Klay Thompson wasn’t having his best night.
Washington State University’s sophomore guard missed his first six shots. He powered his way to the free-throw line 14 times, but missed five of those. He had twice as many turnovers as assists.
But when he needed to, and WSU needed him to, Thompson came through, coming off a DeAngelo Casto screen with 42.1 seconds left to bury a 22-footer and bury Eastern Washington’s comeback hopes Monday night.
The last of Thompson’s game-high 24 points helped WSU overcome a career-high 17 points from reserve Mark Dunn and the Eagles, 67-61, before 5,767 at Beasley Coliseum.
“It didn’t surprise me, at least, that he hit that last 3,” said WSU coach Ken Bone of Thompson’s shot, which came after Eastern had whittled down a 15-point WSU lead to one on Brandon Moore’s layin with 1:04 remaining.
Bone said the Cougars (2-0) didn’t run a set play for Thompson, but did want their leading scorer to get the ball in the area he did, the left wing just in front of the WSU bench.
“I was just in rhythm and it felt good when it came out of my hand,” Thompson said.
Thanks to Casto’s screen, Thompson was clear of any Eagle defenders, and he found nothing but net.
“DeAngelo, when he wants, can set great screens,” Bone said. “He was focused and understood we wanted to get Klay the ball in that area.”
Too often down the stretch the Cougars were stagnant, mirroring a game-opening 11 minutes that saw Eastern build a nine-point lead at 17-9.
“There are going to be times when we are clicking on all cylinders, and looking pretty good,” Bone said, “and there are going to be other times when we are just disorganized because we really are. We don’t have a lot of stuff in and what we do have in, we haven’t had a lot of reps.”
The Eagles (0-2 after two six-point defeats) trailed 50-35 with a little less than 12 minutes left. Over the next 5:17, WSU missed seven shots and five of eight free throws.
When Benny Valentine scored his first two points of the game with 6:47 left, EWU had cut the lead to nine. And then the Eagles started hitting their 3-pointers.
They hit four of their next five – including two by the 6-foot-8 Dunn – slowly cutting into the Cougar lead, getting two within two for the first time on Dunn’s 22-footer with 1:58 left.
“I’ve been struggling to hit my shot the last couple games,” said the senior, who played 35 minutes because starter Mark Brunell was in-and-out with a sore left ankle. “Tonight it was going in and it actually helped us down the stretch.”
After Thompson hit two free throws – he’s had 23 attempts in two games after having 31 all last season – Moore, who finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds, hit a free throw and a lay-in to pull EWU within one.
But after Thompson’s 3-pointer, Moore was called for traveling in the lane as Thompson rotated over to help, and Reggie Moore sealed the win with two free throws – part of the freshman’s 15 points – with 16.6 seconds left.
Though Thompson, Moore and Casto (16 points) supplied the offense, one of WSU’s biggest contributors was Marcus Capers, who finished with one point.
Capers was assigned the task of containing Valentine, who had 20 points off the bench in the Eagles opener.
“Marcus once again had a great presence on the defensive end,” Bone said.
Valentine missed his first six shots, finally hitting a 3-pointer with 4:35 remaining and finished with five points.
“They told us prior to the game he was capable of going for 30 points,” Capers said. “I felt like that was a challenge. Towards the end of the game, it was just that grit. He wasn’t going to out play me. I felt like I had to lock him down to win.”