Senior Neal Geddes has had a tough two seasons at Utah State.
A walkon last season, he came out of his redshirt year with seven regular-season games left to help the Aggie stretch drive after Duane Rogers had a season-ending injury. Days before the start of this season, the NCAA rudely informed him he was to miss the first eight games over a clerical mixup it OK'd last season.Thursday night made up for a lot of that.
Not that Geddes (eight points, three steals) was the star of the Aggies' 59-50 win at Idaho that clinched a Big West Tournament berth, gave them their third 20-win season in the last four and put them two games ahead of second-place Nevada with three games left.
But, in his first Division I start, the 5-foot-11 guard, subbing for 6-6 center Donnie Johnson, who had an off week in practice, gave USU a four-guard look against a club that had come closer to winning in Logan than any other team in the last 14 months in a 68-66 Aggie win on Jan. 24.
Geddes' surprise start, a stifling Aggie defense that held Idaho to 26 percent shooting in the second half and a determination to take their shots in the paint (46 of 55 attempts) made coach Larry Eustachy very happy despite Idaho's 35-34 rebound advantage.
"This is our best win of the year, and not because I coached here," said Eustachy, a former Vandal assistant who rose to head coach and then moved to Utah State five seasons ago. "It's our best win on the road," he said, including the win at Final Four-team Minnesota in the Preseason NIT. "We played our game," he said. "We executed the game plan better than we have all year. This is a tough place to play." BWC Western Division champion Pacific (18-8, 11-2), the defending league champion, is the only other team to beat the Vandals in the Kibbie Dome.
One more Ag win or a league loss by Nevada will clinch at least a USU tie for the much-tougher Eastern Division title. USU is at Boise State (15-11, 7-6 but 11-0 at home) Saturday night, while Nevada (13-10, 9-4) comes to Moscow for the 13-10, 7-6 Vandals' final home game.
"It's a good win," Eustachy said, "but we're not done yet. We're going to win (a title-clinching) one more."
"We're not going to allow anyone to come up and take the No. 1 seed," said senior guard Marcus Saxon (15 points, four rebounds, two steals).
Thursday's game didn't seem especially brilliant for USU to start. It made only 38 percent of its first-half shots while Idaho shot 50 percent and led 28-25 at the break. Eustachy said he wasn't worried. "No, our guys were sticking with it (the game plan). They're tough," he said.
"We had to step it up on defense," said senior swingman Kevin Rice (13 points, six rebounds), who often guarded Idaho's biggest players because of the small look Geddes brought to the lineup. "With me at the four, we changed their defensive assignments," Rice said, noting how the Aggies took the ball to the wings and got some drive-on mismatches against bigger, slower players.
With Idaho up 38-37 with 10:35 to play, Saxon rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Vandal point-guard Avery Curry (17 points), raced in, made a crossover against Vandal guard Kris Baumann and put the Aggies up for good.