KENNEWICK – The purpose of scheduling a nonconference, neutral-site game against a lower-tier opponent from the Big Sky Conference was to give Washington State’s alumni base in the Tri-Cities a rare opportunity to see the Cougars in person – and perhaps entice that subsection of fans to make the 140-mile trek to Pullman at some point during Pac-12 Conference play.
But Ernie Kent’s team failed on the promotional front Sunday against Montana State, and certainly on the basketball front, falling to the Bobcats 95-90 in front of 1,807 fans at the Toyota Center.
The Cougars, who’ve now lost each of their three games played outside of Pullman this season, didn’t do much to make themselves look more appealing after giving up 95 points to a team that had a previous season-high of 83.
WSU (5-3) didn’t lose to a top contender in the Big Sky Conference, but rather one that was selected to finish eighth in the conference this season. The two prior wins for MSU (3-6) were against Presentation College and North Dakota. The Cougars entered as 11 1/2-point favorites.
Two years ago, they were able to withstand a big game from Bobcats guard Tyler Hall and escape with a 69-65 win at Beasley Coliseum. But two years after a 32-point game on the Palouse, Hall chipped in 24 more Sunday – on 6-of-14 shooting from 3-point range – to become MSU’s career scoring leader.
And he had a sidekick this time.
Harald Frey, a junior guard from Norway, matched his teammate with six 3-pointers and a career-high 31 points. Frey also had a game-high 10 assists.
The Cougars got enough offensive production from their top players, as Robert Franks led the team with 25 points and freshman CJ Elleby added 20 more, scoring in double digits for the fourth consecutive game. Carter Skaggs also finished in double figures, with 14 points.
But WSU’s perimeter defense left plenty to be desired on a day the Bobcats – a 31-percent 3-point shooting team – canned 16 of 32 shots from behind the perimeter. The Cougars, meanwhile, made 12 of 31 from the 3-point line and went just 11 of 18 from the free-throw line.
The Cougars got into foul trouble early in the second half and finished the game without Jervae Robinson, who fouled out with nearly seven minutes left. Franks and Elleby each had four fouls.
WSU is off for the next eight days before hosting Rider (2-3) on Dec. 17. Despite the Cougars’ woes away from the Palouse this season, they’re 5-0 at Beasley Coliseum in 2018.
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