It appears the WSU finally had enough of losing to Idaho.
The Cougars snapped a two-game losing streak to their cross-border rivals with their best defensive performance of the season to send the Vandals back to Moscow with a 61-48 loss.
It wasn’t beautiful basketball — neither team eclipsed 40 percent shooting for the night, they combined for 42 turnovers, and they scored an abysmal 0.89 and 0.70 points per possession, respectively — but the Cougars did find something they’d been missing during this recent run of poor play: An inspired effort.
WSU ran out to a 23-8 lead, and the Vandals didn’t reach double digits until there was just under eight minutes left in the first half. Sometimes, good defense is credited when the opponent simply bricks plenty of open looks, but this was actually a case of the Cougars deploying an active defense that bothered Idaho into a lot of difficult shots.
The Vandals would never get the margin to single digits the rest of the way.
Ike Iroegbu led the way with 16 points and 7 rebounds, while Malachi Flynn contributed 12 points in just 24 foul-plagued minutes. Josh Hawkinson posted his usual double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Here are three observations from the game.
Flynn is really important to this team
Turn’s out, there’s a reason the true freshman has played the second-most minutes on the team: Ernie Kent really, really needs him at the point. Tonight was only the second time this season he’d played fewer than 32 minutes, and it was obvious why — the offense was pretty much a mess while he sat on the bench with four fouls.
I got an appreciation for just what Flynn brings while he was riding the bench. There’s a quiet confidence about him with the ball in his hands, and it’s clear he’s in charge. The assists aren’t piling up yet, but his subtle command of the halfcourt was most noticeable in his absence.
That’s saying something for a true freshman.
I worry about what his legs are going to be like as these games pile up and the competition gets more physical. But when you add in his scoring contributions, it’s pretty cool to watch right now.
The offense still stinks for the same reasons
Yes, the defense was really good. But the double-digit margin masks what was another putrid offensive performance. You might remember this thing I wrote at the end of last season. Practically nothing has changed.
The Cougars now have three games where they turned the ball over on more than 20 percent of their possessions — including a mind-boggling season-high 27 percent tonight, which, unsurprisingly, led to that season-low efficiency mark — but they actually won two of those games.
That’s not going to translate into wins against better competition.
Did you know WSU is one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country?
Here’s how you keep your offense afloat on a night when you turn it over on one of every four possessions and miss six out of every 10 shots: Go to the line 23 times and make 19 of them.
WSU now ranks 33rd in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) and 32nd in free throw percentage. That’s pretty nice.
The Cougs now travel to Kansas City, Missouri, on Saturday for the first part of a rare high major (sort of) home-and-home with Kansas State. The game tips off at 5 p.m. PT and can be seen on WatchESPN.com.