PULLMAN – Sometimes basketball is a simple game.
At least it was Saturday evening at Beasley Coliseum.
Washington State shot nearly 55 percent from the floor, Eastern Washington less than 35. And that simple statistic was at the nub of the Cougars’ 88-69 season-opening nonconference victory over the visitors from Cheney before 6,705.
“We’ve laid two eggs here, but you have to give that credit to Washington State,” said Eastern coach Jim Hayford, who suffered through a similar loss here last year in his first season at EWU.
“We missed shots in the first half because they were contested, then settled for little deeper ones and kind of dug ourselves a hole.”
But for every floor – and Eastern’s 3-of-19 3-point shooting in the first 20 minutes qualifies as rock-bottom – there is a ceiling. In this case, Washington State’s perimeter defense.
“In the first half we executed real well on defense,” understated Brock Motum, who began this season as he finished the last, as WSU’s leading scorer, this time with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
“It was the key to our defensive game plan to contest their 3s,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “Like Mike (Ladd) and Brock said, our guys deserve a lot of credit for the job they did the first 28, 30 minutes of the game defending the 3-point line.”
The Cougar defense, which held Eastern to 21.6 percent shooting in the first half (15.8 from beyond the arc), also triggered the offense, especially early in the second half.
WSU, which led 7-0 before Justin Crosgile finally converted Eastern’s eighth shot attempt, built the lead methodically throughout the first 20 minutes, taking a 39-20 edge into halftime.
But the first 6 minutes of the second half were even better, punctuated by D.J. Shelton’s tomahawk dunk over Venky Jois with 18:14, part of a 15-6 run.
Shelton, a 6-foot-9 post who had a game-high 12 rebounds, caught the ball at the top of the key with time running down on the shot clock. He juked Jordan Hickert, dribbled twice and elevated. Jois tried to help but became a poster instead.
“It was a 10,” described Ladd, who split 30 points with his running mate at guard, DaVonte Lacy.
Ladd also could have been describing Motum’s performance.
The 6-10 senior was efficient, hitting 9 of his 13 shots, ranging from dunks (one of which earned him a technical for hanging on the rim) to 20-footers.
About Motum’s only failing was an inability to hit a 3 – he missed his only two attempts.
“He’s become pretty patient, lets the game come to him,” Bone said. “He understands we are going to continue to try to get the ball to him.”
Motum inside presence also affected Eastern’s defense, as starting post Martin Seifert, a 6-10 sophomore transfer from Oregon, picked up two fouls in the first 4 minutes and sat most of the half.
Crosgile, a 5-11 junior transfer from St. Joseph, paced Eastern with a game-high 28 points and five assists. But his statistics look better than they were, as he hit 6 of his final 7 3-pointers (he was 1 of 10 at that point) when the game was out of hand, some from as long as 27 feet out. He was 9 of 24 from the floor, taking a third of Eastern’s shots.
Still, as Bone lamented the Cougars’ defense down the stretch, Hayford saw a glimpse of what he’s looking for this season.
“We have a real free-flowing offense, when it’s working it looks good, when it doesn’t it can make you look kind of silly,” he said. “The second half was the game we wanted to play.”
Collin Chiverton, Eastern’s returning leading scorer, played just 6 minutes. The senior has missed time following the recent death of his mother. … WSU outrebounded Eastern 47-34, though the Eagles ran down 15 of their 47 misses. … Royce Woolridge initiated the offense a majority of the time for Washington State, inheriting the role Reggie Moore had until his recent dismissal. Woolridge had just three turnovers. … Freshmen Brett Boese and Junior Longrus saw their first action for WSU and earned praise from Bone. Longrus had five rebounds in 13 minutes while Boese, from Shadle Park High, had three points and three rebounds in 9 minutes.