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Cougars fall short on Jackrabbits’ game-winning 3

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PULLMAN, WA - NOVEMBER 9: Washington State Men’s Basketball versus Alcorn State at Beasley Coliseum - TJ Bamba (5) Jack Ellis/CougCenter

South Dakota State’s Baylor Scheierman hit a game-winning three over Andrej Jakimovski at the buzzer to give the Jackrabbits a 77-74 win against the Washington State Cougars on Saturday.

The Cougars (7-3, 1-1 in Pac-12) came up with a steal and knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the game with 23 seconds to play. This after trailing by as many as 10 points just six minutes prior. That left South Dakota State (9-3) one last chance with the shot clock turned off. Scheierman drove to his left on a step-back and hit a high-arcing three after Jakimovski slipped and fell to the floor.

WSU forward Dishon Jackson (hand) was again inactive for the Cougars, who made the trip up north to play at Spokane Arena for a neutral-site game. Reserve guard Jefferson Koulibaly re-joined the team after being inactive on Wednesday, but did not play.

WSU got off to a hot start, building a 16-8 lead in the first six minutes. T.J. Bamba ignited the run, scoring a quick eight points. The offensive surge was short-lived, and another infamous scoring drought resulted in WSU scoring just 15 points in the final 14 minutes of the first half. While WSU went cold, the Jackrabbits hit a barrage of threes, handing WSU its first halftime deficit of the season at 39-31.

Kyle Smith shook up the second half starting lineup, inserting D.J. Rodman in to go along with Michael Flowers, Noah Williams, Bamba and Efe Abogidi. The change inspired quite the spark as WSU quickly erased the deficit with an 8-0 run to tie the game at 39. The Cougars would follow this up with an 11-5 run to push the WSU lead to six.

A Jackrabbit timeout brought WSU’s offense to a screeching halt. Coming out of the break, the Jackrabbits went on a big run of their own, outscoring WSU 16-3 over a nearly five-minute gap to build 10 with six and a half minutes to go. The run included two droughts of two minutes or more without a point for the Cougars.

Back-to-back threes from Williams and Flowers got the Cougars right back into the game with a little less than six minutes to go, reducing the Jackrabbits lead to just four. Flowers hit four threes in this game and ended up leading all scorers with a season-high 24 points.

The teams went back-and-forth over the final four minutes with the Jackrabbits keeping the Cougars at a two-possession distance for most of it. Flowers hit a deep step-back two, which was just the length of a big toe away from a three, with 30 seconds to go to give the Cougars some life. WSU used a full-court press to create a takeaway from a trap deep on the SDSU side. Williams came up with the ball and dished to Bamba inside drew a foul and knocked down both free throws to tie the game.

That set the stage for Scheierman’s game-winner.

It’s a devastating loss for the Cougars who really need these out-of-conference wins to bolster their resume. This is now a pair of last-second losses in back-to-back weeks. These games are especially important in a conference that looks significantly weaker than expected in the preseason.

Shooting droughts, the inability to disrupt the Jackrabbits’ rhythm from outside early in the game and a lack of offensive identity — especially in the paint — throughout the game resulted in multiple holes that became too deep for the Cougars to dig out of.

Flowers and Bamba would both set season-highs in points at 24 and 19 respectively. The 19 for Bamba is a career-high.

The Cougars will need to rebound in a big way when they face the New Mexico State Aggies on Wednesday night in Pullman.