No Isaac Bonton was no problem for the Washington State Cougars who continued their perfect start to the season with a resounding 82-54 victory over the Montana State Bobcats.
Bonton, the team’s leading scorer, sat out the game with what the television broadcast described as a thigh injury. And while he’s undoubtedly been inefficient with his scoring on the offensive end, it was fair to wonder how the Cougars would compensate without their talisman.
The answer was “very, very well.”
Coach Kyle Smith elected to roll out the “double big” lineup for the first time this season, starting both Efe Abogidi and Vova Markovetskyy along with Ryan Rapp, Noah Williams, and Andrej Jakimovski. If you’re keeping track, that would be three sophomores and two freshmen.
Offensively, Williams took the lead, as would have been expected. But he got plenty of help, too — Rapp made the first bucket of game(!), and Abogidi scored scored the next 7 with a layup, a 3, and a put-back dunk. Williams picked it up from there, and the Cougars raced out to a 24-9 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game.
The Cougs never slowed down, eventually carrying a 46-21 lead into halftime, after — really, for the first time all year — simply hitting some shots: They made 18-of-29 shots, but only had four assists on those makes, well below their normal assist rate. Williams went to the locker room with 14 points, while Abogidi had 13.
But it wasn’t all offense: WSU allowed just 21 points over 34 possessions, a paltry 0.62 points per trip as WSU completely stifled the Bobcats. Williams made life difficult for MSU’s leading scorer, 5-foot-8 Xavier Bishop, and MSU found it difficult to get a decent shot off anywhere in the paint with the twin towers waiting near the rim.
When a fairly inexperienced team takes a big lead to the break, there can often be a lull in intensity at some point, but there was no second-half run in the offing for the Bobcats. While they hit more shots after the break, the Cougars never really slowed down in any meaningful way, and the lead only dropped below 20 points on two occasions — 19 points at 18:16 and 9:10 — and reached as high as 30 late in the game before settling on the final margin.
It was the first game all season completely devoid of drama, and it was glorious. The Cougars completely dominated the paint, scoring 30 points on layups and making 21-of-37 of their 2s overall, while also shooting a solid 7-of-20 from beyond the arc. They also got back to what we had gotten used to last year, hitting 19-of-24 free throws.
It all added up to a robust 1.19 points per possession for WSU, which was the first time this season the Cougars have exceeded 1.0 ppp.
Williams finished with 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Abogidi finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks for his first double-double in a season-high 33 minutes, while Rapp finished with 12 points, 3 assists and 2 steals and Jakimovski chipped in 10 points and 7 rebounds.