Senior nights don't always have fairy tale endings, but this one did for WSU's trio of outgoing players as DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Jordan Railey each played a major role in the Cougars' 96-91 overtime win over Colorado.
With the victory, WSU finishes the regular season 13-17 overall and 7-11 in the Pac-12, the most league victories for the Cougars since 2012 and more league wins than the last two years combined.
And it almost didn't come to pass.
After a see-saw first 10 minutes, the Cougars took the lead and held it for the next 25 minutes. But the Buffaloes kept chipping away, eventually grabbing the lead with 4:32 to go on a layup by Askia Booker -- two of Colorado's astonishing 52 points in the paint. The Cougars struggled mightily to both contain penetration and keep the Buffaloes off the offensive glass.
Things looked bleak, though, when a pair of drives to the basket in the final minute by Lacy (with the game tied) and Ike Iroegbu (after a Josh Scott jumper put them down two) came up empty, and Colorado merely needed to inbound the ball and hit a couple of free throws to salt away the win. It looked to be a heartbreaking way for Lacy to end his WSU career at Beasley, as the miss left him just 3-of-12 for 10 points.
But the turnover-prone Buffs couldn't get the job done thanks to a heads up Iroegbu -- with an assist from the officials who didn't assume a foul:
The possession arrow favored the Cougars. And Lacy had another opportunity to leave his mark in Pullman:
Askia Booker's half-court heave rimmed out, and the game headed to overtime. Lacy gave a brief pep talk to his teammates before taking the court for the extra period, and it seemed to resonate, particularly with his senior teammates, because this is how the first three possessions of overtime went down:
Three by DKD, block by Railey, three by Lacy, and that was pretty much it. Sure, Colorado didn't stop fighting, closing to within two with 1:34 to play in OT, but Kernich-Drew jumper again made the margin four, and the Cougs would hit nine of their final 10 free throws to put the game away.
The three seniors combined to score 16 of the final 23 points, with Lacy scoring 17, Kernich-Drew 17, and Railey 12 for the game.
"Jordan grew up this year," Kent said after the game, by way of Jacob Thorpe's transcription skills. "Everything he's been through as a student-athlete, for him to perform, he's been outstanding down the stretch. Dexter just coming of age, been a perfect gentleman on and off the floor. And DaVonte Lacy is somebody who stayed and helped turn the school around, which was huge.
"They did a tremendous job of showing the younger guys what it takes to be successful. The leadership of this team is going to be excellent because they have excellent leaders going out the door."
They might not have had the chance to win the game, though, if it weren't for Iroegbu. In addition to that "steal" near the end of regulation, he finished with 18 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds and just three turnovers in 36 minutes. His transformation into the leading guard of this team has been something to behold.
Additionally, Josh Hawkinson finished with his customary double-double -- 21 points, 10 rebounds -- and Que Johnson finished with 11 points of his own. Underclassmen scored the final six points from the free throw line to secure the victory.
Josh Scott led the way with 32 points and 12 rebounds for the Buffs, and he repeatedly abused the Cougars on the interior and on the offensive glass. Booker finished with 26 points.
It was a remarkable end to Ernie Kent's first regular season that began with so few expectations. A 6-6 nonconference record that included losses to Idaho and Santa Clara left fans to wonder if the Cougars might not win a game in the Pac-12. Instead, they won three of their first four league games -- two on the road, including at Hec-Ed -- and were competitive on most nights, pulling out a number of close, exciting victories.
But the season isn't over yet. WSU's win elevated the Cougars into a three-way tie for eighth place, and they'll now face California -- which had an identical record -- in the 8/9 matchup in the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday. The Cougars and Golden Bears split the two meetings back in January.
The game will be at 12:10 p.m. PT and broadcast on Pac-12 Networks. If the Cougars win, they will face top-seeded Arizona on Thursday.