PULLMAN—Throughout Friday’s game Dexter Kernich-Drew buried shots that surprised the fans who had more or less written off the senior’s dwindling career as one of little and infrequent impact.
But none came close to the shock inspired by a deep bucket the senior Aussie buried with the shot clock winding down and momentum turning against his team in the best game of Kernich-Drew’s career.
Having already matched his career-high of 24 points, Kernich-Drew sent the crowd of 3,129 into pandemonium when, already three feet behind the 3-point arc, he took a step back with 39.1 seconds left and swished a shot that stopped Arizona State’s late run and all but assured WSU’s eventual 74-71 victory.
“I kind of just let it go,” Kernich-Drew said. “Time was running down, there were only 30 or 40 seconds so I knew if I hit it would be a big shot but luckily it went in and helped us out.”
The true gulf between the teams was larger but Gerry Blakes hit a meaningless 3-pointer as the clock ran out to halve the margin.
When Ernie Kent took over as WSU’s new basketball coach last spring he immediately singled out Kernich-Drew as a player that could have a big impact in his system. But after starting the season’s early games he is averaging less than 15 minutes and five points per game.
But in last week’s game against Oregon, Kernich-Drew was the only Cougar with a pulse, leading the team with 18 points, prompting Kent to start him against the Sun Devils.
“I told him this from day one, very similar to what I told Jordan (Railey), that I wish I had both of those kids for four years,” Kent said. “Because they would be a lot further along in their careers if we could’ve got them as freshmen and allowed them to grow and mature and mentor them and give them their confidence. Because they both have really good games, they’re just underdeveloped games for whatever reason. So I’m happy that both of them are starting to have some success this season.”
Kernich-Drew immediately took advantage of his start, burying a 3-pointer for the game’s first basket. As he became more of a threat, the Cougars began to run plays for him. He scored his 20th points when he hit a 3-point on a designed double-screen and the outside shooting gave him an easy path to the basket.
The WSU offense hummed early thanks to some deft passing from Ike Iroegbu, an off-guard who assumes the role of point guard when Ny Redding doesn’t start. Iroegbu had four assists in the game’s first four minutes, two of which went to Kernich-Drew, and could have had a fifth if a Josh Hawkinson jumper shot hadn’t rattled out of the cup.
He gave the Cougars a 58-54 lead with just over seven minutes remaining when an over-anxious ASU defender charged out to stop against another dagger and the senior breezed by for a layup.
Iroegbu followed with a layup of his own and Que Johnson scored another with 5:22 left, giving the Cougars an eight-point lead, the biggest of the night for either team.
The Cougars were up 68-63 with 1:22 left seconds left when Iroegbu missed the first free-throw of a one-and-one and fouled Blakes, who made a layup, on the opposite end.
The Sun Devils offense came mostly on the boards in the first half, while the Cougars took forced ASU into an uncomfortable pace that led to Sun Devils turnovers and easy buckets for WSU. While ASU had a 12-0 advantage in second-chance points in the first half, the Cougars forced the Sun Devils into 10 turnovers.
“(It was) a low scoring game, said DaVonte Lacy, who had 17 points for WSU. “So for them to get 12 of them off second-chance points, that’s where we needed to step up and I think we stepped it up.”
WSU tightened up in the second half, allowing the Sun Devils just a single score off an offensive rebound.
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