The Washington State Cougars blew a 13-point lead in a 85-77 loss to the Nebraska Omaha Mavericks on Thursday. Omaha was led by 20 points from KJ Robinson, including 18 in the decisive second half.
WSU turned to the 3-pointer down the stretch, and that proved ultimately fatal. The Cougs made just 5 of their 22 3-point attempts from deep in the final 20 minutes. That’s after knocking down 7 of 13 in the first half. Of course, the 2-pointers were even worse, as WSU hit on just 2 of 13 from inside the arc in the final stanza.
Omaha used a quick shooting start to lead for most of the first 13 minutes of the game. The Mavericks held a 27-24 advantage with 7:06 to play in first half after an Omaha bucket answered an Issac Bonton 3-pointer.
Jeff Pollard would bury one from long range on the next possession to tie the game, and that would spark a 24-8 Cougar run to finish the half. At intermission, WSU led 48-35. It looked like the Cougs had taken control of the game for good. That was not the case.
That 13-point halftime lead would not last. Omaha chipped away slowly, capitalizing on a poor WSU shooting performance and finding offense of its own to recapture the lead on a Robinson 3-pointer with just 5:49 to play. It was a lead the Mavericks would never relinquish, and continue to extend down the stretch.
CJ Elleby was unstoppable early, looking all the mismatch he should be against a mid-major squad. He scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the first half on just 10 shots. He would muster just nine points on nine shots after that, as the offense showed little movement and instead deferred to Elleby to create. So it goes this season, this team’s offense is only going as far as he will take them.
In the end, Omaha was in control for about 33 minutes of the game outside of that seven-minute stretch to end the first half for Wazzu. The Mavericks outscored the Cougs 50 to 29 over the last 20 minutes, hitting 15 of 28 second-half shots and 6 of 11 from deep. Omaha also turned the ball over just three times after intermission, helping make this WSU’s worst defensive half of the young season.
This loss doesn’t leave a great feeling for what lies ahead for the Cougs. The rest of the Pac-12 has taken big step forward as a whole, and WSU just lost to a team that was rated No. 183 nationally by KenPom headed into tonight’s matchup. The hallmark of this team is supposed to be defense, and that end was shredded for all but a short stretch of the game.
Hopefully they can fix mistakes quickly. The Cougs face the Nebraska Cornhuskers next on Monday in the opening round of the Cayman Islands Classic, where they are guaranteed to play three games in three days—all against teams that should be better than Omaha.