TEMPE, Ariz. – During Washington State’s driest offensive stretch since the last time they were in the desert, coach Ernie Kent turned to a couple of first-year Cougars for scoring relief.
Sophomore transfer Derrien King and freshman Robert Franks provided it, jump-starting the WSU offense and providing a scoring punch that had been entirely absent for an agonizingly long stretch during the first half.
The cavalry had arrived. There just wasn’t nearly enough.
Arizona State beat WSU 84-73 thanks to a scoreless streak by the Cougars that encompassed 8:24 of the latter portion of the first half. When WSU’s aversion to scoring began, the Cougars held a two-point lead in a game that was already devoid of offense.
When it finally ended thanks to a pair of free throws by King, the Cougars remained down by 14 points.
“Unfortunately, we’ve got that window in all of our losses where we tend to play bad,” Kent said. “And that’s been the difference in the games for us.”
The Cougars did not play the Arizona schools on the road last year, but the year before, Ken Bone’s final year as coach, WSU scored just seven points in the first half at Arizona, and just 25 total in the game.
The first half on Thursday was not that bad. But an observer could be forgiven for thinking so.
The upside for WSU (9-7, 1-3 Pac-12) is that the lanky wings – both Franks and King stand around 6-foot-6 – were able to assert themselves in a hostile environment against an extra-motived opponent that was cheered on by 5,047 fans.
ASU (11-6, 1-3 Pac-12), after all, needed this win even more than the Cougars, having gone winless in the first two weeks of conference play.
“We were hard on the guys early in the week,” said first-year ASU coach Bobby Hurley. “You can’t have losing become acceptable or comfortable. And then as the week progressed it was more about hopefully trying to build the guys up and letting them know that we played three really difficult games.”
King has been a spot player for the Cougars, mostly contributing as an outside shooter with nine of his 15 field goals entering Thursday’s game coming from behind the arc.
But King showed off his driving ability at ASU, getting to the line for six free throws, making five on his way to a career-high 11 points.
“We’ve been working on not settling so much,” King said. Because we know we can take teams off the bounce, get (them) in foul trouble.”
Franks had only scored 10 points all season entering Thursday’s game against the Sun Devils, but he scored his career-high 11 points in a variety of ways. He canned a 3-pointer, was two-for-five on 3-point attempts and showed a mature jump shot.
“A freshman on the road, that’s big to come in an opponent’s environment and give us the punch that we needed in a crucial time,” teammate Junior Longrus said. “I commend him on that and hopefully we’ll be seeing that more often as we go through the Pac-12.”
Josh Hawkinson led the Cougars with 15 points and 12 rebounds to pick up his 11th consecutive double-double, a school record. Hawkinson picked up his third foul – a charging call as he made a basket – with 8:02 left in the first half, sending him to the bench and forcing perhaps a more tentative style of play than the junior is accustomed to playing.
Senior forward Brett Boese, a graduate of Shadle Park High, made his first start of the season and drilled his only shot attempt, a 3-pointer.
Tra Holder, who scored eight consecutive points to turn a manageable six-point deficit with 6:49 to play into a sizable ASU advantage, undid the Cougars. The game had until that point been a defensive struggle. But when Holder drilled consecutive 3-pointers in less than a minute the Sun Devils found their offensive rhythm and left the Cougars gasping for one of their own.
Holder scored exactly 20 points, making him the first ASU player to score at least that number in five consecutive games since James Harden did it as a freshman during the 2007-08 season.
But Kodi Justice may have been the decisive player for the Sun Devils. Justice scored 16 points and made four-of-nine 3-point attempts, including a pair early in the second half after a WSU surge cut ASU’s lead to just five points.
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