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Sports >  WSU basketball

DJ Rodman rises to the challenge, lifts Washington State to nonconference win over Northern Colorado

Dec. 18, 2021 Updated Sat., Dec. 18, 2021 at 7:38 p.m.

Washington State forward DJ Rodman (11) grabs a rebound in front of teammate Efe Abogidi and Northern Colorado forward Jamel Melvin Saturday in Pullman.  (Courtesy of WSU Athletics)
Washington State forward DJ Rodman (11) grabs a rebound in front of teammate Efe Abogidi and Northern Colorado forward Jamel Melvin Saturday in Pullman. (Courtesy of WSU Athletics)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Coaches challenged DJ Rodman to elevate his game. Soon after, Rodman’s opponents dared him to have a breakout performance.

Washington State’s junior forward responded with a career night.

Rodman hit 6 of 11 from 3-point range Saturday at Beasley Coliseum, burying three key 3-pointers during a breakaway stretch for the Cougars in their 82-56 win over Northern Colorado.

The Bears (6-7) clogged the paint and played loose at the perimeter. Rodman – a reliable shooter but known mostly for his defensive efforts – exploited that strategy and scored a career-high 21 points while maintaining his identity with a career-best 10 rebounds.

“He’s got a good feel, a good brain, a good understanding,” said WSU coach Kyle Smith, whose team bounced back from a pair of tight upset losses and improved to 8-4 on the year.

“(The Bears’) game plan was to not guard our 4s and pack it in, and make it hard on our bigs,” Smith said. “When DJ got in the game, I was like, ‘They’re not guarding DJ, so you gotta shoot.’

“When they adjusted, it was good to see him being aggressive about it.”

The visitors from the Big Sky Conference tightened up and trimmed a 21-point second-half deficit to 10 with 16:18 remaining, but Rodman carved out a few more openings at the arc. He hit his final three 3s, outscoring the Bears 9-0 by himself over the next 5 minutes.

“I’ve always had the green light. I just hadn’t been shooting it well,” Rodman said. “Some of it’s a little mental, but I think I grew out of that this game.”

From there, WSU flowed on defense and coasted.

The Cougars protected a big lead, closing out a game that suddenly became close in the second half. They had struggled to do the same in four games this season, most recently blowing an 18-point advantage in a 64-61 loss to New Mexico State on Wednesday.

“We had a better attitude. We had a motive to put this team in the ground,” Rodman said. “We always have a saying to use cutthroat mentality and just stomp on their neck.

“Not in a violent way, obviously – more in the mental game. We want them to feel like they want to quit because we’re giving it to them the whole game. I felt like we did that, except that little stretch.”

Rodman absorbed a shove while he let fly a rainbow-arching 3 from the corner with about 13 minutes left. He drew a foul and knocked down the shot – a needed boost to the Cougars’ sideline that effectively quashed the Bears’ comeback attempt early in the second period.

“I think that demoralized them,” Rodman said of his fifth 3-pointer.

Rodman entered the game shooting 26% from distance this season. He was coming off a 0-for-5 effort and an uncharacteristically poor defensive showing in WSU’s downer against NMSU.

“(Assistant Jim Shaw) challenged both of us this game to grow up and become the players that we can be, and I think tonight really showed that both of us can be good players on this team,” Rodman said, also referring to sophomore forward Andrej Jakimovski.

Jakimovski was working through a similar rough patch in recent games. He also responded to the challenge Wednesday, attacking UNC’s interior defense and totaling 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

Guard Michael Flowers had another strong scoring day, connecting on 3 of 5 3-point attempts and scoring 16 points. Forward Efe Abogidi added 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the floor and guard Noah Williams scored 11 points but was 3 of 13 from the field.

WSU finished 43% from the field and 12 of 33 (36.4%) from distance – compared to UNC’s 32% on field goals and 9 of 32 (28%) on 3-pointers.

The Cougars offset their sluggish shooting start with extra possessions. They forced UNC into 12 of its 17 turnovers before halftime. Smith was especially pleased with WSU’s 14 assists against eight turnovers.

WSU closes its nonconference schedule at 5 p.m. Wednesday against Boise State in the Spokane Arena.

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