In a game that surely made both the current and previous coach of WSU smile, the Cougars rode huge second half performances from seniors Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu to pick up a win on the road over Arizona State, 91-83.
The Cougars moved ahead of the Sun Devils in the standings into seventh place in the Pac-12 at 4-5 in conference and 11-10 overall; ASU dropped to 3-6 and 10-12.
Hawkinson and Iroegbu each turned in the kinds of performances that Ken Bone probably envisioned when he recruited them five years ago: 31 points and 10 rebounds for Hawkinson — the former a career high; 22 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds for Iroegbu — with just one turnover.
Each took advantage of ASU’s particular weaknesses in their own way.
Hawkinson repeatedly abused the Sun Devils — who really only have one legitimate interior player — around the basket. Knowing ASU had to respect Hawkinson’s jumper, the Cougars repeatedly used screening action around the 3-point line to create mismatches for Hawkinson, who would quickly make his way to the block. In all, he shot 10-of-16 from the floor (including 2-of-3 from 3-point range) and 9-of-9 from the free throw line.
Iroegbu, meanwhile, used his incredible speed to repeatedly pierce ASU’s awful transition defense, an opportunity we said in the preview would probably be there if WSU wanted to push the tempo. He only shot 6-of-14 from the field, but he drew a number of fouls — he was 9-of-13 from the free throw line — and generally made excellent decisions with his passes.
There were two other big factors in the victory.
First, offensively, WSU had another really good day shooting the ball. It wasn’t just Hawkinson; the Cougs were 10-of-19 from 3-point range, including 3-of-4 for Charles Callison (who suddenly is awesome from out there) and 3-of-5 for Malachi Flynn (who has been awesome out there all year).
Defensively, the Cougs contained ASU’s penetration enough in the second half to avoid the plethora of easy baskets that allowed the Sun Devils to erase a 10-point WSU lead in the first half and take a 3-point lead into the break.
There really was no decisive run that put the game out of reach, but a 3-pointer by Iroegbu on WSU’s first possession of the second half, followed by a layup from reserve forward Jeff Pollard (who himself had a nice game) put the Cougs up by a pair just a couple of minutes into the final frame, signifying that they had weathered ASU’s first-half storm and weren’t going to fade away.
A little 9-3 run midway through the second half gave the Cougs a seven-point cushion with just under 12 minutes to go, but ASU would close to within two points a couple of times in the following few minutes. The Cougs responded, though, putting together a 15-6 run over the next seven minutes that was capped by a Callison 3-pointer in transition, giving WSU an 80-69 lead that ASU would never seriously threaten the rest of the way.
In a game in which Conor Clifford was in foul trouble virtually the entire time, Pollard — a true freshman — played his best game of the year, scoring 7 points and grabbing 6 rebounds while generally being incredibly on both ends of the floor. The undersized Sun Devils proved to be an excellent matchup for him.
The Cougs are back on the floor on Wednesday against UCLA in Pullman.