After a promising opening to the year, the Washington State Cougars stumbled in their second game, losing on the road to Boise State, 71-61.
Both teams are now 1-1.
The game was tough on the eyes from start to finish, as befitting both an early season game and also a pair of teams that pride themselves on defense — both the Cougars and Broncos ranked inside kenpom.com’s top 30 last season in adjusted defensive efficiency, and neither team cracked 1.0 points per possession in this one.
But it was the Cougars who had the tougher go of it. WSU trailed by seven at the half after shooting just 29% overall — including 3-of-15 from 3-point range. The flowing offense we loved in the opener was nowhere to be found, as the Broncos shrunk the floor with their excellent fundamentals and the Cougs stagnated.
WSU made multiple runs at the Boise in the second half — largely fueled by TJ Bamba, who finished with a career-high 24 points. But each time, the Broncos answered back.
- A TJ Bamba 3-pointer with 15:29 to go capped an 8-0 run that pulled the Cougs to within one at 36-35. Over the next three minutes, BSU stretched the lead back out to seven.
- Another Bamba 3-pointer with 8:48 to go capped a 9-2 run to tie the game at 48. Over the next three minutes, BSU stretched the lead back out to eight.
- A pair of Bamba free throws with 4:06 to go capped a 6-0 run that pulled the Cougs to within two at 56-54. BSU scored five points in its next two possessions (sandwiched around a stop) to stretch it back out to seven.
The Cougs wouldn’t get closer than five the rest of the way.
Missed opportunity: This loss doesn’t really hurt the NCAA tournament cause, but it’s definitely a missed opportunity to potentially build the resume. It remains to be seen how good Boise State is going to be this season — the Broncos lost their opener to South Dakota State — but they finished last season ranked in kenpom.com’s top 40 and were an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament. It was clear they were playing with a measure of desperation tonight, but if this is who the Broncos actually are, there’s a chance that they end up ranked high enough in NET that this would have been a Quad 1 resume builder. Alas.
Offensive offense: Whatever we thought the Cougars were going to be offensively after a great showing against Texas State, we got a dose of reality in this one. The Broncos shrunk the floor with their active defense, and WSU found space to operate hard to come by. After piling up all those assists in the opener, the Cougs had just three today — assisting on just 14% of their makes. The first half was marred by a plethora of contested jumpers, and while the second half was better, it was nobody’s definition of good.
Justin Powell, the darling of the first game, finished with 10 points, zero assists, and two turnovers. Jabe Mullins, whose ball movement and timely shooting looked so good in the opener, was 2-of-9 for five points. Only Bamba finished with an offensive rating over 100, using his strength to pressure the rim in a way that we’ve been dreaming of — but he also had four turnovers.
At just 0.85 points per possession, there’s still a lot of work to be done here.
Depth down: The starters each played 30-plus minutes in this one, and as we’ve established, it wasn’t because they were supremely effective — it was because there’s a real big dropoff after those five. Dishon Jackson and Myles Rice each were expected to play important roles, both are out for the season, and both would have been useful tonight. Andrej Jakimovski, meanwhile, will return at some point ... but until that happens, he is sorely missed. Kyle Smith clearly was coaching in these first two games to try and get to 2-0, and now the Cougs are going to have to figure out a way to expand the rotation. With three very winnable games on deck, it seems like a good time to figure out how those guys can contribute, because riding five guys all season for 30-plus minutes is not going to work.
Did you see that?
Not a lot of highlights, so here’s a nice spin move from Powell.
Justin Powell takes it to the hoop! He's got seven points to go with seven boards tonight.#GoCougs | #WAZZU pic.twitter.com/NHxUkDiUff— WSU Men's Basketball (@WSUCougarMBB) November 13, 2022
Boise State made 23 of its 46 twos and scored 42 points in the paint. Yuck.