With about 11 minutes left at the Spokane Arena, Carter Skaggs rose from the Washington State bench and trotted toward the scorer’s table. A loud chorus of cheers followed him there.
Within six seconds of his arrival on the court, Skaggs caught a pass from Malachi Flynn about chest level, hoisted the ball over his head and pulled the trigger. It sliced through the net and the crimson-painted crowd bellowed again.
For a 25-minute window of Wednesday’s nonleague contest between WSU and Kansas State, Skaggs was the life of the party. The super sub squeezed all of his game-high 24 points into that 25-minute span, shooting an efficient 9-of-14 from the field while helping the Cougars climb out of a 17-point hole.
But the party died midway through the second half, KSU waited out Skaggs’ surge and the Wildcats charged hard in the final minutes to emerge with a 68-65 victory.
“Kansas State is a veteran basketball team … and as much as we took control down the stretch, that veteran team just grinded out the game,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “And there was probably 10 plays in the last three minutes of the game that could’ve closed the game out for us. We made two of them, we made eight of them.”
In hindsight, the Cougars (7-4) might wonder why Skaggs wasn’t involved in any of those.
“Unfortunately, we could’ve found him a little bit more,” Kent said.
For much of the season, Skaggs has been second or third on the substitute totem pole, playing just more than 15 minutes per game and averaging under seven points per game.
But his eruptions are something to behold, something former Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford and Seattle U learned when Skaggs poured in a career-high 26 on seven 3-point makes in the second game of the season.
The Logansport, Indiana, native checked into the game with 13:10 to go in the first half and jolted the offense immediately, scoring 10 quick points on a flurry of dribble-drives and catch-and-shoot 3’s. He finished the first half an efficient 5-of-7 for 13 points.
“My job is to make shots and bring energy and make sure the crowd’s having fun,” Skaggs said. “I take pride in that and that’s what I try to do.”
But the Cougars went into the break trailing 35-25 because eight other players not wearing No. 35 managed just 4-of-24 from the field.
Skaggs jumpstarted WSU in the opening minutes of the second half with his fourth triple and nailed his fifth only minutes later to make it a three-point game. Malachi Flynn chipped in three treys – two of those from the top of the arc with a hand in his face – and the sophomore point guard gave the Cougars their first lead with a pair of freebies with 10:02 left.
A deep heave from Flynn put WSU up eight points with 7:19 left, but KSU’s experience started to kick in and the Wildcats kept the Cougars within two posessions until Barry Bown flushed home an open-court dunk to give the visitors a 64-63 lead with one minute on the clock.
Flynn opted to counter with a deep, contested 3 from the elbow but it fell short and the Wildcats closed out the game from the free throw line.
“I definitely was confident in that shot, but it just didn’t fall,” Flynn said.
Acknowledging Flynn’s success in moments like that, the WSU coach still would’ve liked to see his point guard take a higher-percentage shot.
“He’s such a competitor and wanted to hit the shot,” Kent said. “Unfortunately it didn’t go down.”
Behind Skaggs, Flynn was the top WSU scorer with 23 points, though he didn’t do it nearly as efficiently, connecting on just 8-of-20 shots from the field and only 4-of-14 from three-point range.
Brown had KSU-high 23 points, while forward Makiel Mawien chipped in 15 points to go with nine rebounds.
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