Washington State, which had cruised through its first four games, got its first — sorta? — scare of the season on Monday when the Winthrop Eagles trimmed a 24-point second-half deficit all the way to five points with 12 seconds to go, but the Cougars made enough of their free throws down the stretch to secure a 92-86 victory.
As they had in the first four games, the Cougars dominated this one early, taking a 16-point lead after just eight minutes had elapsed behind an 18-3 run. Tyrell Roberts and Noah Williams each rediscovered their 3-point strokes, and WSU appeared to be off and running.
The lead reached 23 points just 7 minutes later after a 14-3 run that featured 6 points from Dishon Jackson and 5 more points from Williams, who scored 12 of the Cougars’ first 35 points. WSU went to the locker room with a 19-point lead, which they had amassed in much the same fashion as the first four games: Efficient offense and stifling defense. The Eagles had shot just 38% overall and only 3-of-8 from 3-point range.
WSU pushed the lead to 24 points about 6 minutes into the second half, despite the best efforts of Patrick Good, whose quartet of 3s over that span couldn’t prevent the Eagles from falling farther behind.
That’s when it started to turn — and not in a good way for WSU.
Good kept hitting from beyond the arc, and the Cougars’ offense went stagnant. While WSU struggled to find any rhythm, Winthrop kept bombing away ... and making. The Eagles’ defense, however, wasn’t airtight, sending WSU to the line repeatedly. While the Cougars didn’t shoot great from the line, they made enough of them to overcome the fact that they only made one field goal over the final 11 minutes of the game.
Despite the final margin — and despite the plethora of teaching points that Kyle Smith now has at his disposal — once again, this was a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated and was never seriously in doubt.
Michael Flowers led the team with 20 points, while Williams had 19. Mouhamed Gueye and Dishon Jackson each pulled down 8 rebounds, and each had a pair of blocks.
The Cougars are now off for Thanksgiving, returning on Saturday to host Eastern Washington (4:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network).
Shocking shooting defense: Look, there are two ways to look at the shooting barrage from Winthrop in the second half. One way is to say, “The Eagles shot 13-of-22 from beyond the arc in the second half? That’s barely sustainable against air!” You wouldn’t be wrong. However, we all know that the best way to prevent a 3-pointer is to keep your opponent from shooting a 3-pointer, and, under Kyle Smith, the Cougars have been one of the best teams in the country at chasing opponents off the 3-point line.
Not tonight. Winthrop had far too many open looks due to bad fundamentals from WSU, and Good squeezed off a whopping 19 3-point attempts, connecting on a mind-blowing 11 of them. It’s pretty inexcusable to let one guy get that kind of volume without making him shoot near halfcourt. WSU seemed to be in cruise control on defense in much the same way that allowed UC Santa Barbara to make the final margin closer than it should have been. I honestly don’t think it’s that big of a deal — it’s really hard to sustain intensity for 40 minutes, and even harder when you’ve got a 24-point lead with 30ish minutes elapsed — but it’ll definitely irritate Smith.
When do we worry about defensive rebounding? I’m not there yet, but I’m ... mildly concerned? In Smith’s first two seasons, the Cougs were a top 100 defensive rebounding team. Right now, they’re 234th, giving up offensive rebounds on 31% of opponent misses — that’s about 5% higher than each of Smith’s first two seasons. Now, Winthrop only checked in at 25% overall, but there was a stretch where the Eagles were really getting after it on the offensive glass. Defensive rebounding is a staple of Smith’s philosophy, so you can bet it’s grinding his gears a little bit. Some of this surely is due to the Cougars’ rim protection, which means the bigs aren’t boxing out in the same fashion, but WSU is going to need to find the balance between affecting shots and securing the misses they generate.
Remember me??? When Michael Flowers committed to the Cougars, there was a belief that he probably was a like-for-like replacement for Isaac Bonton as a high volume scorer. That hasn’t turned out to be the case, as he’s only been a medium usage player who has contributed in myriad other ways. That all changed on Monday when he dropped 20 points, reminding everyone how he scored 21 points per game at South Alabama last season. He was 3-of-4 on 2s, 2-of-4 on 3s, and 8-of-11 at the free throw line — plus he had 2 assists and just 1 turnover. He has been steady and content to do whatever has been needed of him, exhibiting the kind of veteran leadership that Smith was hoping for when he brought Flowers in. And the lower usage is suiting Flowers’ production: His ultra-efficient 140 offensive rating is 64th nationally.
Did you see that?
Behold, the Cougars’ only field goal in the final 11:30 of the game. Also, there was not a foul called.