Well, we weren't expecting this.
The Cougars shook off a slow start, came back to control the game, and then nearly let it all slip away in the final five minutes against the Eastern Eagles.
The good news: if you're going to have a wake-up call, have a wake-up call and still win.
Despite a substantial rebounding disadvantage, free throw issues, and some guy named Mark Dunn hitting more three-pointers in one game than he had in his entire career prior to it (and he's a senior, too), the Cougars eeked out a 67-61 win over EWU at Beasley Coliseum.
It's going to be a lesson for the young Cougars - who had a comfortable double-digit lead in the second half, but let it slip away late, with Eastern making it a one-point game before Klay Thompson buried a three with under a minute ago to secure the victory.
What went wrong? Let's dissect the problems:
Free throw shooting: The Cougars' FT rate was excellent in this game. That's not the problem. Converting at the stripe was, with the Cougs connecting on only 20 of 32 attempts (62.5%). Hit just half of those misses and the game would have never been in question late in the second half. DeAngelo Casto struggled in particular, missing four of six, and Klay Thompson missed five out of fourteen. He only missed three all last season, and four in his career. (Of course, that stat is a little flawed since Klay only took 31 free throws last year - he's already attempted 23 this year!)
Rebounding: After soundly burying undersized Mississippi Valley State, and Lewis-Clark State in the exhibition, the Cougs struggled mightily against EWU. I'll have to get the exact numbers later - the boxscores are out late tonight - but WSU most definitely did not win the battle on the glass.
Shooting: Both teams shot the same percentage (42%) on the same number of shots (21 for 50). The difference was that Eastern converted a higher percentage of shots inside the arc and made nine three-pointers to WSU's five. It wasn't a bad shooting night behind the arc for the Cougs - 5 out of 9 - they just didn't have enough attempts to change the complexion of the game. Klay hit 3 of 5 from behind the arc, including the game-clinching trey.
Less assistance: After 60% of WSU's baskets were assisted on in the first game, the Cougars only had nine assists on 21 buckets. Compare that to 15 of 21 for EWU.
Now for the awards:
Player of the Game: Still has to be Klay Thompson, who dismissed his rough shooting start and led all scorers with 24. He was also the Cougs' leading rebounder with six (four offensive). He only made 6 of 16 attempts, but hit 3 of 5 threes and was responsible for the...
Play of the Game: Klay Thompson's clutch three to make the game 65-61 in the game's final minute. It nullified Eastern's best opportunity to regain the lead, and gave the Cougars an almost insurmountable lead, since EWU would need two possessions to have an attempt at the tie or lead.
Unsung Hero: Reggie Moore. In 36 minutes Moore was quietly effective, scoring 15 points, dishing out 3 assists and only turning the ball over once. He hit one of two three-point attempts and connected on 75% of his free throws, including the two to definitively put the game on ice.
Unsung Hero #2: Gray jerseys. This is how the Cougars should look at home. We'll forgive the ridiculously long short length for now.
It was over when... Moore hit the free throws to bring about the final score. Eastern turned the ball over on their final possession as the clock expired.
Stat of the Game: Take your pick:
- Klay Thompson missing more free throws in one game (5) than in his whole career prior (4).
- Mark Dunn making more three-pointers in one game (3) than in his entire career prior (2). He also was an 18% three-point shooter coming in. I know chatspeak is bad, but seriously: WTF.