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Miller time: Washington State sparked by walk-on forward Tony Miller in 13-point win over Idaho

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 4, 2019

Washington State forward Tony Miller  attempts a layup as Idaho guard Trevon Allen, left,  forward Scott Blakney, center,  and guard Keyshaad Dixon  watch during the second half Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, in Moscow, Idaho. (Pete Caster / AP)
Washington State forward Tony Miller attempts a layup as Idaho guard Trevon Allen, left, forward Scott Blakney, center, and guard Keyshaad Dixon watch during the second half Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, in Moscow, Idaho. (Pete Caster / AP)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Their rotation shortened because of illness and their top scorer battling offensive inconsistency, the Washington State Cougars turned to an unlikely source in the Battle of the Palouse.

Tony Miller showed up early, he showed up often, and the well-traveled walk-on forward provided a spark for the Cougars in a comfortable 78-65 nonconference win over Idaho at the Cowan Spectrum.

Prior to Wednesday, Miller’s season high in minutes came during the second game of the Cayman Islands Classic, when the junior logged 13 against Old Dominion. Miller played 12 minutes the following game and set a season high with 10 points, which came on 5-of-6 shooting.

Against the Vandals, a positive trend continued for the transfer forward, who topped his season high in minutes (21) and in points, finishing an efficient 6 for 7 from the field for a game-high 18 points while gathering a season-high five rebounds.

The Cougars needed Miller’s offense on a night that saw 21 points-per-game scorer CJ Elleby finish 3 of 12 to match his season low with 10 points. They’ll need his tenacity in the paint the rest of the way, now that another transfer forward, Deion James, is out for 3-6 months with a heart infection.

“He’s just different than anyone we have in the frontcourt,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said of Miller. “He’s quick and long – you see some of the dunks he gets in there. He’s just quick in there, he can score, put in the basket. He goes after rebounds, not afraid to stick his nose in there and take a charge. It’s just welcome, especially his first year in the program. He kind of embodies everything we preach. He’s got a great attitude, he works hard and he’s really proud to be a Coug. So that kind of shows in a player and that’s the kind of play that’ll motivate other guys to play hard.”

Miller was a Division III standout at Seattle Pacific for two seasons before moving on to the Big Sky and Montana, where he used a redshirt in 2018-19 before climbing another step on the college hoops ladder to earn a walk-on spot with first-year coach Smith and WSU.

Cougars assistant Jim Shaw first spotted Miller while he was coaching at Western Oregon, a GNAC rival of Seattle Pacific. Smith later brought the Woodinville, Washington, native to the University of San Francisco on an official visit.

“It didn’t end up working,” Smith said. “He ended up in Montana and then just some things happened there and we’re lucky to have him.”

Miller, long and strong at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, also led the game in fouls drawn, with six, and converted once he got to the line, making 6 of 8 free throws. He added two steals and two turnovers.

“I think Tony’s just aggressive and you can’t teach that to some people, and when he comes in, his mindset is, whatever I do I’m going to give my effort and be aggressive,” WSU guard Jaylen Shead said. “… You can’t teach that, and I really enjoy when Tony’s on the court because I know he’s going to come in and he’s going to bang and do whatever he has to do.”

Miller sprung a 4-0 personal run toward the end of the first half to turn a one-point lead into five. The Cougars never looked back, leading by as many as 11 with 1:22 remaining in the half. Miller was responsible for another key sequence in the second half, converting a three-point play to restore a double-digit lead before turning a steal into a fast-break dunk to make it 42-28.

“I love how that kid plays,” Idaho coach Zac Claus said of Miller. “He changes momentum by how he plays defensively.”

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