Senior KEONI WATSON, one of just three Idaho players back from last year's team, and the rest of the new-look Vandals dropped the season home opener 91-76 Friday night to a red-hot North Dakota State team. Although Idaho had a good shooting game (50% from the field, 81% from the line), the Bison were hotter (63% from the field, 60% from 3-point range, and 83% from the foul line).
There were positives for Vandal basketball George Pfeifer in his regular season coaching debut Friday night, but in the end North Dakota State's experience and depth was too much to overcome as the Bison handed the Vandals a 91-76 loss at Memorial Gym Friday night.
In an up-tempo first half the Vandals scored the first six points of the ball game, fell behind 9, then staged a comeback in the closing
minutes of the first half, capped off by a Miles Webb three-pointer to pull into a 40-40 halftime tie. In the second half the Bison, returning all five starters from a 16-12 team that defeated nationally ranked Wisconsin on the road last year, shot 63% from the floor and hit 12-of-14 second half free throws to put the Vandals away.
The Vandals did well offensively shooting 50% from the floor, played excellent transition basketball, and turned the ball over only nine
times, but problems defensively proved to be their downfall.
"We'll have moments like this, I'm afraid, but again I thought there were some positive things that these guys did tonight," Pfeiffer said. "I thought we got up and down the floor. I thought we did a great job in the first half in getting back to tied, but we just weren't tough enough to sustain it. We just didn't understand what
it takes to do that yet."
In acknowledging the Vandals' early success in the transition game, Pfeifer also pointed out defensive problems - leading to high percentage shooting by the Bison - didn't leave many chances for the Vandals to play transition basketball. "It's hard to get in transition when they shoot and score," he said. "I mean, they either scored or grabbed the rebound. Right at the beginning of the game we scored six points, and I believe most of those were off of them just missing it, or possibly because we were able to convert a turnover or missed shot into a transition, which would be a nice thing, but you can't run if you're always taking the ball out of the net and inbounding.
"The easy assessment is we couldn't guard anybody. If you had told me going in we were going to shoot 50% and have 9 turnovers I'd have
felt pretty good about this," he said. "We knew that one of the biggest things that we had to do tonight was guard the bounce. We have quickness. We just didn't sustain it, and then we put them at the free throw line 29 times. They made more free throws (23) than we attempted (17). Most people understand that when that takes place you're going to lose. We might on the rare occasion guard them for
15 seconds, and then would bail them out by lunging for the ball. We couldn't understand there were places on the floor we needed to
pressure, and then we didn't understand that once we pressured it and pushed the ball away we needed to gap somebody."
Both teams put four players in double figures. The Vandals were led by Mario Mackey with 21 points, Clyde Johnson had 14, Webb had 12, and
Desmond Nwoke had 11 (including 10 in the first half). Brett Winkelman topped all scorers with 32 and Bison teammates Ben Woodside added 18,
Andre Smith 20, and Mike Nelson 13. Johnson led the Vandal rebounders with 7 and Michael Crowell handed out 4 assists. North Dakota State held a 27-19 rebounding edge.
The Vandals will be on the road for their next game traveling Thursday to face South Dakota State. Their next home game will be Sunday, November 19 against Montana State.