All but the last three points of what once was a double-digit lead had been planed away, and time was ticking away on what was shaping up to be another empty possession.
This was a tipping point – in the game, maybe in the season for Washington State.
Reggie Moore poked and feinted with his dribble, trying to find an opening before the 35-second clock compelled him to rise up for a shot, the hands of two defenders thrust at his face. Then he saw a flash of white jersey – it belonged to teammate Brock Motum – flash along the baseline.
“I told Brock in the huddle (when play stopped for free throws), ‘I’m going to get you guys the ball,’ ” Moore said. “I said, ‘I promise you guys that.’ ”
So he delivered on that promise – and just before zeroes came up on the shot clock Motum released the ball off the glass for a layup.
And Moore raised his fists to the rafters and yelled.
“He had a better shot,” Moore shrugged. “He’s going to make a layup. It was just a matter if he could get it off in time.”
There would be other tense moments for the Cougs before they finally subdued Oregon State 81-76 at the Spokane Arena. But there weren’t any that better encapsulated a steely resolve and a commitment to unselfishness that the Cougars reclaimed Saturday afternoon.
And no better representative of them than Reggie Moore.
The point guard on any team is going to be a flash point for both blame and bravos, and so it is for Moore – a happy discovery as a freshman, an inconsistent disappointment last year even as he played through a wrist fracture. And still an enigma heading into 2012.
It’s not always an as-Moore-goes-so-go-the- Cougs deal, but there are nights when he doesn’t seem to completely grasp what his team needs from him.
Then there was Saturday, when he was everything he needed to be.
How could we tell? Because he went almost unnoticed.
Motum had a spectacular 26-point, eight-rebound game, his offensive presence inside and out putting the Beavers on their heels early. Freshman DaVonte Lacy completed a coming-out weekend with 18 points. Understated, unsung Marcus Capers was a steady hand for the Cougars in angst time.
Reggie Moore? Took just five shots. Threw it to the right guys. Hung on to it under duress.
“He had the ball in his hands quite a bit – and it was critical to us that he have the ball in his hands,” coach Ken Bone said.
“He had great composure. And I think he embraced the fact of, ‘Give me the ball,’ because he played a lot of minutes. I blame myself many times for playing him too many minutes, and tonight was another one of those situations where he might have played two or three too many. To his credit, he did a great job of handling it – the situation and the ball.”
He had assists four straight trips down the floor as Wazzu jumped to an 18-9 lead. His nine assists were spread among five different targets. He didn’t take his first shot until 7:24 remained in the first half, swishing a 16-footer. He turned the ball over just once in the face of OSU’s hounding.
This after a desultory effort for the Cougs in a Thursday flop against Oregon, when running the offensive sets did not seem to be a priority – and, yes, that starts with the point guard.
But it’s a resolution time of year, so Moore made one early.
“I told the team – Brock, everybody – that I’m going to be a better leader,” Moore said. “I’m going to be a better point guard. I’m going to step up and be the leader of this team, a captain-type player.
“I need to do that for me. I need to do that for this team.”
Now he needs to make it a regular thing.
“I don’t know, I’m kind of a goofy kid – I like to play around and sometimes I don’t notice what kind of position I’m in,” he said. “When you’re the point guard, people look to me and it’s something I have to take more seriously.”
The 92 points the Cougars allowed Oregon were a calamity, but they’re going to continue to have defensive issues while compensating for a lack of athleticism inside.
That mandates that the Cougs be as efficient as they can be at the other end.
Offered Moore, “When we share the ball, we’re a really good team.”
At least they’re a better team – better than they showed Thursday night.
“We talked about that, that this game will be a test of our character,” Bones said, “and who we are as we create an identity as a team. If we’re flat and don’t play well, maybe we’re not that good.”
He got the answer he thought he would. At the tipping point of the calendar, the Cougs aren’t ready to tip over.