Washington State shook off its early shooting woes Saturday to dispatch shorthanded Eastern Washington 71-68 at Beasley Coliseum.
Noah Williams, who led the Cougars (2-0) with 19 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists, was key down the stretch
Williams hit back-to-back 3-pointers to erase a second-half deficit scoring on a late drive and a pair of free throws to help upend the defending Big Sky Conference champions.
“I was just taking advantage of what the defense was giving me,” said Williams, who also drew a pivotal charge in the closing seconds. “If the open shot was there, I wasn’t going to hesitate.”
EWU (1-0) was without the services of five players due to COVID-19 protocol, including starting point guard Ellis Magnuson, sixth-man shooting guard Casson Rouse, forward Tyler Robertson and guards Steele Venters and Austin Fadal.
Six players saw the floor for EWU, which led for more than 33 minutes despite suiting up eight players.
EWU still had a chance at a potential game-winning shot, but Kim Aiken Jr. (14 points, eight rebounds) was called for an offensive foul in the final three seconds.
WSU’s Isaac Bonton (11 points) hit two free-throws, and he Eagles got another quick look, but Jacob Davison’s 30-foot hoist was off the mark.
EWU, which jumped to a 16-3 lead, was led by forward and Shadle Park graduate Tanner Groves, had team-high 17 points and nine rebounds for EWU.
He scored 12 points and hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half for the Eagles, which led 39-33 at halftime.
Groves’ younger brother, sophomore Jacob Groves, had 16 points and eight rebounds.
Washington State missed nine of its first 10 shots and shot 34 percent in the first half.
The Cougars, which hadn’t faced EWU since 2012 and leads the all-time series 15-1, used their depth to get past the Cougars.
WSU’s bench outscored EWU’s bench 25-1.
“That was a gutsy win for us,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said.
EWU’s numbers took another hit in the closing two minutes when Tanner Groves left the game with apparent injury and didn’t return.
Davison, the Big Sky’s preseason Most Valuable Player, and WSU’s top returner, Bonton, were held in check.
Bonton, who scored 28 points in Washington State’s 56-52 win over Texas Southern on Wednesday, was 3 for 16 shooting.
Davison (12 points), who played 22 minutes due to foul trouble, was 4 for 10 from the field with five turnovers.
Note: EWU’s home opener on Monday against Montana Tech was cancelled, according to EWU, and next weekend’s Big Sky games at Northern Arizona were rescheduled to Dec. 18 and 19 due to coronavirus concerns.
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