The Washington State Cougars’ undefeated run to start the season came to an abrupt and unceremonious end on Saturday night when the Eastern Washington Eagles invaded Beasley Coliseum and left with a 76-71 victory.
The two teams had taken distinctly different paths into this one through their first five games; the Cougars had faced little trouble dispatching their opponents, while the Eagles came into the game with three losses.
There were signs of trouble before the game even tipped off: Starting wing Noah Williams and reserve wing TJ Bamba each were unavailable because of injury. But through the first half, it looked like it wouldn’t be problematic, as the Cougars led 19 points, 40-21, with just under two minutes to go in the first half. The game didn’t have a lot of flow because of fouls, but WSU certainly was doing enough to look like it was going to cruise to its sixth consecutive victory to open the season.
It all fell apart from there. EWU closed the half on a 7-0 run and then opened the second half on a 10-0 run to trim the lead all the way to 2, and it was a fight from there — one the Cougars just weren’t prepared for.
Eastern finally took the lead with 12:04 to play when Mason Landdeck — who would score 24 points on just 12 shots after coming into the game with just 17 points total on the season — drained a 3-pointer after Jefferson Koulibaly went under a screen to make the score 48-47.
It was back-and-forth from there, with neither team taking a lead of more than 4 points. WSU struggled mightily shooting the ball, but the game was tied with 2:49 to go at 65 when Michael Flowers hit a 3-pointer, his fifth of the game.
But the Eagles went on a 7-0 run as DJ Rodman gave up an and-1, Flowers missed a 3, Ethan Price got a fortunate bounce on a post shot, and Landdeck turned a WSU turnover into a layup.
The Cougars were in desperation mode from there, and it appeared they might have a shot after they forced a turnover on the inbound down 5 and then Tyrell Roberts converted a layup to get within 3 with 51 seconds to play. All they needed was a stop, and they’d have a chance.
They couldn’t get the stop. Steele Venters missed a layup, but with WSU overplaying the drive, Casey Jones came away with the offensive board — one of just eight on the night for EWU — and the Cougars were forced to foul. Landdeck hit both free throws for his final points of the night, and it was all but over.
The Cougars hadn’t lost to EWU since the 1990s. WSU now heads out this week to start conference play, traveling to Tempe to take on reeling Arizona State on Wednesday.
This is a very bad loss: Yes, WSU was missing two key players, including a starter. However, Eastern — the No. 245 ranked team at kenpom.com — should still have presented only a minor challenge to the remaining Cougs. We’ve all been marveling at how deep this team is, right? There’s no excuse for this, not when WSU was fielding a bunch of 4-stars against the roster that David Riley cobbled together in the wake of last season’s mass exodus. This was the danger of playing this kind of schedule: When it comes tournament selection time a loss to a “quadrant 4” team like EWU can really, really sting.
It was keyed by very bad offense: The offense had been leading the way for WSU through the first five games, with the Cougars regularly posting efficiency numbers generally unseen in Kyle Smith’s first two seasons. That came to a screeching halt tonight, as WSU posted less than a point per possession (0.95) behind an improbably poor shooting performance. WSU was just 10-of-30 on 2s after making nearly 60% of their shots from inside the arc through the first five games, and they shot just 29% from 3. Their only saving grace was making 24-of-28 free throws and only turning the ball over 13 times.
Time to worry about Efe? Abogidi only played 13 minutes, wasn’t on the floor at the end of the game, and it wasn’t because of foul trouble; he just wasn’t very effective, scoring only 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting with 4 rebounds (3 offensive) and no blocks. It’s that last stat that is a little concerning; he contested plenty of shots, but didn’t get to any of them. We know he entered the season recovering from a knee injury, and we know that he’s been put back on a minutes restriction as they try to manage it. He’s a difference maker, particularly on defense, and if he’s impacted as much as it looked tonight, it’s a big blow.
Did You See That?
"I think we'll have them for Wednesday, but it's too early to tell right now."- Kyle Smith on TJ Bamba and Noah Williams, who were out tonight in WSU's loss to EWU.— Brenna Greene (@BrennaGreene_) November 28, 2021
Says Williams got hurt in practice yesterday.