That's the start to the Diamond Head Classic we all were hoping for.
Well, maybe not start in the most literal sense, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs hung around for a half to take a one-point lead into the locker room. But the Washington State defense came alive, and the Cougars used a 17-2 run midway through the second half to take the drama out of the game as WSU got off to the start it wanted in the Diamond Head Classic with a 83-57 win over MSU.
The 40 points the Cougs gave up in the first half were the most in any half this year, but the Bulldogs' production had just a little bit of a fluky feel to it. Kodi Augustus and Jalen Steele -- 27.8 and 22.2 percent 3-point shooters, respectively -- each hit a couple from beyond the arc, and some questionable officiating led to a free throw parade for the Bulldogs. Ravern Johnson, scoring over 20 per game on the season, only had 3 points at the break as he was smothered by WSU's long defenders.
Because of that, I noted in the game thread that Mississippi State might only score 20 points in the second half. I was close -- the Bulldogs only scored 17. The 3-point shooting went cold, the free throw parade stopped, and Johnson still couldn't get free for any shots. Oh, and they threw the ball away a ton.
On the flip side, though Klay Thompson scored about half of WSU's points in the first half, there's wasn't anything fluky about it. It wasn't built on crazy hot shooting; it was built with sound decision making and aggression to the basket. He also was getting plenty of help from his teammates, particularly Abe Lodwick. There was no reason to think the Cougs weren't going to be able to continue doing what they were doing.
Turns out, WSU had another gear to hit, resulting from some great shooting. Thompson kept doing what he was doing, but Faisal Aden reverted back to early season form to provide the extra scoring punch, and WSU turned it into a laugher.
WSU now awaits the winner of the Baylor/San Diego matchup, tipping off around 2:30 p.m. On to the awards.
Klay Thompson Player Of The Game: Klay Thompson -- 28 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists. He was everywhere on the floor again. If you want to know the biggest difference between last year and this, it's that he no longer just scores; Klay controls the game. He did so today once again.
Right Hand Man: Faisal Aden -- 20 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals. Welcome back, young man! The shooting was there, but I think it was more than that -- he looked poised in doing what he did. He also put the ball on the floor a few times to get to the rim, and I have to think that was intentional.
Unsung Hero: Abe Lodwick -- 9 points, 6 rebounds. It wasn't just that Abe finally hit a few 3s, although that was great. He also was all over the place defensively with clean rotations that bothered shooters. He really was a "glue guy" today.
Play Of The Game: I'm going to go with plays -- all the plays where Mississippi State didn't score while stuck on 49 points for about 8 minutes in the second half.
It Was Over When: Mississippi State wasn't hitting crazy 3s anymore and the refs didn't bail them out with mystery fouls.
Stat Of The Game: 12 of 24. That's what WSU shot from 3-point range. Awful tough to beat these Cougs when they do that.
Check out CougCenter's full coverage of the Diamond Head Classic here.