PULLMAN – The Washington State basketball team wasn’t as crisp or efficient as coach Ken Bone would have liked in its 62-56 season-opening win over Cal State Bakersfield.
Still, after losing 10 games by five or fewer points last season, the coach was happy the team was able to win a close one.
“I’m glad it happened that way, personally,” Bone said. “We needed to win a game like this. We need to win more games like this, because last year this was the type of game where we’d lose the lead, the other team would gain momentum and we’d get beat by one or two (points).”
DaVonte Lacy’s night at the free-throw line made the difference. The junior guard scored half of his game-leading 28 points by going 14 of 17 at the line. The Roadrunners, however, shot a paltry 11 of 28. The teams combined for 55 fouls and nine players finished the game with four or five fouls.
“This year is something that’s way different from how I’ve ever played basketball,” guard Royce Woolridge said. “You can’t even touch a player – if you touch him it’s a foul. It’s just something you have to get used to. It was our first game and we learned the hard way.”
The Cougars struggled to shoot the ball while rotating in 11 players in the first half. While Lacy led all scorers through the first half with 10 points, he shot just 4 of 12 from the field and 1 of 8 on 3-pointers. The team finished 2 for 16 from behind the arc in the half and shot just 28.1 percent from the field.
“It was just one of those days,” Lacy said. “I promise you’ll never see (Dexter Kernich-Drew) not hit a 3, and some other shooters. I shot terribly. We shot terribly, but we didn’t live by the 3 or die by the 3. We still won the game.”
But the guard from Tacoma found his shot at halftime, and scored eight points in just more than 5 minutes as the Cougars quickly turned a 28-25 halftime margin into a comfortable 43-27 lead. The Roadrunners went on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to 45-37 with about 10 minutes left in the game.
“It’s partially my fault,” Bone said. “I had a lot of very unique rotations in there, a lot of different lineups. Part of that had to do with foul trouble, part of it had to do with some other things.”
Bone added that the starting lineup,which was notably missing mainstays such as D.J. Shelton and Woolridge, consisted of the players who had done the best job rebounding in practice. Seven players played 19 or more minutes, while only Shelton and Lacy were in for 28 or more.
Lacy and freshman Ike Iroegbu tantalized the home crowd with sky-walking dunks on uncontested fast breaks. WSU’s superior athleticism was a difference in the game as the Cougars collected 10 steals and finished with 19 points off turnovers.
After leading by 18 points midway through the second half, the Cougars were up just 58-56 following a 3-pointer from CSUB center Abdul Ahmed. But Shelton found Junior Longrus for a layup with the shot clock about to buzz and Lacy hit a pair of free throws to create just enough distance between the teams to seal an important, if close, WSU victory.
“That game was really good for us,” Woolridge said. “Last year we lost a lot of close games because of free throws and not being able to close and a year later we were put in the same position. Even though the game might have been nasty and not that pretty to watch, it feels good to get a win like that because it shows we have matured from last year.”