The mismatches came in all shapes and sizes Thursday night at Reese Court.
Idaho dominated inside while Eastern Washington cleaned up in the backcourt in a game that fittingly came down to the final shot of overtime.
Eastern guard Justin Crosgile had made eight of 16 3-pointers already, but hit the iron on his last attempt and the Vandals escaped with an 81-79 nonconference win in front of a crowd of 1,107.
Idaho trailed by 17 points in the second half before rallying.
On the final play, Eagle coach Jim Hayford was hoping to free guard Parker Kelly off a screen, but the Vandal defenders switched at the last instant to free Crosgile.
“I was feeling good at the moment, so I took the shot,” said Crosgile, who finished with a team-high 26 points.
“He was making that shot all night and I’ve seen him make that shot a hundred times, so I’ll stand by my man on that shot,” Hayford said.
The loss drops the Eagles to 2-6 going into Monday’s home game against Seattle. At least the Eagles get four days’ rest, while the Vandals (3-4) play at Texas-El Paso on Saturday.
They’ll need every minute of rest after a frenzied second half that included a 21-0 run by the Eagles, who took a 50-33 lead four minutes into the second half on a layup by center Martin Seiferth. Eastern still led 53-39 with 12:40 to play, but the Vandals scored the next 15 points over the next four minutes.
“I thought we were dead to rights,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said of the huge deficit. “…I thought we battled very hard in the second half and we found a way to win the ballgame.”
“Give them credit, they did not fold their chips,” Hayford said. “They came back and answered like we knew they would with a big run.”
The Eagles trailed by five with less than three minutes left in regulation, but forced the extra session on a layup by Venky Jois and a 3-pointer from Crosgile.
“I thought our team showed great character to force overtime,” Hayford said, poring over a stat line that showed a 55-34 Idaho advantage on the boards. Vandal center Kyle Barone, a senior who was on the all-Western Athletic Conference team last season, finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
“From the start of the game, they said, ‘Hey we are going to go at your sophomore center with our senior all-conference center,’”Hayford said. “He was good.”
The Vandal frontcourt dominated to such an extent that Idaho had 21 offensive boards, two more than Eastern had defensively.
Hayford saw another teachable moment for a young team that includes 10 newcomers.
“I’ll be able to do a lot of teaching with our front court on showing them how to rebound a little better,” he said.
Eastern center Thomas Reuter finished with 11 points and five boards, while forward Venky Jois had 13 points and 10 boards.
Idaho’s last 50-plus rebounding effort came in a 101-47 win over UC Irvine in 2008, and 21 offensive boards is the most by Idaho since beating Idaho State 75-59 in 2004.
The Eagles stayed in the game by forcing 13 turnovers and converting them into 21 points while commiting only four turnovers themselves.
“I think the key was getting stops,” Crosgile said. “We tried to stay scrappy, playing defense to offense.”
For all their dominance inside, it was Idaho’s backcourt that made the difference in the overtime. Stephen Madison got the last of his game-high 29 points that put Idaho ahead early in the overtime; midway through the period, backup guard Connor Hill hit a 3-pointer and made the foul shot after a foul by Jeffrey Forbes.
Finally, after Jois tied the game at 79 with a pair of free throws, Idaho guard Mansa Habeeb hit the game-winner on a short jumper with 21 seconds left in the overtime.
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