Washington State has one more game – at least. The Cougars ensured that Monday night by battling past Oklahoma State 74-64 before 5,201 at Beasley Coliseum. Next up, Northwestern and its Princeton-style offense. That will be Wednesday night at 8 p.m. In Beasley. Read on.
• We talked of some key things tonight before the game and, as far as I could tell, the Cougars did a good job with all of them. There was the defensive work on Keiton Page, never letting the 5-foot-9 guard really get off. He finished 3-of-13 from the field, 2-of-11 from beyond the arc. There was the rebounding. Though OSU had 12 second-chance points and 10 offensive rebounds, the Cowboys didn't kill the Cougars there. (Part of that was Marshall Moses' foul trouble that kept him sitting on the bench. It's tough to make an impact from a seat.) And there was the way WSU handled Oklahoma State's defense, carving it up at times, including late in the second half when the Cowboys tried to make a run. ... So I guess that's why WSU was able to win by 10. The Cougars advance to the NIT's third round for only the second time, but this time, unlike 1995, that third-round game will be at home. WSU has never lost an NIT home game. ... Here's my story ...
PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars took another step toward New York on Monday night, and they didn't have to leave Beasley Coliseum.
And they won't have to.
The Cougars' 74-64 National Invitation Tournament victory over Oklahoma State came in front of 5,201 and left WSU (21-12) just one win away from the semifinals in Madison Square Garden.
"We've got to be playing at our best or, if not, close to it," said Klay Thompson, "because a lot of us know you can never go back, so we are trying to make the most of it. We know we have the ability to get to New York and win this tournament.
"We're playing like it."
They face their final hurdle to a Big Apple trip Wednesday night when Northwestern (20-13) comes to Pullman for an 8 p.m. contest.
"It's great to be home one more game," said WSU coach Ken Bone.
The Cougars earned their 18th – and last – home game of 2010-11 thanks to the 21 points of Thompson, another 17 from Brock Motum and timely contributions from just about everyone else.
And a defense that took away Oklahoma State's two top scorers – Marshall Moses and Keiton Page – for most of the game.
"I thought we had a great first half defensively," Bone said. "I was impressed with our guys' energy, focus and effort. And I thought our defense the second half was pretty good, better than it's been the last three or four games."
"It was more about what they did," said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, whose team opened the NIT last Tuesday with an easy win over Harvard. "We were very sluggish. A week off this time of year is not good ... and they jumped out on us 9-0. We got the lead back, but just never could get it going."
A big part of that was, as usual for WSU, Thompson.
"He's one of the best scorers in the country," Ford said earlier this week. "It's going to take more than one guy for the effort it will take. I don't think you can stop him."
Ford was right about both.
He tried more than one guy. And OSU, which finishes 20-14, couldn't stop Thompson.
The Cowboys tried double-teaming Thompson on the perimeter early. He had 14 first-half points as WSU took a 38-29 edge into the locker room.
The first three were the most impressive, as Thompson pulled up in transition from the "F" in the Friel Court logo, some 30 feet from the basket, and nailed a jumper. That helped WSU jump out to the nine-point lead.
But Oklahoma State settled down and clawed back in it, leading 19-17 on Page's lone first-half bucket, a 26-footer halfway through.
That, however, was the Cowboys' last lead.
With the OSU defense so focused on Thompson, other Cougars found open spots.
"I was very impressed how well this Washington State team, how well they play off Klay Thompson," Ford said. "How they play off each other. One thing we talked about was don't let them get the easy shots under the basket, guys cutting. And that's all they did."
Most notable in that regard was Motum, who came off the bench to score eight points in the final 5:12 before intermission and had 10 at the half.
"It opened up some possessions," Bone said of the Cowboys' focus on Thompson, "but I thought they did a good job on Klay."
The Cowboys did it mainly without their big horse, the 6-7, 255-pound Moses, who was saddled with two fouls early and came back just before half to pick up his third. After scoring his first field goal to open the second half, Moses bumped DeAngelo Casto a little over a minute after halftime and sat until the 5:32 mark.
Moses, a senior, fouled out with 1:54 remaining, throwing an elbow at Casto after WSU's 6-8 junior had blocked his shot. After reviewing the video, the officials assessed an intentional foul as Moses finished with two points, 12.5 under his average.
Without their leading scorer, the Cowboys offense stalled. And WSU built a lead that reached 14 points at one time, much of it through the not-so-usual suspects.
There were two 3-pointers by Abe Lodwick in the first 3 minutes after halftime.
There were two rise-above-the-crowd dunks by Marcus Capers, one off an inbounds play.
And there was five active minutes – and three points – from little-used Charlie Enquist in the first half.
Page, who came in averaging 13.3 points a game, finished with eight, but had just three at halftime and was a non-factor – even clanging two second half free throws after missing just 14 all season and shooting better than 90 percent. The 5-9 junior finished just 3-of-13 from the field.
Matt Pilgrim took up some of the slack, with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but Washington State held the Cowboys to 40.7 percent shooting, including 21.1 from beyond the arc.
Now the Cougars will face Northwestern with a chance to go farther in the NIT than ever before.
"We understand, 48 hours from now we are either done for the year or we're headed to New York," Bone said.
• That's it for tonight. We'll be back in the morning with more. Until then ...