Coming into Sunday night, the Montana State Bobcats had beaten just one Division I team in seven tries — the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
The Washington State Cougars made that two in eight when MSU marched into Kennewick and shot its way right past WSU for a 95-90 victory, sending Ernie Kent’s program to a new low.
The Bobcats (now 3-6) entered the game ranked 314 out of 353 Division I teams via kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency margin; it was only the second time since 2002 that WSU had lost to a sub-300 opponent. (Ken Bone’s Cougs lost to the 336th-ranked Utah Runnin’ Utes in 2011.) WSU lost earlier in the season to then-No. 251 Seattle University, and Kent has now lost to a team ranked 200 or worse in each of his five seasons.
As it has in so many games under Kent, the defense failed spectacularly. The Bobcats entered the game being expected to score 1.01 points per possession against a Division I-average defense. But the Cougs’ new-and-improved, long-and-athletic defense allowed 1.18 points — or, the difference between allowing 81 points in an 81-possession game ... or 95 points.
In my preview, I focused on how the Bobcats like to turn the ball over and how that was likely to lead to transition baskets for WSU. And those two things did happen, at least a little. What I neglected to notice was that MSU likes to shoot tons of threes, and WSU likes to allow its opponents to shoot tons of threes. Up until now, they’d gotten away with it. But when you do that, you’re playing with fire, scarecrow — there’s always the chance your opponent gets uncharacteristically hot and hits a bunch of those shots.
Such was the case on Sunday, when the Cougars were (mostly) undone by the Bobcats’ 16-of-32 performance from beyond the arc.
About the only even sort of OK thing about tonight was that Ernie didn’t try to come up with some ridiculous excuse for the loss.
“We just got torched in terms of the long ball. And that was the No. 1 thing on our scouting report was to make this team a driving team and not a 3-point shooting team … so obviously I didn’t get that message across to my team,” Kent said on the postgame show.
Unsurprisingly, both Robert Franks and CJ Elleby had strong offensive games for WSU, scoring 25 and 20 points, respectively. Carter Skaggs hit 3-of-7 from deep on his way to 14 points.
WSU is off this week for finals and will resume the season next Monday, Dec. 17, when the Cougars host Rider — a game WSU is projected by kenpom.com to lose.