|Men top #17/21 Utah State|
MOSCOW, Idaho - University of Idaho junior Deremy Geiger got the best birthday present he could have asked for on Wednesday, as he led the Vandals to a 64-56 victory over No. 21/17 Utah State at the Cowan Spectrum.
Utah State (22-3, 11-1 Western Athletic Conference) entered the game with a 17-game overall winning streak and a WAC-record 25 consecutive conference wins, but the Vandals came out with high energy and matched the Aggies every step of the way.
The win puts Idaho at 14-10 overall and 7-5 in the WAC, and ends an 11-game skid against Utah State that dated back to 2005. It was the second win against a top-25 team in the last two seasons by the Vandals. Utah State, which was ranked 21st in the AP poll entering the week, is the highest-ranked team Idaho has beaten since 1982, when the Vandals took down No. 16 Iowa 69-67 at the NCAA Tournament.
"What a great win for our program, for our players, and I couldn't be happier for them and the University of Idaho," Vandal head coach Don Verlin said after the game. "It's been a long time since we've beaten those guys."
"I told our coaches before the game, 'First one to 60 wins,' and we got there before they did."
It was a game that featured the WAC's top two defenses and top two shooting teams. Defense won out, as the Aggies shot a season-low 33.8 percent from the field and 17.9 percent from 3-point range. Idaho hit 42.3 percent for the game, but went just 3-for-17 (.176) from 3-point land.
Idaho's defense forced 13 Aggie turnovers, from which they got 17 points. Utah State had nine points off 12 Vandal turnovers. Idaho also held a 10-2 edge in fast-break points. Idaho gave up an opponent season-high 20 offensive boards to Utah State, which outscored the Vandals 15-10 on the second chance.
"We were very fortunate they missed some wide-open shots," Verlin said. "In the first half, they rebounded them, in the second half we rebounded them, and that was kind of the difference in the game."
Idaho never trailed in the second half, and the score was tied for just 21 seconds at 39-39. Idaho used a pair of clutch 3-pointers by Ledbetter and solid free throw shooting to build a lead, then allowed just three second-chance points off four offensive rebounds in the final 11 minutes of the game to maintain it.
"We preached all week about winning plays," Verlin said. "If you're going to win a big game, you've got to make winning plays, and that means getting the loose balls, taking some charges, making a key block, making the extra pass."
Geiger, who started his playing career at USU in the 2008-09 season, scored 12 points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds. Senior guard Jeff Ledbetter led Idaho with 14 points, and added four rebounds and three steals. With three straight made free throws at the end of the first half, Ledbetter also tied Gary Simmons' 55-year-old Idaho record with his 26th-consecutive made free throw.
After the game, Verlin said he thought sophomore center Kyle Barone played his best game as a Vandal. Barone earned his second double-double of the season with an 11-point, 12-rebound effort. He also blocked a pair of shots and went five-for-five from the free throw line.
Brockeith Pane led Utah State with 14 points and seven assists, while Tyler Newbold added 12 points and four boards. Senior forward Tai Wesley netted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, but also turned it over six times and fouled out with 58 seconds remaining in the game.
Both teams and coaches wore special "BeLIEVE" t-shirts in support of Coaches vs. Cancer, but for the Vandal men, the shirts had a double meaning.
"We wore them for a reason," Ledbetter said of the shirts. "We believe that we can play with the best in the conference, and we proved that tonight."
Idaho opened the game with a Brandon Wiley steal that energized the crowd of 1,512, then the Vandals fed off that with makes on their first five attempts. Leading 10-5 at the 15:38 mark of the first half, Idaho faltered and gave away three straight possessions, which helped start an 8-0 Aggie run that put USU up, 13-10 at 9:18.
The teams exchanged the lead twice and tied twice over the next six minutes before Idaho came alive and outscored Utah State 10-5 over the final four minutes of the period to take a 27-24 halftime lead.
The Vandals will try to bottle their emotional high for another important WAC game on Saturday when they head to Taco Bell Arena to face Boise State, which clipped Idaho, 70-67, earlier this year in Moscow. The Broncos are 12-11 overall and 5-6 in the WAC. They've lost four in a row since their Jan. 22 victory in at the Cowan Spectrum.
Saturday's game will be Idaho's second in a row on the ESPN family of networks. That game will tip off at 8:05 p.m. (PT) on ESPNU.