The Washington State Cougars continued their stronger play to end the season when they jumped up for a surprising win over the Oregon Ducks on Thursday night, 78-76.
It was the Cougs’ third win in their last five games and raised their conference record to 4-13 and their overall record to 12-17. The Ducks, meanwhile, fell to 19-11 overall and likely saw whatever slim chance they had of earning an at-large NCAA tournament bid disappear for good.
Led by a superlative night from Malachi Flynn — who racked up 28 points (on just 16 shots), 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals — WSU was reasonably in control for much of the game. It was a sharp contrast to the first meeting between the two teams, in which Oregon won by 27 points.
But the Cougars had three things going for them this time: Flynn, Robert Franks (who missed the first meeting) and defensive turnovers.
WSU used the 1-3-1 zone that it has deployed periodically this season to slow Oregon down and disrupt the offense. Although the Ducks still shot the ball pretty well — including making 63 percent of their twos — they missed some threes they would probably normally hit (shooting 10-of-32), and gave the ball away more than they typically do, turning it over on nearly 20 percent of their possessions.
It was enough to suppress the Ducks’ production to 1.15 points per possession — not a good mark for a defense by any means, but it was enough for the Cougs to give them a fighting chance on a night when their offense was better than usual.
Flynn had a ton to do with that, as he was a one-man wrecking crew. His points, rebounds, assists and steals all were game highs. That’s a remarkable feat. It was fitting that he made the plays down the stretch that sealed the victory.
With 1:21 to go and WSU leading by just two, Flynn picked up his fourth steal of the game, finding Franks shortly thereafter for a layup and a four-point lead. Then, with WSU leading by just one and Oregon poised to tie it from the free throw line, Flynn swooped in to pick up the defensive rebound when Payton Pritchard uncharacteristically missed the back end of a one-and-one. Flynn would hit just one of the two ensuing free throws, but it was enough to provide the final margin.
An underrated aspect of the Cougars’ offensive attack was that WSU wasn’t afraid to go to the basket a bit more than usual — against a team that blocks a fair amount of shots. WSU shot fewer threes than usual (25 threes, 29 twos), but it resulted in a number of and-1 conversions and a few dunks as the Cougs shot a whopping 62 percent on their twos. (They were under 52 percent in Pac-12 play going into the contest.)
They also didn’t kill themselves with turnovers, although Milan Acquaah tried, turning it over six times in 11 minutes — the same number as the rest of the team in the rest of the game.
The Cougars now await the Oregon State Beavers, who come to Pullman for a 3:30 p.m. PT tipoff from Beasley Coliseum on Saturday.