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Turnovers, poor shooting doom WSU in 65-63 loss to UW

Jaz Kunc leads the way with 14.

PULLMAN, WA - FEBRUARY 15: Washington State forward Aljaz Kunc (4) drives to the hoop during the second half of a Pac 12 matchup between the Washington Huskies and the Washington State Cougars on February 15, 2021, at Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, WA.
Jaz Kunc drives to the basket against UW.
Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Marcus Tsohonis scored the last two of his game-high 29 points to break a tie with just 2.4 seconds to play, and the Washington State Cougars saw their three-game win streak over the Washington Huskies snapped with a 65-63 loss on Monday night in Pullman.

WSU dropped to 12-10 overall and 5-10 in the Pac-12, while UW improved to 4-16 and 3-12 to move a half a game out of last place.

The decisive sequence happened so quickly, it was almost hard to keep up.

Down by 3 with 26 seconds to play, Efe Abogidi missed what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer — he’s now missed his last 13 from beyond the arc — but Noah Williams grabbed the rebound and was fouled, putting him at the line. He coolly buried both, making the Cougs 17-of-18 from the line — really the major reason they were even close in spite of all their offensive flaws on the night.

Down by 1, WSU’s press nearly worked, but Jamal Bey got loose and he was intentionally fouled with 16 seconds to play. He split the free throws to put UW up by a pair with just 16 seconds to go.

Williams took the inbounds pass and charged up the floor, and as sometimes happens late in a game, the other team is so afraid to foul that the seas just part. Williams simply took it all the way to the rim and laid it in, tying it up with 10 seconds to go.

Which, of course, is a lot of time.

Tsohonis made his way quickly up the floor as Williams — ostensibly WSU’s best perimeter defender — chased him down to matched him up. Tsohonis isolated on the right side with about six seconds to go.

On this night, it was no contest. Tsohonis crossed him over fairly easily, getting into the lane and lofting a floater over Efe Abogidi, who was caught in no-man’s land.

The easy narrative is that the Cougars lost because they were playing without Isaac Bonton, who left the floor injured near the end of the game against USC on Saturday. But Washington also was playing without its best player, Quade Green.

What UW had was Tsohonis, who has been explosive at times in a reserve role. What WSU had was Williams, a Seattle native who has talked a lot after playing well in the three wins against UW.

Only one of those guys was able to step up in the absence of their team’s talisman, and it wasn’t Williams.

“(Tsohonis) is a human heat check,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “He’s really slithery, he’s hard to get physical with, he doesn’t really get contact and he can just really score. They’ve got a few of those and without Quade Green out there, they needed somebody else to step up and he did. He’s a guy, you don’t want him to make his first shot, I assure you that. He did and he just kept it going.”

The story of the game really was written in the first half. The Cougars spent the vast majority of the opening period looking like they’d never before played without Bonton, despite having done so just a couple of weeks ago. They were indecisive with their passes, careless with the ball, and poor in their shooting.

WSU racked up 13 turnovers in the first half alone, a total that would make a lot of coaches around the country mad as a bad game. Much of it came about trying to force the ball into the post for Dishon Jackson and Abogidi in order to lean into WSU’s advantage inside. Sometimes the entries were just bad, and sometimes the passer and the post man weren’t on the same page. Sloppy plays made up most of the rest of the giveaways. Williams and TJ Bamba led the way with three turnovers apiece.

Meanwhile, UW’s troubles were minimal by comparison. The Huskies didn’t shoot well early on, but they did get out to a 12-4 lead while the Cougars couldn’t find themselves. A cold stretch allowed the Cougars to go on an 8-0 run to take a one-point lead at 21-20 with just over seven minutes to go before the break, and it appeared that each team had settled with their counterpunches.

But the Cougs went back to what got them in their hole in the first place, and Tsohonis — easily the Huskies’ most dangerous scorer in the absence of Green — went off. The Huskies ripped off 13 straight points, with Tsohonis accounting for 8 of them. In all, he scored 16 points before the break on 7-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-2 from 3-point range.

“We just weren’t getting very good possessions,” Smith said. “Weren’t getting the ball inside. Credit to them, they changed the way they guard a little bit from the first time we played them. I thought we took some bad shots in that stretch, some turnovers, some unforced turnovers. We just never really settled in first half.”

Only an Andrej Jakimovski 3-pointer with about a minute to go broke the run, and the Cougs went into the break down 10, 36-26, after shooting just 8-of-23 from the floor — including a paltry 5-of-13 on 2s. Williams had just 5 points on 1-of-6; Jackson’s 11 points were about the only thing keeping it from getting completely out of hand.

WSU quickly fell behind by 14 at the start of the second, but the Cougs embarked from there on an improbable 17-1 run to take the lead. It was keyed by Jaz Kunc, who stepped into the void to continue a nice run of games; he scored a layup, a couple of free throws, and a pair of jumpers to power the Cougs to a 45-43 lead with just under 9 minutes to go.

Tsohonis, though, came back on the next possession with a 3-pointer. And the Cougs would never lead again.

One critical stretch came with just under 6 minutes to go. Ryan Rapp tied the game at 51 with a 3-pointer, but the offense went cold once again. Over the next three minutes, Rapp missed a midrange jumper, Jackson missed a putback, Rapp missed a 3, and then Jakimovski missed a pair of wide-open 3s on the same possession. UW only scored 6 over that period, though, giving the Cougs a little window to try and win the game.

They fought back. They just couldn’t close the deal.

The turnovers were better in the second half, but 19 for a game (nearly 30% of their possessions) is just so much to overcome — particularly when the opponent only turns it over 6 times. And the strong free throw shooting nearly masked the poor shooting from the field: Just 20-of-49 overall, including 6-of-21 from 3.

Kunc had his 14 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting — including 2-of-2 from deep — with 6 rebounds, an assist, a block, and zero turnovers in 30 minutes. Jackson finished with 13 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks; Williams finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 turnovers; Abogidi finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, a steal, and 4 turnovers.

WSU hosts Cal on Thursday night, and things don’t sound great for Bonton’s return.