HONOLULU – Tuesday evening, Marcus Capers put on a show for his 21st birthday, taking center stage during a hula dance at the Diamond Head Classic’s pretournament show.
Wednesday morning Washington State’s junior put on another, less flamboyant performance, clamping down on Mississippi State’s leading scorer, Ravern Johnson, and helping the Cougars to an 83-57 tournament-opening victory at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu.
And then the 6-foot-4 guard did what he does best, deflect the attention – after bragging about his dancing.
“The way she was moving her hips, I can’t dance like that, so I did my own thing,” he said. “It was great. I got a standing ovation. I feel like I stole the whole show.”
As for the Cougars’ defense, Capers had a couple steals but he wasn’t a one-man show.
“(Johnson) missed a lot of shots and it wasn’t just me, it was a team effort,” Capers said after the 9-1 Cougars held MSU to 34.5 percent shooting, keyed by Johnson’s 1-for-10 game. “When we played zone, everybody got out on him.”
“Our guys did a good job in that zone, it’s not great but it’s going to get better and it’s pretty good now,” said WSU coach Ken Bone. “(Johnson) had a hard time. We always had an eye on him and knew where he was.
“It wasn’t just Marcus or Klay (Thompson) or just any one guy. It was team effort.”
Still, it was Capers who shadowed Johnson early, forcing the 6-7 senior, who was averaging an SEC-leading 22.4 points per game coming in, out of his comfort zone en route to a season-low three points.
Johnson’s only bucket was a 22-footer in transition less than 4 minutes in, and it got Capers’ attention.
“He hit one 3 on me,” Capers said, “and I’m still kind of hurt by that.”
MSU (7-4) hurt the Cougars in the first half from beyond the arc – hitting 6-of-13 attempts – and the free-throw line – 10 of 12, including 8 of 10 in the final 4:11, leading to a 40-39 Bulldog halftime lead.
“We saw the refs calling some jakey calls that seemed one sided,” Capers said.
It was one of those “jakey” calls that really got the Cougars’ attention, according to Capers.
“After (DeAngelo) Casto got that (technical) foul, we saw it was going to be a rough game,” Capers said of the quick whistles with 1:53 left in the half, sending the 6-8 junior to the bench for 8 minutes. “We really came together and played great basketball.”
“It was a sign of maturity, our players handled it well,” Bone said. “DeAngelo got irritated – I don’t blame him – but he’s got to handle that. The second half we just ignored the officials.”
After a Thompson turnover led to a Kodi Augustus slam – part of his team-high 19 points – and a 45-43 Mississippi State lead with 16:03 left, Washington State took over.
With Casto back in and anchoring the middle of the Cougars’ 2-3 matchup zone, MSU went more than 3 minutes without hitting a shot. And WSU couldn’t miss.
Abe Lodwick nailed one of his three 3-pointers (he had a season-high nine points) to give WSU a 46-45 lead, then Reggie Moore, Thompson and Faisal Aden added 3s. That barrage, along with Aden’s 15-footer, gave the Cougars 14-0 run and a 57-45 lead.
“Those 3s add up quickly,” Bone said. “When you get up and down the court a little bit and hit some 3s, it adds up real fast.”
That was followed a couple minutes later by a 15-0 streak – keyed by a handful of MSU’s 21 turnovers that led to 24 WSU points – and the Bulldogs folded. In the first 16:58 of the second half, Mississippi State scored nine points.
“The scout on the team was once they started playing bad, instead of coming together they ended up playing worse,” Capers said.
The Cougars went the other way, with Thompson leading the offense with his 28 points, 12 coming from beyond the arc. Aden came off the bench to add 20 more (three 3-pointers) as WSU hit half of its 24 3-point attempts.
The Cougars also controlled the glass for the first time this month, with a 42-29 rebound advantage, including 12 offensive rebounds. Aden led the way there with seven but five WSU players had at least five. The Bulldogs were without 6-10 center Renardo Sidney, suspended for a game after a practice outburst Monday.
Washington State will have its hands full Thursday as it continues the tournament with 15th-ranked Baylor, an easy 83-50 winner over the University of San Diego in Wednesday’s second game.