By Vince Grippi
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PULLMAN – The Ken Bone era began Friday night at Washington State University with one similarity to the past couple seasons and about 94 differences.
The similarity was the opponent, Mississippi Valley State, a non-conference opponent for the Cougars the past two years.
The biggest difference, was, of course, WSU’s final score.
The Cougars raced to 94-66 win over the Delta Devils before a Dad’s Weekend crowd of 9,188 at Beasley Coliseum in the season opener for both.
It was the most points WSU has scored since March of 2003, in the final year of the Paul Graham era.
No one is comparing this Cougar team with that 7-20 squad, but there’s little resemblance to the WSU teams of the past six Bennett years either.
“I felt we did a very good job in transition,” said sophomore post DeAngelo Casto, who scored a career-high 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting. “As far as the style of play, I think it fits a lot of our players.”
With great scoring – the Cougars passed last year’s high total of 82 points on Reggie Moore’s steal and dunk with 4 minutes, 24 seconds left – also comes a greater chance of turnovers, and WSU had 19, only two less than MVSC.
“I’m glad it wasn’t on TV,” Bone said, lamenting the careless ball-handling, “(and) have Dick Bennett back home in Wisconsin seeing that. That would be embarrassing.”
One Cougar even Tony Bennett might not recognize is Klay Thompson. The 6-foot-6 sophomore did his usual, leading both teams with 20 points. He also did something unusual, hitting 8 of 9 free throws, both career highs.
The Cougars got to the line 35 times, nailed 28 of them and pleased their coach.
“It was nice to see us step up to the line and make free throws,” Bone said.
But it didn’t please Mississippi Valley State coach Sean Woods, who was hit with a technical foul halfway through the second half.
He might have been tired after the long trip from Mississippi, a trip made longer by Friday’s snow. The Devils were delayed getting to Pullman and the game started 20 minutes late.
He also might have been tired of watching the Cougars, who will host Eastern Washington on Monday, dominate his Devils on the glass. WSU, which struggled to rebound in its exhibition win over Lewis-Clark State, had a 50-25 advantage in this one.
Abe Lodwick, playing power forward despite his 6-7 height, led the way with nine rebounds, grabbing six of the Cougars’ 24 offensive rebounds.
“I thought our effort on the boards was outstanding,” said Bone, the third consecutive WSU coach to win his opener.
The Devils, who scored 51 points combined in two losses to WSU the last two seasons, were much more competitive in this one.
They hit the 51-point mark with 6 minutes left, shot 39 percent from the floor and, despite falling behind 9-0 at the start, were still within nine with 2:53 left in the first half.
But the Cougars went on an 8-0, fastbreak-fueled run and MSVC never got closer than 13 again.
Still, Bone was not happy with the 66 points WSU yielded.
“I think the biggest issue,” he said, “is we are not used to guarding guys that quick.”
Guard Tashan Newsome led MSVC, which plays Gonzaga tonday, with 14 points.
“They are like a completely different team every year,” said senior Nik Koprivica, the only WSU player who has faced the Devils three times. “They were the best team this year. They were a good team and we played well.”