The Cougars, who hadn’t played in a week since winning just one game at a holiday tournament on the Cayman Islands, moved to 4-4 on the season with the win. Idaho dropped to 3-6.
It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of games, particularly from the outset; WSU led 32-24 at the break while shooting just 45% eFG. Idaho, meanwhile, was languishing at 35.5% eFG, and each team reached double digits in turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
However, the Cougars broke away from what had been a recent trend of poor second half performances. They immediately went on a 14-4 run out of halftime to take an 18-point lead in the first four minutes, keyed by reserve forward Tony Miller who converted an and-1 and then followed with a dunk. Miller, a walk-on transfer from the Montana Grizzlies, would up leading the team with 18 points.
The lead stretched as high as 25 when Marvin Cannon drained a 3-pointer with just under five minutes left in the game to make it 72-47. Although the game was statistically over at that point, the Vandals drilled a bunch of threes down the stretch to make the game appear much closer than it actually was.
The Cougs were fighting a couple of notable absences. First, Isaac Bonton sat the game out with what sounds like a virus. Bonton has been an extremely high usage player for WSU while also being incredibly inefficient (due to terrible shooting), so it was interesting to see how the offense would perform without him. The answer: Still not good! The Cougs scored under 1.0 points per possession despite playing what has been one of the worst defenses in all of Division I. Two-point shooting went up (due in large part to Miller), three-point shooting was still bad, and turnovers spiked without Bonton’s ball handling.
The other absence was Deion James, whose career at WSU has ended after just five games. That leaves the frontcourt perilously thin; while Miller had a nice game tonight against the undersized Vandals, the going will be tougher against the bigger teams in the Pac-12. It’s going to be up to freshman 7-footer Volodymyr Markovetskyy to develop quickly.
In addition to Miller, Jaylen Shead — the other grad transfer — had probably his best game as a Coug; although he only scored six points on nine shots, he had nine assists, eight rebounds, and three steals with just three turnovers in 37 minutes. He was a workhorse. In Bonton’s absence, freshman Noah Williams returned to a prominent role, and he delivered, posting 12 points, three rebounds, an assist and two steals in 16 minutes.
CJ Elleby, meanwhile, had an awful game and it didn’t matter one bit. Nice to have it happen against an overmatched foe!
The Cougars are in action next on Saturday against the New Mexico State Aggies in Spokane. There’s a pretty good chance the Aggies are the best team the Cougs have played this season. Let’s hope Bonton comes back and scores like it seems Kyle Smith thinks he can.