The Cougs (probably) end their season at 14-13 with the first winning season for the program since 2012. Postseason options are available — notably, the CBI will be holding its tournament at one site in Florida this year — but it’s unknown if WSU will pursue that.
In so many ways, this loss was a microcosm of the ups and downs WSU has played through all season.
The Cougars, who came into the game as one of worst teams in the country at taking care of the ball, turned it over a whopping 20 times, just shy of a mind-blowing 30% of possessions. It was their second-worst performance of the season in terms of ball security.
And yet, had they avoided turnovers 19 and/or 20, they likely still would have won and advanced to face top-seeded Oregon in the quarterfinals — their defense was that good on the day.
With just over a minute to go, Noah Williams made a driving layup (with the help of a goaltending call) to give WSU a 59-58 lead, setting up a wild sequence to finish it out. ASU’s Remy Martin drove into the lane wildly looking for contact, throwing a desperation shot at the rim, and getting the phantom foul — something that was once again a theme in this one, as WSU was whistled for 19 fouls to ASU’s 15.
But Martin missed them both — some might call that justice — and WSU came back down with a chance to extend the lead and ASU running out of time. However, Isaac Bonton had his pocket picked by Martin (turnover 18), leading to a 3-on-1 fast break for ASU ... which they botched for a turnover of their own to give the ball back to WSU with 31 seconds left.
ASU coach Bobby Hurley called a timeout, setting up a press — something the Cougars had broken a couple of times with relative ease before that, including on Williams’ layup to give them the lead. Bonton inbounded the ball to Williams, but instead of protecting the ball, Williams looked like he was anticipating a foul ... but ASU tied him up for turnover 19. (On one of the quicker held ball whistles you’ll see, I might add.)
Given new life, ASU hunted for the go-ahead points. But WSU’s defense held firm as it had for virtually the entire game — in the end, WSU would allow only 0.89 points per possession to the Sun Devils — and forced Alonzo Verge, ASU’s only semi-reliable halfcourt threat in the game, into an extremely difficult attempt as the shot clock wound down.
Somehow, he made this:
Still, with the score 60-59, the Cougs only needed a bucket with 11.7 seconds to go to win it. ASU put on another press, Williams once again easily broke it, and he streaked down the floor toward the basket with a 2-on-3 in the paint.
There were lots of options at his disposal. He could have chose to draw and dump to one of the big men down low, or he could have pulled up for a trademark floater. Instead, he went for option 3 and barreled into the help defender stepping into the lane. No whistle came, the ball squirted away, and ASU picked up the pieces (Williams’ 7th turnover and WSU’s 20th), dribbling the clock away until the Cougars finally fouled with 1 second left.
Moments later, WSU coach Kyle Smith picked up a technical foul for throwing a water bottle — either for the no-call on Williams or for the no-call when Isaac Bonton fouled Jaelen House with four seconds to go that allowed three more seconds to run off the clock and effectively end the game — and ASU made all four free throws, really really ending the game.
It was a maddening and frustrating end to a season that was lifted by flashes of promise but ultimately sunk more often by injuries and inexperience. Senior guard Isaac Bonton, who played in just one game (that he should not have played in) since suffering ankle injuries (plural) against USC on February 13, returned to looking more or less like himself, scoring 19 points with 4 rebounds and 4 assists, including this banger:
ISAAC BONTON FROM DEEP— Cougar Sports Network (@CougSportsNet) March 10, 2021
Both Dishon Jackson and DJ Rodman put together reasonably efficient offensive performances, combining for 20 points on just 14 shots and also picking up 13 rebounds between them. Efe Abogidi played well for his 15 minutes as he battled foul trouble.
But Williams had those 7 turnovers against just 11 points, and Jaz Kunc, who had been an offensive spark plug for the team in recent weeks, missed all eight of his shots for zero points. Thanks to all those turnovers — and a subpar game on the offensive glass — the Cougs ended up scoring just 0.82 points despite making 50% of their twos; shooting just 6-of-22 on threes certainly didn’t help the cause.
However, it also needs to be said that Williams did an incredible job defensively on Martin, who had just 6 points on 10 attempts. It was part of a tremendous team effort on that end, and giving up 0.89 points per possession should be a near-automatic win for just about any team, and in reality, the WSU defense was even better than that number would suggest: ASU had 18 fast break points, most of those coming on the heels of live-ball turnovers by WSU that presented easy transition opportunities — the Sun Devils stole the ball on nearly 20% of the Cougars’ possessions, almost twice their typical output — not to mention the 4 free points that were tacked on at the end.
The offense just couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain. And now ... we wait. Does Isaac Bonton return for another season? He certainly seemed to leave the door open after the game:
Isaac Bonton indicates he's still thinking about this season and won't begin planning the future until #WSU knows it won't be playing in a postseason tournament.— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) March 10, 2021
Could WSU end up in a postseason tournament? I think we all would love to see this team play some more.