When Ernie Kent became the head coach at Washington State, he implemented a new system and a new style of play that encouraged an up-tempo pace and plenty of playmaking.
For the first half against the Texas Southern University Tigers, that style was on perfect display. The second half, however, was a different story.
“The first half was the best basketball that we’ve played since I’ve been here coaching at Washington State,” Kent said after his team came away with a 77-65 victory to improve to 4-0. “I thought we were awesome – the way we ran, the rhythm of the game, the tempo of the game was outstanding.”
The first half saw the Cougars shoot 60 percent from the floor and hold the Tigers to just ten baskets and 26 points.
But things changed in the second half. The Cougars got away from the system that gave them a dominant lead at halftime.
“Mentally, the second half I didn’t think we were sharp or as focused,” Kent said. “I thought we got greedy a little bit, took some bad shots.”
The Tigers – down 21 points at halftime – got within nine points in the second half but never got closer. It seemed whenever WSU needed a basket to retain a comfortable lead, it was junior Ike Iroegbu that stepped up.
Iroegbu finished with 19 points and made 7 of 9 shots, including all three attempts from the 3-point line.
“I feel like there was a moment at the start of the second half where we weren’t sharing the ball like we were in the fist half.”
Sharing the ball resulted in 20 total assists for the game. Twelve of those came in the team’s stellar first half.
Kent used Iroegbu as one example of how the Cougars as a team played from half to half.
“I thought he was phenomenal in terms of decision-making and those things in the first half,” Kent said. “I thought he hit a stretch to start the second half that he knocked himself and really knocked the team out of rhythm a little bit. Once we sat him down, when he came back into the game, he got back on his game.”
Junior Josh Hawkinson returned after missing his last game with an injury. Hawkinson did not start but came off the bench to lead the team with 20 points in 23 minutes of play.
Kent said Hawkinson won’t come off the bench the rest of the season.
“It was good for him to get a game underneath his belt, but he’s our starter, he’s our stud.”
The Tigers played a smaller lineup, which forced limited minutes for WSU’s bigs, notably Connor Clifford and Valentine Izundu.
Hawkinson and Junior Longrus logged the bulk of the minutes for WSU’s bigs, but Clifford and Izundu will be relied upon on Dec. 2 when Gonzaga comes to Pullman.
“They’ve got some big guys that are pretty skilled and pretty physical as well,” Longrus said of the 10th-ranked Bulldogs. “It’s something that we’ve got to prepare for and get ready for. I think we definitely have a versatile group of bigs that we can throw out there and help us out. We’ve got big guys, we’ve got skill guys, we‘ve got athletic guys so I’m very excited to see that matchup.”
Longrus finished with an efficient stat line: eight points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 34 minutes of play.
WSU will need all of its bigs when the 4-1 Bulldogs come to town.