SEATTLE – If the Washington State University Cougars have learned anything in their dozen nonconference games, it’s how to compete.
If they hadn’t, there was no way they would have survived Tuesday night.
As it was, they blew a nine-point lead, fell behind, rallied to tie, took a five-point overtime lead and survived a last-second possible game winner to defeat Louisiana State University 72-70 before 15,341 packed into Key Arena for the fifth Cougar Hardwood Classic.
Though this one was far from a classic. It was survival.
“There is just going to be some games where we are just going to have to grind it out,” said WSU coach Ken Bone, who was making his first trip to his hometown as Cougar coach. “We haven’t had many games like this. But this was very good for us to go through and come out ahead on.”
The teams combined for 67 free throws, 40 of those by WSU, including 11 in overtime. Both coaches, Bone and LSU’s Trent Johnson, received technical fouls. The score was tied eight times and there were five lead changes.
“Lot of fouls,” Bone said. “Just two teams fighting and scratching to pull out a win.”
Klay Thompson led WSU with 26 points, a point better than his season average. He hit two 3-pointers, including the 100th of the sophomore’s career. That came with 11 minutes, 30 seconds left, part of a stretch in which he scored seven consecutive points and helped the Cougars to their final extended lead, 51-44 with 9:45 remaining in regulation.
From there, LSU’s Bo Spencer, a junior guard, led the Tigers (8-3) back. They finally took the lead, 58-57, on forward Tasmin Mitchell’s 18-footer at the 4:08 mark. It was LSU’s first lead since it was 14-12 halfway through the first half.
Thompson answered with a 3-pointer, but Spencer stole Xavier Thames’ errant pass and scored to tie it at 60 with 3:04 left.
Both teams threw away chances to take a lead until Spencer got some space on Thompson and hit a 15-foot fallaway with 45 seconds remaining.
“He hit a tough shot,” said Thompson, who missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
That gave Chris Bass a chance to ice the game, but the sophomore reserve guard missed two free throws with 19.8 seconds left, giving WSU hope and the ball when it bounced off Storm Warren and out of bounds.
WSU (10-2) decided not to call one of its two time outs.
“At the end of games, we would rather not call time outs,” Bone said. “I like it when the ball is in Reggie (Moore’s) hands, if the floor is spread a little bit where he can penetrate and make a play.”
Moore, who along with Mitchell played all 45 minutes, repaid Bone’s faith by penetrating, dishing to DeAngelo Casto, who fumbled, recovered and scored with 6 seconds, tying it at 62. Casto finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
That’s where it stayed as Spencer was stripped going up court and WSU wasn’t able to do anything but get up a Moore prayer after a timeout.
Spencer scored first in overtime, part of his team-high 23 points, but Moore answered with a three-point play to give the Cougars the lead for good.
“I just knew my team needed it,” said Moore, who finished with 12 points in his return home to Seattle. “They were guarding Klay pretty tight and nobody was open. My coach said big-time players make big-time plays.”
WSU strung together two consecutive stops, hit enough free throws and took a five-point lead, 70-65, into the final 1:11.
Mitchell, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds, hit a 3 from the top of the key, but Thompson was able to answer with two free throws – he was 10 of 12 from the line – and WSU led by four again.
Spencer scored on a drive with 42.9 to make it 72-70 and LSU decided not to foul.
It paid off when Thompson was called for an offensive foul with 8.2 seconds left. The ball was inbounded to Spencer, who went the length of the court and pulled up for a 23-footer from the left wing, where earlier he had hit a 30-footer for the 100th 3-pointer of his career.
This time, with Marcus Capers, who had sat for a while with a sore foot, in his face, Spencer’s shot came up short.
The rebound was batted around. The clock expired. And WSU had survived.
“We’re young,” Thompson said. “We need games like this to grow. It took a lot out of us physically, but we got better from it. If we can stay mentally focused, we can pull out games like this.”