PULLMAN – Just in time for Christmas, the Washington State Cougars delivered a complete game – or at least a starter kit for one.
The Cougars did allow a 26-8 lead to melt away to a halftime tie. But they weren’t behind at the break, as they have been in almost half their games this season.
So when the Cougars fired up a man-to-man defense and put the hammer down in the second half, they used a 13-point run en route to a convincing 86-58 nonconference men’s basketball victory over Bethune-Cookman Friday on Friel Court.
The inability to protect a comfortable early lead notwithstanding, the game was a refreshing change from what has become WSU’s style this year – getting behind early and mounting a furious, desperate second-half charge. The defense-fueled charge was there against the Wildcats, but this time the Cougars didn’t give the opponent a head start.
WSU improved to 8-4 and Bethune-Cookman fell to 5-9.
WSU coach Ernie Kent said his Cougars were “fast and focused on both ends of the floor” early in the game.
“Then we lost our focus,” he said. … “I challenged them at halftime to get their focus back. For 20 minutes, we were really locked in.”
WSU’s Robert Franks led all scorers with 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field and 8 of 8 at the free-throw line. He also pulled down 11 rebounds.
Franks attributed his scoring to being aggressive on the boards and benefiting from seven assists.
“I credit my teammates,” he said.
WSU’s Carter Skaggs was 4 of 4 on 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 14 points.
The Wildcats shot 14 of 35 in the opening half, but they fell off in the second half, hitting 8 of 35.
“We outran them and got them tired,” said Drick Bernstine, who led WSU with 15 rebounds and contributed 10 points.
The Wildcats left many of their misses on the front iron, perhaps reflecting the rigors of a four-game road trip that included losses to South Florida, Kennesaw State and Washington. Bethune-Cookman traveled 55 hours and got to Seattle four hours before its game with the Huskies. The Wildcats didn’t have much left in the tank when they finally got to Pullman.
“The pace of the game and how fast we played wore them down,” Kent said.
The Cougars shot 14 of 28 in the second half. That opened up the interior for Bernstine.
“We had shooters everywhere,” Bernstine said. “That made it easy for me to just play. There was so much space (in which) to operate.”
Soufiyane Diakite led Bethune-Cookman with 16 points. Jeffery Altidort added 12 points and nailed a 3-point buzzer-beater that allowed the Wildcats to draw even with the Cougars at halftime.
The Cougars have had success this year with a 2-3 zone, a 1-3-1 zone press and the man-to-man defense that stifled the Wildcats in the second half, Kent said.
“Energy, focus, toughness,” Kent said. “We do those things, we’ll be all right.”