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WSU vs. Central Washington recap: Cougs overcome slow start to win, 81-76

That’s ... not good.

NCAA Basketball: California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The WSU basketball team trailed Central Washington for the first 25 minutes of the game on Tuesday night, but the Cougars’ physical talent eventually took over — largely behind the efforts of senior guard Ike Iroegbu — and WSU held off the Wildcats, 81-76.

As you might have guessed if you were unable to witness the game in all its glory while it was hidden away on Pac-12 Washington, this will not be one remembered fondly by anyone other than those CWU fans who got to enjoy their team beating up on a Pac-12 school for a while.

Malachi Flynn and Josh Hawkinson led the team with 18 points, while Iroegbu contributed 15 points — 14 of them in the second half. Hawkinson also had 12 rebounds, while Iroegbu had 5 assists.

Here are three things we took away from tonight’s contest.

1: This team still has a long, long way to go to be better than last year.

Quite simply, the team hasn’t shown anything in its first two games to suggest it will be markedly improved from last season’s team that finished with a 1-17 Pac-12 record and ended the season on a 17-game losing streak.

I know struggling with a team like CWU for a while isn’t necessarily damning of a Division I team (it really does happen with more frequency than you might realize), but when you combine that with the problems that popped up against Montana State in the opener and Carroll College in the exhibition — which were largely the same problems that plagued the team last year — you get a pretty bleak outlook.

The season is certainly young, and the team can certainly improve; I’m thinking of Ernie Kent’s first team, which looked like a complete disaster in the first month of the season before putting together a pretty fun campaign.

But a lot of growth needs to happen, and it needs to happen quickly.

2: Kent’s winning strategy portends trouble?

I guess you could call this 1b if you wanted. Kent had to go small to eventually pull away from the Wildcats, as Conor Clifford once again was an afterthought, playing just 12 minutes.

He was effective in his post touches, scoring 8 points in those limited minutes, but he was again a liability otherwise, picking up zero rebounds despite being the largest man on the floor.

Instead, Kent turned to Viont’e Daniels for 28 minutes in a three-guard lineup, and he rewarded Kent’s faith by scoring 10 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing out a pair of assists against just a lone turnover. That’s positive ... except that Clifford is supposed to be one of the anchors of the team.

Not good.

3: If you put a ton of hope in Flynn, it probably was too much.

That’s not really a knock on Flynn, by the way. He’s a freshman. Expecting a kid who had exactly zero high major offers outside of WSU’s to come in and be a transformative player was silly, no matter how much his coach talked him up.

As we mentioned above, Flynn had a good scoring night, and that’s definitely a positive. I don’t want to take anything away from that aspect of his performance. But he also had zero assists (albeit with only one turnover). Iroegbu once again led the team in assists. Again, the season is still young, but it’s probably time to temper expectations a bit, at least in terms of bringing a large amount of stability to the point.

He’s in for a huge test on Friday when he takes on Creighton.

Up Next: The Cougars travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the opener of the Paradise Jam tournament on Friday against Creighton. The game tips off at 5:30 p.m., but there is no TV broadcast. There is a pay-per-view streaming service available, however.