PULLMAN – Heading into Friday night’s Apple Cup-eve showdown with fifth-ranked Kansas State, Washington State coach Ken Bone had one question.
How tough was his team?
The question was answered positively, though the final result was a negative as the Wildcats muscled their way to a 63-58 victory before a headache-inducing loud crowd of 11,671 at Beasley Coliseum.
“Tonight we were about as tough as we could be,” Bone said. “We competed as hard as we could compete. I really felt we left it on the court.
“How tough are we? I wish we were tougher, but we are only so big and so strong.”
The Cougars’ first loss after five wins was a result of too many misses (they shot 36.8 from the floor and just 13 of 23 from the free-throw line) against the Wildcats’ tenacious man-to-man defense and too many second chances (K-State had 17 offensive rebounds, leading to 17 points).
“We battled and we fought, but we did not come up with the rebounds the way we need to,” Bone said, calling that the key to the game.
The offensive woes came despite the season’s first appearance by point guard Reggie Moore.
Playing with a splint on his injured left wrist, the sophomore played 21 minutes, hit 4 of 5 shots from the field and had just three of WSU’s 15 turnovers.
“Reggie played amazing for his first game back, and that just shows what he can do when he gets his rhythm back,” teammate Klay Thompson said.
But Thompson and Faisal Aden, the two guards who had carried WSU this year struggled. Aden missed 9 of his 13 shots, including both 3-point attempts.
Thompson was 5 of 15 from the floor and didn’t hit his first, and only, 3-pointer until 5 minutes, 26 seconds remained. The junior finished with a game-high 16 points.
His 3, however, cut K-State’s lead to 53-50. It had been 10 earlier in the second half as Rodney McGruder kept raining in 3s en route to 15 points.
After Thompson’s shot, the Cougars were able to string together four stops and rode Moore’s 15-footer and his assist to DeAngelo Casto, playing for the first time in three games, for a layup that gave WSU its last lead, 54-53.
Beasley erupted and the Cougars followed suit.
“There was a lot of emotion that had built up, and everyone was psyched we finally got the lead,” said Marcus Capers, who had nine points and four rebounds. “The coaches tried to tell us to calm down and stayed poised on offense.”
But it was Kansas State that kept its poise.
Its star, Jacob Pullen struggled under the defense of Capers, Thompson and a 2-3 zone designed to keep him out of the key. But the senior, despite finishing 2 of 11 from the floor, came through with big plays.
Overall the Cougars shot 29.2 percent and K-State 40.6 before intermission. But the WSU defense, which would limit the Wildcats to 39.7 percent shooting and force 21 turnovers, kept it in the game.
“We felt pretty good as a staff going into the locker room holding them to 30 points,” Bone said.