The Sacramento State Hornets jumped out to an early double-digit lead that they maintained for most of the first half. Washington State made a run to pull within three at halftime. The score remained close for much of the second, until WSU was able to build a ten-point lead around the under-8 timeout.
The Hornets came out on fire, and found themselves with plenty of open looks. Transfer wing Joe Eberhard was active on both ends of the floor. He led the Hornets with a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. John Dickson was key in Sac State's early run, and finished with a team-high 21 points.
The Cougs looked very lethargic and a little disinterested at times. It was as if they expected to win, no matter what. There were a number of times when they chose to take a contested three rather than using their athletic advantage to get to the inside. Reggie Moore struggled, often getting into the lane easily, but having no real purpose once he got there. Moore finished the game without a field goal and just three points. He would have been better off resting his injured groin.
The bigs were huge for WSU, especially in the first half when outside shots were not falling. Brock Motum and D.J. Shelton were able to get inside for a number of easy buckets. Motum led the team with a game-high 23 points on 9-12 shooting and added eight rebounds. Shelton didn't see much action in the second half, but scored 7 points on 2-3 shooting. He was able to get to the line seven times, but only converted on three of those. Side Note: He has an interesting free throw stance and stands about a foot behind the line.
Faisal Aden came through as he did last year against the low-major teams. Aden's risk-taking style often gets him more steals against slower teams, and that was the case tonight as he recorded five. Aden was actually seen passing up a few shots to set up his teammates on a few occasions, even recording assists in back-to-back possessions. The second a fancy no-look pass setting up a high-flying two-handed slam by freshman DaVonte Lacy on the fast break. Aden was efficient with his shot and scored 18 points on 7-9 shooting. Of course, there is always the bad with good with Faisal, as he turned the ball over five times. Motum tied with Aden with five turnovers. The two combined for 10 of the team's 12 total.
Lacy again was impressive on the offensive end, scoring 15 points on 10 possessions. He struggled with his jumper early, but found his groove in the second half. Two plays that stand out (besides the dunk) are a baseline drive in the first when he crossed over the defender and drew the foul for an and-one and in the second half when he used a quick first step get into the lane and drop in a beautiful floater from about ten feet. This kid has a whole lot of weapons in his offensive arsenal, and so far is as good as advertised.
After a torrid start, WSU was actually able to hold Sacramento State under one point per possession for the night (barely). The Hornets definitely look to be improved over last year, and this performance was a far cry from the 84-36 whipping they received a year ago. As I said in my preview, the transfers look to be giving them a boost. It's hard to see them finishing last in the Big Sky again this year, as Kenpom currently predicts (remember, his preseason stuff didn't take into account transfers).
Still, this is a game that WSU should have won more handily. I'm still wondering why Will DiIorio is getting so much time at the four. He doesn't seem to bring a whole lot of value and was undersized even in this game. A guy like Shelton is someone that WSU is going to need in conference play, and it would be nice to see him get more time right now. It's possible that this is a product of a coach rewarding a kid for his hard work in practice, it's hard to know for sure.
It's good that the Cougs were able to struggle and still escape with a win. There are a lot of teams around the conference having trouble with the "cupcakes." This game can provide Bone something to teach on without having to take an ugly L.
WSU gets back on the court to face their second WCC team of the young season at Portland this Sunday, KenPom has that game as a toss-up at the moment, and the Pilots are going to be a tough out. WSU will definitely need to play better to come out on top in that one.