Despite dreadful outside shooting and an inability to force Butler into turnovers, the Washington State basketball team was poised for a breakthrough win on Thursday in the first round of the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Then Kellen Dunham took over, scoring eight points in the final 2:09 for the Bulldogs (5-0), who won 76-69, handing the Cougars their third straight loss. WSU will play Purdue in a consolation round game Friday morning.
WSU (2-3) had taken a 67-65 lead when Ike Iroegbu connected on deep two-pointer as the shot-clock buzzer went off.
But Dunham quickly hit a 3 and Kameron Woods stole the ball from D.J. Shelton for a dunk. Dunham followed with another 3, and WSU couldn’t close the gap.
Dunham finished with a tournament-record 32 points, hitting 6 of 9 3-pointers. Khyle Marshall added 30, as he and Dunham scored 16 and 24 points in the second half, respectively.
“It’s one of those deals where if you knew that in advance you would guard them differently,” WSU coach Ken Bone said in a radio interview after the game. “Now we knew Dunham could really score, and we respect Marshall, but we didn’t think they would have 62 of 75 (points).
“You’d think at some point I would’ve figured it out that those two were scoring a lot of points but we talked about it, we talked about it at halftime.”
The Cougars received a big second-half performance of their own, courtesy of DaVonte Lacy. The junior guard scored 20 of his 26 points after halftime, hitting four big 3-pointers for the Cougars who missed all eight attempts from behind the arc in the first half.
“Not only did DaVonte step his game up in the second half when we needed it – he made 3s – he also made all eight of his free throws,” Bone said.
Lacy hit four free throws early to spark an 8-0 run for the Cougars that was highlighted by a pair of pull-up jumpers by Iroegbu. The run put WSU up 12-7 over Butler, which went scoreless for nearly 4 minutes.
Apart from Lacy, the Cougars struggled to shoot the ball from outside, making just 5 of 20 3-point shots. However, WSU’s guards had success attacking the basket, leading to a solid 50 percent from the field.
Defensively, however, WSU was only able to take advantage of six Butler turnovers to the Cougars’ 13. The Bulldogs finished with 21 points off turnovers and were able to manufacture enough easy shots defensively to prevent the Cougars from ever distancing themselves on the scoreboard.
Iroegbu and fellow-freshman guard Que Johnson provided critical minutes for the Cougars, who never trailed by more than six points until the end of the game.
Johnson was the more highly-regarded player coming out of high school, but Iroegbu has adapted to college basketball more quickly, scoring 20 points last week against Gonzaga.
But Thursday, Johnson showed why he was highly sought-after as a recruit, scoring 11 points in 22 minutes.
“He really showed how good he actually is today, he was making good passes, hitting great shots,” Royce Woolridge said. “Que is a really good player and I feel like today was a huge step for him and I think from now on he’s going to keep progressing and get better.”