PULLMAN – Josh Hawkinson’s dissatisfaction with his performance in a previous game nearly yielded perfection in Washington State’s 91-67 win over Portland State on Sunday afternoon.
Hawkinson was hounded by athletic forwards throughout Wednesday’s loss to No. 13 Gonzaga, and he scored just four points, fewer than he scored in all but one game last season. He was also unhappy with his effort on defense against GU’s renowned forwards, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, who combined to score 31 points.
After the game, head coach Ernie Kent sent Hawkinson a text telling him to be tough, but also taking responsibility for not calling more designed plays to free the team’s leading scorer (13.7 points per game) for open shots.
Both player and coach rectified those mistakes in Sunday’s win, with the Cougars consistently using screens and other basketball movements to free Hawkinson up for shots, and their forward knocking down 10 of the 11 attempts he took.
“Last game was one of my worst games ever,” Hawkinson said. “I kind of let my team down defensively and so I knew that was the mentality I had to have in the rest of the games. I think that game helped me prepare for what it’s going to be like facing really good (power forwards). I this game I had a really good mindset and I guess it kind of showcased today.”
The junior scored 24 points in 23 minutes while grabbing 10 rebounds – the toughness is back – providing the meat of a relentless WSU offensive attack that scored 1.2 points per possession despite Kent playing reserves for most of the second half.
WSU (5-1) was in control of the game nearly from the outset – the Cougars led 47-30 at the half – and so Kent was able to give his bench players more minutes than usual.
Each of the Cougars played at least 11 minutes and none was on the court longer than Hawkinson’s 23 minutes, which were scant compared to his usual workload. Brett Boese was the only player not to score, and he still chipped in three rebounds – two offensive – and a steal.
“Some guys that don’t usually play as much really stepped up this game and everybody played well from the jump,” said starting guard Ike Iroegbu.
Kent said afterward that the offense still has room to become much more potent, particularly when guard Renard Suggs finds his shooting rhythm. Suggs has proved he can score in bunches – he scored 14 points in three minutes during an exhibition game – but made just 1 of 10 shots he attempted on Sunday.
Where the Cougars showed dramatic improvement since the Gonzaga game was in transition where Charles Callison, who had 12 points, and Ike Iroegbu, who had 10, would push the ball up court immediately following a Vikings basket, occasionally scoring with just four or five seconds taken off the shot clock.
Even when there was miscommunication – such as when the Cougars lackadaisically inbounded the ball with just a few seconds remaining in the half – the Cougars came up with points. Callison got hold of the basketball under his own basket with just six seconds left before halftime and sprinted to the top of the opposite 3-point arc, squeezing off a shot just before the buzzer went off, which nestled neatly in the bottom of the net.
“I thought we challenged this team to be more workmanlike, machine-like for 40 minutes. We challenged them to make some necessary adjustments after the Gonzaga game,” Kent said. “ I thought we got off to a great start. We were great defensively in the first half and we really hit a point in that game where we really clicked offensively as well, too.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.