PULLMAN – Incarnate Word coach Carson Cunningham has a PhD in history and is the author of five books on subjects as diverse as the Chicago Cubs and “Huckleberry Finn.”
What he couldn’t write up, however, was a way to get his Cardinals to shut down Washington State in the lane or keep them off the glass Saturday afternoon. Incarnate Word couldn’t generate much offense beyond an early flurry of 3-pointers in a game in which WSU forged a 19-point halftime lead and cruised to an 87-59 victory at Beasley Coliseum.
Isaac Bonton had a breakthrough performance for the Cougars (8-4) with a game-best 19 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Bonton was 7 of 16 from the floor, including 2 of 4 on 3-pointers.
“He is really aggressive. He had a little rough start, too. But I told him to keep playing,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “When he gets penetration, good things happen to us.”
A couple of Bonton’s assists were highlight quality. He flipped a ball behind his back to CJ Elleby trailing him down the lane for a layup, and he fired a no-look pass from the high post to Jeff Pollard on the block.
“I love it,” Bonton said. “When I can get other guys their stats, that feels good as a point guard.”
For all that, Bonton was just as eager to talk about WSU’s defense and its effort to get kills – three stops in a row.
Pollard showed up for the Cougs with 11 points and six rebounds, but his biggest contribution was denying the Cardinals (3-9) in the lane.
“I love that guy,” Smith said. “I think he is good every night. He anchors our defense.”
Incarnate Word never led, but after WSU went on an 11-2 run to open the game, the Cardinals shot their way back into contention from the perimeter, keyed by Augustine Ene’s pair of 3-pointers. The Cardinals remained resilient as Keaston Willis sunk a shot from beyond arc to close the gap to 27-21 with 7 1/2 minutes left in the half. From there, though, the Cardinals gradually lost ground, falling behind 46-27 at the break.
Incarnate Word got within 15 points midway through the second half after converting a pair of WSU turnovers and a missed 3-point try into layups. But the Cougars stopped dumping ill-advised passes into the post and took away that opportunity.
A Pollard 3-pointer and an Elleby drive restored WSU’s lead to 20, and the Cardinals couldn’t slow the Cougars over the final 9 minutes.
WSU dominated, especially in rebounding with a 53-27 advantage. The Cougars were efficient from the floor, hitting 34 of 69 shots (49.3%). The Cardinals shot just 25% (8 of 32) in the first half and only improved to 34.4% (22 of 64) for the game.
Guards Dwight Murray and Drew Lutz led Incarnate Word with 10 points each.
“I like their guards,” Smith said, noting the Cardinals had something of a perimeter game early, using ball screens and kicking outside after drawing in the defense to get good 3-point looks. Incarnate Word hit 4 of 10 3-pointers in the first half but faded off in the final half, making just 1 of 7.
Elleby and Aljac Kunc contributed 13 points apiece for WSU. Kunc made 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.
“If they’re going to let me get open, I’m going to shoot it,” Kunc said.
The Cougars host Arkansas Pine Bluff on Dec. 29, their last nonconference game before opening Pac-12 play against USC on Jan. 2 in Pullman.
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