PULLMAN – With 16 minutes to play, Washington State was sitting on a comfortable 47-33 lead over Sacramento State Wednesday in Beasley Coliseum.
With 3:44 left, the Cougars were down a point, 59-58, after the Hornets’ Eric Stuteville spun and scored on Conor Clifford, drew a foul and nailed a free throw.
“Games before you head to Christmas break are always tough games,” Cougars head coach Ernie Kent said.
“We played like we were ready to go to the airport in the second half.”
But the Cougars outscored the Hornets 16-7 down the stretch to pull out a 74-66 win to finish nonconference play 7-5.
The late heroics included a Malachi Flynn baseline drive to tie the score at 60. Robert Franks and Josh Hawkinson each hit a driving basket and a couple of free throws, and Charles Callison scored on a trip down the baseline and added four free throws and a steal in the last 17 seconds.
“I saw guys being able to make stops at critical times and make free throws at critical times,” Kent said.
Sacramento State (3-8) has typically had trouble scoring. The Hornets’ malaise was contagious. The Hornets finished shooting 23 of 54 (42.6 percent) from the floor. The Cougars were only marginally better at 26 of 58 (44.8 percent). Both teams fired up a season’s worth of air balls, odd caroms and shots that refused to stay down.
The Cougars were diligent about moving the ball against Sacramento State’s zone but were only intermittently successful in getting inside it. Often they launched 3-pointers as the shot clock was ticking off its final seconds.
Fouls didn’t help. Clifford and Hawkinson had to manage them in the second half. Clifford fouled out with just more than 3 minutes to play and Hawkinson sat out the first 4 minutes of the second half and finished with four fouls. WSU’s leading scorer this season, he was able to contribute only eight points while Clifford scored 13 on 6-of-9 shooting.
“All our bigs were in foul trouble,” Clifford said. “You could not be as physical as you want. You’ve got to play off a bit. But that’s just the game.”
Ike Iroegbu led WSU with 15 points. He added five rebounds and three assists, and he and Flynn were efficient in breaking down Sacramento State’s press and attempt to trap the guards in the second half.
“A guy gets doubled, you find the open man. We just do what we did in practice and handled it,” Iroegbu said.
WSU also held Sacramento State’s leading scorer, Justin Strings, in check. He had been averaging 14.7 points a game, but the Cougars held him to seven.
“We locked in and focused on where he was, particularly on the curl cuts,” Kent said.
While WSU failed to take advantages of chances to break away from Sacramento State, Kent said he was heartened by the win.
“This year’s team is starting to come together,” he said.
Whitworth 99, Alma 72: Christian Jurlina and Kyle Roach combined for 53 points to lead eighth-ranked Whitworth over Alma College in a neutral-site game at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
Jurlina scored 28 and Roach added 25 as the Pirates (8-1) drained 15 of 25 shots (60 percent) from beyond the arc against the Scots (3-6), the defending champions of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
Derek Isaak added 11 points for the Bucs. Whitworth ended the game 55.7 percent from the floor, dishing a season-high 20 assists, led by five from Kenny Love. The Pirates forced 22 Alma turnovers while committing only seven, offsetting a 40-34 rebounding deficit.
Trevor Gernaat led the Scots with 19 points and Chase Fairchild finished with 17.
Whitworth will take a holiday break before returning to action on Dec. 30 against Buena Vista (Iowa) in a tournament at Whitman College in Walla Walla.
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