall, 11-of-29 (.379) from long range and 18-of-19 (.947) from the free throw line. The Falcons outscored Idaho 15-12 off turnovers and 10-0 on second-chance baskets, but Idaho had a 9-0 advantage on the break.

Minus the presence of suspended All-Western Athletic Conference center Kyle Barone, the Vandal post players put in a steady performance. Junior newcomer Marcus Bell nabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and score two points.

“He’s probably the best natural rebounder I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Verlin said of Bell. “As he figures out how to play in our system, he’ll be very good.”

Junior Joe Kammerer had a solid line of eight points, five boards and one steal in 20 minutes of play. Senior Wendell Faines had seven points, two rebounds and a block in 12 minutes. Both were limited in action because of foul trouble.

Regarding Idaho’s competition at point, Verlin said Saturday’s game showed much of what he’s seen at practice – solid play all around, but still no separation between senior Mike McChristian and juniors Denzel Douglas and Robert Harris. McChristian earned the start, but Verlin said the competition remains very much open.

“I think they all did something pretty good tonight,” Verlin said. “I wasn’t discouraged with our point guard play tonight. It can get a whole lot better and it needs to, but I thought some guys really did some good things.”

After Idaho gained its 20-point lead, 48-28 at the 17:32 mark of the second half, the veteran Falcons showed their experience by steadily chipping away. An 8-0 run got SPU within 12 points at 48-36 with 13:17 to play.

After Idaho built its lead back to 19, SPU answered with a 7-0 run to get back to a 12-point margin at 57-45 with 8:18 left in the game. Idaho’s lead dipped into single figures for the first time in the half at 5:53, when a pair of Andy Poling free throws made it 64-56.

A 3-pointer, an Idaho turnover and a David Downs layup made it 70-65 with 1:08 left to play, but Madison notched a fast-break layup and-one to get back to eight and the Vandals made five of their final seven free throws to put the game away.

Downs led SPU with 22 points on 6-of-14 shooting, along with four assists and one steal. Jobi Wall added 19 points for the Falcons, while Poling had 12 points, two rebounds and two blocks before fouling out in the final minute.

Idaho will play one more exhibition game on Friday, Nov. 2, against Central Washington at 8 p.m. (PT) in Memorial Gym. The Vandals open their regular season with three-straight home games, starting with Wright State on Friday, Nov. 9, at 7:05 p.m.
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