Courtesy: Ilya Pinchuk (Moscow, Idaho)
Marcus Bell with the coast-to-coast steal and dunk.
Vandals grit one out
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 12/01/2012
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MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho head coach Don Verlin talked a lot in the preseason about defense and rebounding and the Vandal men got exactly that on Saturday in a 73-66 home victory over UC Davis at the Cowan Spectrum.

Idaho (2-4) scored a season-high 17 points in transition, made 26 free throws at a .839 percentage – both season highs – and out-rebounded UC Davis (1-4) by a 35-24 margin while also forcing 17 turnovers.

“We held a pretty good offensive team to 31 points (in the second half),” Verlin said after the game. “We weren’t great offensively tonight, but this team needs to be able to win with its defense and rebounding and we were able to do that tonight.”

Junior guard Stephen Madison led all players with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including a 7-of-8 effort from the free throw line. Senior Kyle Barone cracked the 1,000-point barrier with a put-back in the final minute of the first half and finished the game with 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Barone also netted six of his seven free throws. Sophomore Connor Hill was the third Vandal in double figures at 11 points.

UCD’s Corey Hawkins led the Aggies with 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting, along with six assists and a pair of steals. Ryan Sypkens added 14 points and Ryan Howley had nine points and 10 boards for UC Davis.

Verlin said he was pleased with the defensive efforts of senior guard Mansa Habeeb on Hawkins, who entered the game averaging nearly 22 points.

“You look at Mansa Habeeb, he had zero points and four rebounds, but I thought he did a good job,” Verlin said. “When Corey Hawkins got hot, he did a good job of harassing him and I’m not sure he shut him down, but he really made him earn his points.”

Idaho went 21-of-50 (.420) overall and 5-of-12 (.417) from 3-point range in the game. UC Davis shot 47.2 percent overall (25-53), but went just 8-of-28 (.286) from long range and 8-of-11 (.727) from the free throw line.

Verlin said UC Davis’ high ball pressure led to more looks closer to the basket and more opportunities to attack off the dribble. The Vandals entered the game shooting just 62 percent from the free throw line, but made the most of their season-high 31 attempts on Saturday.

“They were pressuring our perimeter really hard and we felt like we had to continue to go inside and we felt like we had to continue to drive our ball,” Verlin said. “Kyle and Steve were able to get it down there around the low block and get fouled, and then they fouled Connor a couple times late. They were playing strung out, so you’ve got to drive your ball or dump it inside to break down their pressure and we were able to do that.”

The first half featured five ties and three lead changes and neither team led by more than six points in the period. A Madison layup at the 12:28 mark of the second half keyed an 11-0 Vandal run that gave Idaho a 55-47 lead with 9:04 to play.

After a steal and three-quarter-court solo fast-break dunk by junior forward Marcus Bell, Idaho went up by 12 points, 62-50, with six minutes to play and appeared to have the game in hand, but a 9-0 UC Davis run made things a little more stressful at 65-61 with 2:37 in the game.

UC Davis’ 17th turnover of the game was what junior guard Denzel Douglas called, “probably the easiest steal I’m ever going to get.”

After a Douglas free throw put Idaho up 69-66 with 17 seconds to play, there was a miscommunication in the backcourt and UCD’s Ryan Howley tossed the ball inbounds directly to Douglas after his teammate made a cut in the opposite direction.

Douglas was quickly fouled and sank both freebies to give Idaho a two-possession lead and clinch the win. Idaho got two more free throws with just over one second left to ice the win.

With some positive momentum, Idaho now moves on to a quick pair of road games. The Vandals play at Eastern Washington on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. (PT), then immediately head down to El Paso, Texas, for a Saturday game at UTEP at 6 p.m. (PT).

“We did some good things tonight,” Verlin said. “We’re a long ways away from being the team we’re going to be, but we’re going to be a pretty good team when we get this thing put together.”
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