For the second time in as many games, WSU basketball had little trouble with an overmatched opponent as the Cougars sent Idaho State back to Pocatello with a loss after beating the Bengals, 85-67.
WSU is now 2-0 on the season.
The game was close for about the first 15 minutes, thanks to Idaho State making a bunch of 3-pointers. But Ike Iroegbu hit a 3 with just under five minutes to go before halftime to put WSU up 35-32, and the Cougs began to pull away, taking a 7-point lead into the break.
The Cougars stretched the lead out 11 points early in the second half, but a 6-0 run for ISU fueled by three WSU turnovers brought the Bengals back to within 5 points with 17 minutes to play. But WSU went on a 9-1 run of its own, keyed by a Josh Hawkinson 3-point play and a Valentine Izundu Dunk -- one of many on the night -- and the game was more or less out of reach.
Iroegbu led the Cougars with a career-high 21 points, adding 7 assists and 6 rebounds in what was his most complete game at WSU. Hawkinson had yet another double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while newcomers Renard Suggs and Izundu each scored 10.
Player of the Game
Valentine Izundu: 10 points, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks
Izundu has been a ton of fun to watch in these first two games. That crazy vertical we showed you before the season has translated into a whole bunch of blocks -- an absurd 10 of them in 37 minutes across two games.
This sequence is pretty representative of Izundu's night:
The big fella can run the floor! Valentine Izundu's block-dunk sequence is @WSUMensHoops' #12Best Moment. https://t.co/vcqakc4lyj— Pac-12 Networks (@Pac12Networks) November 21, 2015
Blocks and dunks are fun.
For now, Izundu is coming off the bench, behind Junior Longrus -- although Izundu did start the second half. It'll be interesting to see if Kent keeps him in that role; Izundu also is committing a lot of fouls (nearly seven per 40 minutes), and having him as a reserve could be an attempt to mitigate that. (Or, maybe he knows he's only going to play 20 minutes, so he can foul with impunity?)
It's also going to be interesting to see what happens when Izundu starts going against front lines that aren't quite as physically overmatched -- he's sells out pretty hard for most of these blocks. If you watch him, he's constantly hunting for opportunities to spike the ball into the 20th row. That's fine now, but could be a problem later.
I think that's actually part of the reason why WSU's defensive rebounding has been a bit mediocre -- going for blocks leaves you out of position to get a rebound, something WSU's last premier shot blocker, DeAngelo Casto, had to learn.
Here are our three takeaways from last night's game.
Kent is still sorting out the rotation. I think a big reason why WSU started so slowly is that Kent is still doing a pretty extreme amount of experimenting with his rotation: 11 different players logged at least four minutes in the first half, with seven of them playing at least 8 minutes. He's doing a ton of mixing and matching right now, trying to figure out what he's got and how he wants to use it. Thankfully, this season's pillow-soft opening to the schedule is allowing him to do it.
It's possible the second half provided a little clarity: The Cougars' best lineup featured Iroegbu, Suggs, Hawkinson and Izunudu -- each played at least 14 minutes in the final frame -- and I have a feeling that's going to be the core (with Callison at the point) that you're going to see Kent lean on. It does make the Cougs fairly small on the perimeter (Callison, Iroegbu and Suggs all check in at 6-foot-2 or shorter), but all three are competent ball handlers and Suggs is proving to be a potent scorer who might not be best served coming off the bench.
Point guard is still an issue. In the first game, presumed starter Charles Callison came off the bench after missing a class. Last night, Callison started, but an apparently thigh injury kept him out most of the night. In both cases, Ny Redding was the first to assume the spot, and his performance has been ... spotty. He's still dishing out assists, but he's also still turning the ball over too much and shooting it poorly to boot.
In fact, Iroegbu ended up manning the point for most of the second half, which is precisely what Kent was trying to avoid this year.
"To his credit he allows us to play him off the ball when teams are playing you man and you can get out and run in transition," Kent said after the game. "I felt like he was the headier point guard on the floor tonight, so when we moved him over it gave us a chance with those shooters on the floor to spread the floor and opened up driving lanes and it gave us an opportunity to attack the basket, shoot the 3, get fouled, knock down a free throw. His quickness and athleticism was on display because that zone sort of opened up once we started knocking down some 3s."
He was fine, but Kent obviously doesn't think that's his ideal deployment of talent. Keep an eye on it.
Clifford remains lost. There was a lot of hope for the big 7-footer to become an immediate impact player, but through two games, his impact has been minimal. He's played just 14 minutes, scoring 5 points and committing 5 fouls in that limited action.
Sometimes it takes a little bit of time for junior college big men to adjust, and it's looking like Clifford is no different. It's not a problem -- for now -- but WSU is going to need him to be serviceable in a week and a half when Gonzaga comes to town, since he and Izundu are going to need to take turns handling Przemek Karnowski down low.
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