For the second time in three games in the Old Spice Classic, WSU couldn't make a late lead hold up as the St. Joseph's Hawks finished the game on a 12-2 run to defeat the Cougars, 72-67.
WSU finished sixth in the eight-team field and has now lost four of its last five games.
The Cougars led the game 65-60 with 4:20 to go after Que Johnson hit a jumper for his ninth and 10th points of the game, but as has been the case so often over the past two years, WSU struggled to put together anything offensively down the stretch.
DaVonte Lacy, who had a game-high 25 points, could only get one clean look at the basket in the final minutes as Johnson, Ike Iroegbu, Royce Woolridge and even Junior Longrus got shots. St. Joseph's purposed to take Lacy out of the game, particularly down the stretch, and it worked.
Meanwhile, the Cougars had no answer for the Hawks' leading scorer Ronald Roberts Jr., who destroyed them on the interior, picking up three rebounds during the Hawks' run, one of which led to a tip-in to make it a two-possession game with 1:27 to go. It was one of two critical offensive rebounds the Cougs gave up on consecutive possessions while their best defensive rebounder, D.J. Shelton, sat on the bench.
Roberts Jr. finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
WSU played what would roundly be considered an excellent game, save for the result. St. Joseph's is a good, experienced team -- they came into the game rated 77th by kenpom.com, 34 spots ahead of WSU, and start three seniors and a junior -- and the Cougar defense had been mostly excellent up until those final few minutes. The zone had been predictably suspect, especially in the first half when Ken Bone went to his deep reserves, but even that worked for a time in the second half as it appeared Bone was attempting to conserve the legs of his best players.
But then the coach made some odd personnel choices late, including the aforementioned benching of Shelton for Jordan Railey, who had played sparingly in the second half due to the Hawks' repeated exploitation of his lack of quickness. Bone also played Iroegbu over Woolridge, despite the freshman being mostly ineffective all game (1-of-6 for three points with no assists).
The Cougars now gets five days to rest their tired legs before traveling across the state line to face a not terrible Idaho team on Saturday.