PULLMAN – All week in practice leading into Thursday’s game DaVonte Lacy and his teammates joked about how they were going to score 100 points against Oregon, a team that likes to run as much as the Cougars.
It turned out to be no joke, even if the Cougars needed an overtime to make it happen.
Washington State won what was likely the most meaningful and certainly the most exciting game played in Beasley Coliseum in years, holding off Oregon 108-99 because the Cougars made 12 of 14 overtime free throws.
WSU (9-7, 3-1 Pac-12) has won three consecutive conference games that came down to the final minutes.
“It seems like this team, the bigger the stage, the better they’re starting to play,” coach Ernie Kent said. “And if that building continues to be on fire like that, with the students back and the energy it provided, the energy that came from that community sitting behind my back, there’s so much more basketball in us and you’re seeing a team that is really growing up before your eyes.”
There were 3,584 fans in the arena, easily besting WSU’s previous high attendance of 2,723 against Idaho. The student section, nearly empty in the nonconference games, was practically full to watch WSU in its Pac-12 home opener.
“Every time we can get a crowd like that, it’s going to be beneficial for our guys and for our program,” Josh Hawkinson said. “They came out in full force tonight and were rowdy, and it helped us out tremendously.”
Those that came to their first WSU game of the year saw an offensive show in which both teams made more than half of their field goals, even the ones from behind the 3-point line.
The Cougars took the lead for good when Hawkinson scored a layup on a late cut to the basket thanks to an assist from Ike Iroegbu. Iroegbu gave the Cougars a four-point lead on the ensuing possession, driving and drawing a foul on Ahmaad Rorie.
On the last play of regulation Lacy drove to the basket with seconds left and appeared to draw contact on his shot, but no foul was called.
Lacy, a senior, had 24 points. But it was the sophomore Hawkinson who led the team in scoring with 26, while fellow second-year player Iroegbu chipped in 20.
Iroegbu has emerged for the Cougars as reliable scorer because of his quick first step and ability to beat his man into the paint and score at the rim. Against UO he showed he can shoot a bit as well, making his first three 3-pointers and leading both teams with 16 points in the first half.
After playing some point guard, Iroegbu was moved into a wing role by Kent to take advantage of his athleticism while freshman Ny Redding has taken over as the primary point guard. Those point guard skills have made Iroegbu a dangerous transition passer and he led the team with five assists.
“He’s passing so well because he’s off the ball,” Kent said. “What we’ve done is freed him up, and when you free him up you can bring him back but a lot of what Ike is doing is what is in transition where you can get out and run.”
WSU moved the ball well against Oregon’s zone defense. The Cougars recorded 24 assists against just 14 for the Ducks.
A season ago the Cougars averaged 62.4 points per game. At halftime of Thursday night’s game they nearly matched that, settling for a 57-52 lead. The Cougars scored 57 or fewer points in 12 games last season.
Joseph Young provided the scoring punch for the Ducks – as he has all season – scoring 32. Elgin Cook provided an interior presence, chipping in 26 points. Despite the easy outside shooting, neither team led by more than six until overtime.
Kent had a lot of praise for junior forward Brett Boese after the game. The Shadle Park graduate has seen his role expand from a bench player to playing 30-plus minutes in each of WSU’s last two games.
Boese finished with an efficient 16 points on just 7 shots, hitting a pair of big 3-pointers toward the end of the second half when the Ducks gained a temporary lead.
UPDATE 2 (11:55 p.m.): Adds Thorpe’s game story
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