Jabe Mullins knocked down the go-ahead three with just seconds remaining to give the Washington State Cougars a 66-64 victory over the George Washington Colonials.
GW (6-5) took a one point lead on a free throw with 15 seconds remaining. On WSU’s (5-6) final possession, T.J. Bamba dribbled the ball off his foot that luckily rolled right to Mullins for the game winner.
George Washington is not a particularly good team, so losing this tightly and getting played this well was a bit frustrating, but there was definitely some weirdness to consider from last night.
For one, everyone was sliding all over the place on the floor. The announcers mentioned that it “wasn’t humid in the building” but it’s hard to imagine what else might have made the floor so slippery. The refs were also pretty rough, which I know is a common excuse, but those two factors combined to frustrate WSU’s players to no end.
At a certain point, a win is a win and it’s not like George Washington was so completely awful that anything but a 20-point reflects badly on this team. There is also something to be said for actually getting a close win, as all the other WSU wins this season have been blowouts and the only close games have fallen away from the Cougs.
1) Late Game Execution
WSU has been last in Kenpom’s luck-metric for a couple games now and that feels about right. Now, I think luck often is just that -circumstances outside of your control- but it is also representative of some issues with late game execution. This team has struggled to make plays down the stretch when they need it most and it’s part of why their only close game win has come against George Washington.
It’s hard to say what exactly causes this execution problem. Some will point to the coaching staff, while others will say that, without a true PG, it’s hard to execute in those scenarios. Even in this game, the game winning shot came only after a mistake that results in a turnover 80+% of the time. This is something that might get better going forward, as WSU is clearly trying to empower TJ Bamba to be the GUY down the stretch and he will continue to get more comfortable, but it has been an undeniable issue thus far.
2) Rim Defense
For the first time since 2020, two-point defense is a major problem for WSU. WSU came into this game ranked 192nd in opponent two-point percentage and they leave it ranked 276th. That is a huge one-game drop, but it was a result of allowing George Washington to shoot 24-37 from two. It is becoming increasingly clear that Mouhamed Gueye is not a rim-protector in the truest sense, and that makes it hard for WSU’s defense to be where they need to be.
3) Rotational Questions
Andrej Jakimovski and Jabe Mullins are officially back. Those two boost WSU in so many ways, adding two elite shooters, two ball-handlers, and an excellent rebounder to any group they play with. However, their return brings some questions about how things will shakeup rotationally. Jakimovski and Mullins, in my opinion, should both be top 6 once they get fully integrated back in. One could argue they should both even start depending on how you feel about Kymany Houinsou in the starting lineup.
This likely bumps DJ Rodman to the bench, but it will probably hardly cut into Rodman’s minutes because he seems like he might be the team’s go-to backup five with everyone healthy. Adrame Diongue seems like a break in case of emergency player at this point and, as such, Rodman makes some sense as the backup five. This will obviously not help the rim defense, but it will be interesting to see what the staff does both to the rotation and to the scheme if they go small for stretches.
What to Watch For Against Hawaii
I previewed Hawaii here, but the general gist is that they are a post-centric team that runs a flex offense. They are definitely going to test WSU’s rim defense, but not in the same way that George Washington did. They tend to play two post-players next to each other and they’re always looking to win through post-ups.
This has clearly worked for them in the past and WSU is going to need to change up their defensive strategy to compete. Hawaii is not a great spacing team, so running them off the line is not all that necessary, and packing the paint would pay bigger dividends. WSU’s biggest defensive weakness is going to be truly tested against Hawaii.
Of course, even if Hawaii is efficient from two, this is a game WSU should win. Hawaii is going to aggressively run players off the line and force shooters to drive, which generally hurts WSU, but the Cougs should have the size and athleticism advantage to capitalize. This is the type matchup that will require big games from Bamba and Gueye, as well Powell and Mullins to hit a couple tough shots over closeouts.
It should be a good matchup, but Hawaii is a little more built to crush Mid-Majors than they are to hang with a team like WSU.
The game will be on ESPN2 at 9pm Pacific Time, so grab an extra coffee and Go Cougs!