CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Washington State Cougars are improving, albeit slowly. After showing that they could compete with good teams against the Bay Area schools last week, the Cougars proved they could also compete on the road.
But time is running out on WSU and there were still too many missed free throws, too many turnovers and far too many fouls throughout Thursday’s 68-57 loss at Oregon State.
“We’re right there,” DaVonte Lacy said. “We just have to take the simple mistakes: making free throws, making layups, some minor defensive adjustments. I mean we’re right there. We’re just two or three possessions away.”
The Cougars (9-17, 2-12 Pac-12) were close throughout the game. They jumped out to an early lead thanks to nine points from Lacy in the game’s first six minutes. But WSU’s leading scorer was hit in the thigh and did not make another field goal until there were just over seven minutes left in the game.
“Like I’ve always said, I don’t try to force my shot,” Lacy said. “If they take it away from me I’ll give it to my teammates because I have confidence in them to make shots.”
Still, with Lacy going uncharacteristically quiet – he still finished with 18 points – and D.J. Shelton fighting through a knee injury he suffered early in the game, the Cougars didn’t let OSU (11-14, 6-7 Pac-12) pull away.
After the Beavers surged ahead in the first half the Cougars used a 10-3 run to pull within 30-26 heading into the half. Junior Longrus started the run with a baseline jumper off a feed from Royce Woolridge and ended the half in the same manner, from the same spot.
Shelton finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds but his injury, which briefly sent him to the locker room, meant that WSU’s two best players were each playing in pain.
Woolridge and Jordan Railey both regained their starting spots on Thursday, but the change may not be permanent according to coach Ken Bone.
“It’s not permanent, it’s not permanent,” Bone said. “We’re in a situation where we’re evaluating these guys every day and what they do in practice is going to make a difference come game time.”
Among the minutiae that made the difference in the game, turnovers were glaring. WSU lost the ball 15 times leading to 15 points for the Beavers. The Cougars only scored four points themselves off OSU turnovers.
“It’s just a lot of little things,” Shelton reiterated. “We’ve just got to play a full 40 minutes of basketball together. I think once we get that we’ll be good.”
The cheers from the crowd of 3,618 didn’t stand a chance of being heard over the shriek of the officials’ ever-present whistles. The teams combined for 50 fouls, which were mostly split between the teams with WSU taking a 28-22 edge thanks to some last-minute strategic fouling.
With the shield of the officials’ whistles, OSU’s forwards had free reign underneath the basket and outscored the Cougars 32-16 in the paint.
“The refs did a good job but it helps when you’re getting inside and going up strong right near the basket,” Bone said.
Neither team took advantage of their plentiful opportunities at the free throw line. The Cougars made just 16 of 28 from the line, OSU was 25 of 36.
The defeat extends the Cougars’ losing streak to five games. But the past three games have all been hotly contested until the final seconds. Unfortunately, getting the Cougars to play well enough to end the streak appears to be a Catch-22.
“Win a game,” Bone said. “We need to win a game and hopefully that instills some confidence.”