In a battle between a couple of coaches who entered the season needing to prove something to their respective fan bases, one coach came away the decisive winner.
D.J. Shelton scored a career-high 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting -- including 4-of-4 from behind the arc -- but it hardly mattered as the WSU defense was again shredded, this time by Oregon State, resulting in an uninspiring 66-55 loss to the Beavers.
In what appeared beforehand to be a winnable game to open up an important three-game homestand, the Cougars fell behind by 10 midway through the first half and needed all the way until 16 minutes left in the game to even get back within three. That's as close as they'd get the rest of the way as Oregon State more or less cruised to victory.
It was the sixth loss for Ken Bone's Cougars in seven games to open Pac-12 play, and they fell to 8-11 overall. Meanwhile, Craig Robinson's Beavers improved to 11-7 and 3-3.
WSU actually shot the ball well, posting an effective field goal percentage of 56 -- its highest mark in Pac-12 play, better even than the impressive display against Colorado. But a lack of trips to the free throw line (just four all night) undermined the Cougars' efficiency, as they couldn't crack 1.0 points per possession for just the second time in conference play even with that tremendous shooting, finishing at 0.93.
For context, an average performance in college basketball this year is 1.04.
Oregon State, meanwhile, made it look pretty easy by using what has become a familiar formula against the Cougs: Hit some outside shots to loosen up the defense (4-of-7 from 3 in the first half), then pounding the ball inside for high percentage looks. While Roberto Nelson rightly deserves praise for his 25 points, it was the dirty work done by senior big men Angus Brandt (14 points) and Devon Collier (10 points) that really spelled the Cougars' doom. Oh, and there also were 27 free throw attempts, aided in large part by intentional fouling at the end.
The Cougars just didn't get any kind of similar contribution. Que Johnson did his part, finishing with 15 points on 13 shots; the rest of the team scored 16 points on 7-of-20.
While this wasn't nearly as poor a performance as the Arizona debacle, it could be argued that this loss is no less embarrassing, considering the trajectories of the two programs when each of these coaches took over. The teams have been more or less been equally mediocre since they arrived, but in winning tonight with relative ease, it now appears that OSU has moved ahead of the Cougars.