Wichita State humbles Cougars in NIT semifinals
NEW YORK – There was nothing positive out of this National Invitation Tournament semifinal for the Washington State Cougars, from the beginning to the last seconds.
Through the 2,400 ticks of the Madison Square Garden clock Tuesday night, Wichita State was the better team for, oh, about 2,400 of them.
When the last of those seconds ticked off, the Shockers had electroshocked WSU right out of the Big Apple, hanging a 75-44 pasting on the Cougars.
It was WSU’s most lopsided loss this season, easily outdistancing a 69-43 rout in Eugene against Oregon on Feb. 3.
“This is a lot worse,” said Reggie Moore, who led Washington State with nine points. “Especially, (since we were) really excited to play in Madison Square Garden. It’s just disappointing that we had this type of performance.”
It was quite possibly the same type of performance as WSU’s infamous 81-29 drubbing in Stillwater six seasons ago, though that Oklahoma State debacle wasn’t televised nationally. And more than likely all those videos have been destroyed.
By the time most of the ESPN2 viewers settled in for this one, the Cougars trailed 7-0. They missed their first six shots and their offensive heart, junior Klay Thompson and his 22-points-a-game scoring average, had two fouls, headed to the bench after playing less than 5 minutes.
But trailing by seven turned out to be not that bad. It would get worse, with Wichita State up by 17 at the half, 25 five minutes later and 35 with 4:40 left.
“I didn’t play that good, starting with my defense,” said Thompson, shouldering the blame. “It was terrible picking up three fouls in the first half. … That’s really stupid play on my part.”
Stupid, maybe, but not unusual for WSU this night. There weren’t a lot of smart decisions.
Thompson who may have played his final game as a Cougar as he contemplates declaring for this summer’s NBA draft, sat for a couple of minutes while the Cougars missed three more shots and turned it over.
He returned for 3 minutes, scored two of his six total points (on 1-for-10 shooting), and then picked up his third foul on a charge.
“I think we depend on Klay so much that even though we didn’t have it going early on the foul trouble took away his, and his teammates, aggressiveness,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
“I just think it took a lot out of him, and when it takes a lot out of him, it takes a lot out of us.”
Or maybe Wichita State, 28-8 and headed to Thursday’s final against Alabama, ripped their heart out.
“(We wanted) to beat them to the spot and just play tough on them, and make them make tough shots,” said Gabe Blair, who was one rebound short of a double-double after scoring 10 points. “It didn’t work out for them tonight.”
Nothing did. WSU shot 33.3 percent in the first half, then 25 in the next 20 minutes. The Cougars, who finish the season 22-13, misfired on all 10 3-pointers they tried, the first time that’s happened in Bone’s two seasons.
And there wasn’t an inside game to fall back on.
“They are just bigger and stronger,” Bone said of the Missouri Valley Conference runners-up. “They just literally manhandled us, sometimes on both ends of the court.
“A couple times … they just backed us down right underneath the rim and went up and scored it.”
The most glaringly one-sided statistic in a stat sheet filled with them: Wichita State had 52 rebounds to the Cougars’ 25.
The Shockers even came up just a rebound short of breaking even on the offensive glass, with 18 to WSU’s 19 defensive ones.
Wait, maybe points in the paint was more glaring. Wichita dominated there 48-18.
The Cougars’ biggest post, 6-foot-8, 255-pound junior DeAngelo Casto, who also seems to be thinking of turning pro, struggled with the physical Wichita State front line, especially 7-foot reserve Garrett Stutz, and finished with nine points and six rebounds in 25 minutes.
Stutz, who came in averaging 6.7 points and 14.2 minutes, dominated with season highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes.
“DeAngelo is a very good defender but they ran some stuff to (Stutz) to get it to him over the top,” Bone said. “DeAngelo was in foul trouble; it was an easy decision for them to keep going to (Stutz).”
But as is typical for the Shockers this season, nine players scored, a dozen grabbed rebounds and 10 played 12 minutes or more. And they all defended.
“They are as good a team as I have seen getting through screens,” Bone said, “and a lot of our offensive stuff is predicated on screening.”
And, as the offense sputtered, so did the defense.
“It kind of snowballed on our defense, and we had a hard time guarding,” Bone said.
Thompson and Moore both said it was tough ending the season with their worst performance, but the former was philosophical about it.
“I thought we would play a lot better, but that’s life, you have to deal with it,” Thompson said. “You can’t look back now.”
Who would want to?