PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars will see 24 teams throughout the course of this basketball season – and 24 teams with significantly more talent than the one they saw Sunday afternoon in a preseason exhibition game.
New Hope Christian College, a small bible college from Eugene with an enrollment of 100, didn’t do much in the way of giving Ernie Kent’s 2018-19 team a true litmust test, but Sunday’s exhibition did help a new wave of Washington State basketball players adjust to a setting they’ll spend plenty of time in over the next four months and the Cougars looked comfortable enough in their first live action at Beasley Coliseum, thumping the Deacons 138-63.
The fresh nets at Beasley got plenty of use Sunday, as WSU pumped in 17 3-pointers – on 27 attempts – connecting on 62 percent from beyond the arc. Exhibition games aren’t counted officially, but the Cougars fell one 3 short of the school’s single-game record of 18.
Freshman Aljaz Kunc led WSU with 24 points on 10-of-11 shooting and was one of eight Cougars to finish in double digits. Junior college transfer Jervae Robinson had 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while another freshman, CJ Elleby, finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Carter Skaggs spearheaded the 3-point barrage, canning 5-of-9 to finish with 15 points.
“We needed a game just to show the college community and show people in this community just what we’ve brought in,” said Kent, who enters his fifth season as the WSU coach. “Our talent level, our skill set, the ability to pass, dribble and shoot the ball. I’m hoping people had the chance to see them and don’t worry about the score, but worry about the feel.”
From that standpoint, the exhibition didn’t lack entertainment value.
After forcing a turnover in the second half, Viont’e Daniels advanced the ball to Ahmed Ali who dribbled through the open court and slipped a bounce pass to a trailing Isaiah Wade. Wade, who’d signaled to his teammate for an alley oop, collected the ball anyway and stepped toward the rim before flushing down a one-handed dunk.
“I told (Ali) ‘off the glass,’ but he told me to stay humble,” Wade said.
The Cougars roused a small crowd with their dunks – of which there were 10 – and 3-point bombs, but Kent and his staff were more encouraged by another number. WSU moved the ball cleanly and efficiently, totaling 35 assists on 56 made baskets. The Cougars only committed nine turnovers.
“That’s one thing we’ve been working on since summer, since we all came together,” Elleby said. “Just sharing the ball, trying to find our chemistry together. It’s been a process but I feel like we’re on the right track.”
Kent’s starting five consisted of three guards, Ali, Daniels and Elleby, and two forwards, Jeff Pollard and reigning Pac-12 Most Improved Player Robert Franks. The coach wants to start games with a “defensive unit that can get stops.”
Kent pointed out that 13 times against New Hope the Cougars were able to string together three consecutive defensive stops.
“The thing I like about them,” Kent said, “is they can play a multitude of defenses because they’re so long and we have so many interchangeable pieces.”
WSU opens up the 2018-19 season in earnest next Sunday at home against Nicholls State. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. and the game will air on the Pac-12 Networks.