PULLMAN – It wasn’t easy, but what during the past 48 hours had been?
Washington State University not only had to deal with the off-again, on-again playing status of post DeAngelo Casto, it had survive a series of Northwestern comebacks, two missed free throws at the end of regulation and two possible game-tying 3-pointers from Alex Marcotullio.
But the Cougars dodged them all and, with a 69-66 overtime basketball victory before 5,905 at Beasley Coliseum on Wednesday night, earned a trip to New York for the National Invitation Tournament semifinals where they will play Wichita State on Tuesday.
“We’re excited about the win,” said WSU coach Ken Bone. “The guys had to battle through a lot of adversity to get through this game. with a very good Northwestern team.”
WSU could have punched its ticket at the end of regulation, but Abe Lodwick missed two free throws with 0.2 on the clock.
The Wildcats (20-14) had tied the score at 64 on John Shurna’s drive that was goaltended by Casto with 4.2 seconds left.
WSU (22-12) called time and drew up a play that put the ball in Reggie Moore’s hands. The sophomore drove the length of the court, drew two Wildcats and dished to Lodwick, who was nearly tackled by Drew Crawford.
After a 3-minute replay as the officials checked the timing, they put Lodwick on the line and he missed both free throws.
“Walking out of the huddle (before overtime), Abe said, ‘On my life, we’re not losing,’” said Casto, who earned a last-afternoon reprieve from a suspension, thundered home the game’s first basket with a two-hand slam and finished with 11 points, one of five WSU players in double figures.
WSU scored first in overtime, with Thompson shucking off Shurna and hitting a 10-foot jumper with 3:36 left.
The Cougars then survived five shots – with two blocks and four offensive rebounds – before Thompson missed a 3. He finished 6 of 18 from the field, but scored a team-high 17 points and added nine rebounds.
Luka Mirkovic’s layup tied it at 66, before Thompson was fouled and untied it with two free throws with 1:10 remaining.
Northwestern turned the ball over its last three possessions, but WSU didn’t put the game away, turning the ball over once itself and then having Moore hit one of two free throws with 19.1 left.
Northwestern worked the ball but no one got open. Finally, Marcotullio launched from 29 feet. It came up short. Shurna rebounded and threw it back to Marcotullio. He tried missed again as time ran out.
And then Thompson made the Cougar students ecstatic. With Thompson waiting for a radio interview, the students chanted “one more year.” Thompson looked to the crowd and held up his index finger in acknowledgement.
Asked what that meant, Thompson waited a while before saying, “It means they want one more year and I was just saying one more game at a time. I’ll wait to make that decision after our season’s over.”
The Cougar victory came in the shadow of the past 48 hours and the ongoing saga of whether or not Casto would play.
To recap, less than three hours after WSU had defeated Oklahoma State on Monday night, Casto had an interaction with a Pullman police officer at his residence, resulting in a small of amount of marijuana being seized, according to police.
Later Tuesday, Casto was suspended for a violation of team rules. In the evening he appeared at the police station and was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession, less than 40 grams, a charge Casto’s attorney contested on Wednesday.
Later, athletic director Bill Moos lifted the suspension, saying WSU would wait on the legal system.
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