Kevin Eastman got a word of advice from an old friend Thursday night and took it to the bank.
Saturday afternoon, the interest came due.
And Washington State’s first-year men’s basketball coach collected an important 77-75 Pacific-10 Conference basketball win over Oregon State that was probably much closer than most of those in a Friel Court crowd of 6,971 expected.
It wasn’t until OSU’s Stephane Brown clanked a floating, 25-foot jumper off the back of the rim at the final buzzer that Eastman and his heavily favored Cougars were able to feel good about this one.
Eastman, after watching his team raise its Pac-10 record to 4-2 and its overall mark to 8-5, insisted that the unlikely challenge OSU offered came as no surprise - thanks to the warning he received from Oregon coach Jerry Green following Thursday night’s upset of the 17th-ranked Ducks.
Eastman said Green told him, “Do not take these guys lightly, because their first five are a lot better than people give them credit for.”
“And I believed him,” Eastman said.
As a result, Eastman sent his Cougars out pressing from the opening tip.
The strategy, which might have seemed like overkill against a benign Beaver team (1-4, 4-10) that had lost three in a row and seven of its last eight, helped create several early turnovers, easy baskets and a 21-6 lead that proved to be crucial.
OSU, which received 21 points from Mustapha Hoff and 19 from Brent Barry, eventually erased WSU’s lead and even went ahead by a point on three different occasions in the second half.
But the Cougars, who received 26 points and six rebounds from Mark Hendrickson before their junior workhorse fouled out with 1:33 left, managed to hang on despite scoring only one point in the final 3 minutes.
Eastman was convinced the early press made it all possible.
“We weren’t effective or good at anything today,” Eastman admitted, “other than our press in the first half - which got us some stuff. That really helped us. In fact, it might have been the factor, even though it was a first-half deal.”
WSU closed the first half with a 42-37 lead, but fell behind midway through the second half when OSU’s Rob Williams scored on a follow tip to make it 56-55.
A putback by Tavares Mack, seven free throws and a mean drive by Hendrickson put WSU back in front, 68-61, with 7:04 remaining. But Hoff scored six points to fuel a 14-8 run that pulled the Beavers within 76-75 shortly after Hendrickson departed.
Both teams had several excellent scoring opportunities in the final minute and a half, but the only scoreboard change came when WSU backup forward Rob Corkrum, who was fouled while rebounding Barry’s missed tip, made the second of two free throws with 4 seconds left.
OSU called timeout and tried to set up a last-second shot, but the Cougars double-teamed the inbounds pass, forced Barry to give up the ball and then hurried Brown into a length-of-the court sprint and desperation shot.
Beavers coach Jim Anderson wanted a better shot.
“We had set up a play,” Anderson said when asked what took place during the final timeout. “Those are always pretty to put on the blackboard … but they usually don’t work.
“We really wanted to get it down the floor and get a little closer shot - maybe get it in Brent’s hands because he cuts so hard and moves so quickly. But he (Barry) decided to give it back to Stephane.”
Brown won, but he failed to make the shot from near the top of the key with WSU’s Shamon Antrum flying in his face. Brown finished with 12 points and teammate Vladimir Heredia added 13. WSU got 11 points each from Isaac Fontaine and Mack.
WSU, which has won 11 in a row at Friel Court dating to last season, is the host for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game against Cal State Northridge.
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