PULLMAN – It wasn’t pretty.
But these kinds of games rarely are, especially when a team like Washington State is trying to replace its starting point guard and four departed seniors.
Antsy WSU basketball fans may well have to remind themselves that this was just an exhibition game, one the Cougars won 62-50 over Saint Martin’s, after pulling away in the second half before a sparse gathering of 1,683 Tuesday at Beasley Coliseum.
They saw a team with a lot of work to do.
“What we wanted to get accomplished was executing our offense with more precision and just being crisp,” coach Ken Bone said. “And we didn’t do a very good job of that.”
Not in the first half, anyway. WSU didn’t take its first lead until a DaVonte Lacy 3-pointer put the Cougars ahead 18-15 with 8:11 left until halftime.
The Saints led just once after that – 31-30 early in the second half – thanks to the Cougars’ better defensive effort, especially on the perimeter, where SMU made 5 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half and just 1 of 4 afterward.
SMU shot just 37 percent from the field, going scoreless for nearly 5 1/2 minutes as WSU pulled away midway through the second half.
WSU found Brock Motum, the Pac-12’s reigning scoring champion who led all scorers with 21 points.
“Some of our guys needed to be reminded at halftime who our best scorer was, and that guy should get more touches,” Bone said. “And when we got the ball to him a little bit more, he was more productive.”
Motum scored 15 points in the second half, and scored six during a 10-0 WSU run that opened a 43-33 lead.
His 3-point play with 4:34 remaining gave the Cougars a commanding 56-44 lead after the Saints had cut WSU’s advantage to 49-44 on a pair of buckets by Matt Dodson.
Motum said the Cougars “didn’t finish off the way we should have. It’s an exhibition game, it’s the first game of the season. We’ve got a lot to learn still and lots of stuff to improve on and we saw areas to improve on.”
One of those areas: rebounding. The Division II Saints outrebounded the Cougars 30-28, holding an 11-5 margin on the offensive glass.
D.J. Shelton led the team in rebounding with nine after starting and playing 25 minutes. Senior guard Mike Ladd, now fully healthy after playing much of last season with a torn ligament in his thumb, scored 12 points. Royce Woolridge, the Cougars’ new starting point guard, chipped in 10 points and three assists.
And zero turnovers.
“It feels good to finally be able to play,” said Woolridge, who transferred from Kansas and sat out while redshirting last season. “I’ve been waiting for like two years.”
Bone said Woolridge – much like WSU’s offense as a whole – is going to need some time to adjust to his role.
“I’m glad he had no turnovers,” Bone said. “But again, first game in a few years and he hardly played any, even at Kansas. I just think it’s going to take a little bit of time for him to get comfortable in that position.”
Roger O’Neill led SMU with 13 points.
The Cougars begin the regular season Saturday with a 4:30 p.m. game against Eastern Washington at Beasley Coliseum.
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