WSU defeated Texas Southern 77-65 on Saturday behind 20 points from Josh Hawkinson and 19 points from Ike Iroegbu to move to 4-0 on the season.
Like the three previous games, this contest was never really in doubt. The game was tied at 15 roughly seven minutes in, but WSU went on an 11-0 run which led to the Cougars closing out the half outscoring Texas Southern 32-11 over the final 13 minutes to lead 47-26 at the half.
WSU was able to do build that lead thanks to some strong defense against a severely undersized squad -- the Tigers featured no player taller than 6-foot-5. As they are wont to do, the Cougs held a block party in the first half, sending back six of the Tigers' 22 two-point shots.
"The first half was the best basketball that we’ve played since I’ve been here coaching at Washington State," Kent said. "I thought we were awesome – the way we ran, the rhythm of the game, the tempo of the game was outstanding."
The second half was much sloppier for the Cougars -- Texas Southern was able to close the gap to 10 points with just under 11 minutes remaining by outscoring WSU 18-5 to open the half, and the run was fueled by five turnovers by five different players.
"Mentally, the second half I didn’t think we were sharp or as focused," Kent said. "I thought we got greedy a little bit, took some bad shots. ... I feel like there was a moment at the start of the second half where we weren’t sharing the ball like we were in the fist half."
From that point on, though, the Cougars more or less cleaned up their act, turning the ball over just twice the rest of the way. Although the Tigers were able to shoot well enough down the stretch to keep the Cougs from running away with it, WSU used its athleticism to score 11 of its final 17 points either in the paint or from the free throw line.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Iroegbu's performance. He scored his 19 points on just nine -- NINE! -- shots, shooting 3-of-3 from behind the arc to go 7-of-9 overall. Twelve of those points came in the second half, as WSU was trying to hold off Texas Southern's semi-rally. Iroegbu also contributed 4 assists and 3 rebounds (although he also had 3 turnovers). Now averaging 13.8 points on the season, he's probably been the most pleasant surprise of 2015.
Hawkinson actually didn't start the game after missing Tuesday's win over Cal-State Los Angeles. He ended up scoring his 20 points in just 23 minutes. Although, if you care about such things, his limited action meant that his string of double-doubles to open the season was broken, as he picked up just four rebounds.
While both Iroegbu and Hawkinson were both impressive, they aren't our player of the game.
Player of the Game
Junior Longrus 8 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists
Longrus' limitations as a basketball player are well known -- he's got a center's skill set in an undersized power forward's body -- but he's become what some refer to as a "glue guy," the type of player who does the little things it takes to win.
That was on full display last night against a team that couldn't physically overwhelm him. Six of his 10 rebounds were on the offensive end, and he's proving to be the Cougars' most effective offensive rebounder -- when he's on the floor, he's currently grabbing an astounding 20 percent of WSU's misses. Right now, that's the eighth-best rate in the country.
He's also blocking a fair amount of shots and not turning the ball over when it touches his hands.
I don't expect that he'll keep up this kind of production against the bigger and more athletic front lines the Cougars will face as the season gets deeper. But for now, he's giving Kent some really positive, steady contributions as a number of new players find their way. That's important.
The tomato cans end now: WSU faces (by far) its stiffest challenge of the season when Gonzaga comes to town on Wednesday. That game will tip off at 8 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.