Boise State’s Tyson Degenhart drained a momentum-shifting 3-pointer, and suddenly Spokane Arena felt like the Broncos’ home venue.
“That was a super special moment – something I’m never going to forget for the rest of my life,” said Degenhart, a standout true freshman forward out of Mt. Spokane High.
His open 3-pointer from the left wing lifted Boise State to a four-point lead against Washington State with about 2 minutes left, eliciting a roar from a sizable local contingent that showed up to support a Broncos roster that features an Eastern Washington flavor.
The Broncos protected their slim cushion, knocking down 9 of 10 from the foul line over the final 1:10 to turn away the sloppy-shooting Cougars 58-52 Wednesday night.
“I hadn’t really made a shot (like that) coming into that moment,” said Degenhart, who scored 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting and added six rebounds. “It was a great feeling to have that shot go down.”
The Broncos (9-4), winners of six straight games, erased a nine-point, first-half deficit with a quick spurt out of halftime as WSU (8-5) endured a scoring drought lasting over 4 minutes.
The Cougars’ offensive shortcomings weren’t confined to just one cold stretch during their nonconference finale. They shot 30.5% in all, and 26% after the break.
Several opportunities to recapture the advantage were wasted as layup attempts rattled out and clean looks from midrange and beyond consistently sailed wide.
“We’ve gotta be more patient, push through and fight for our shots,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “They’re a very good defensive team … but we’ve got to push through and deliver.
“We were throwing the ball at the rim in the second half. We were missing layups, missing bunnies.”
The Cougars coughed the ball up 15 times, and their 3-point woes continued (7 of 24).
But they were effective on defense throughout.
BSU hit just three of its first 20 field-goal attempts and shot 25% in the first half as WSU forced Broncos ball-handlers into hasty jumpers.
“Coming in, I thought it was probably going to be a defensive battle,” said BSU coach Leon Rice, a WSU alumnus and native of Richland who worked as an assistant at Gonzaga from 1999-2010.
“I knew scoring on them would be hard. Especially in that first half, it was a grind. They do a great job on that sideline. And I think we’re a pretty good defensive team, too.”
BSU entered the game with the No. 32-ranked defense in the country, according to KenPom.com. The Cougars are 42nd on that list.
The Broncos eliminated WSU’s scoring threats in the paint, crashed down on drives and limited the Cougars to only three made field goals across the final 11 minutes.
“They’re big and long, and they switch things up and make it really challenging to score,” Smith said. “They guard similar to us. It was tough.”
Sophomore forward Andrej Jakimovski provided the bright spot for WSU, logging his first-career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds while also doling out a team-high three assists. Guard Tyrell Roberts paced the Cougars with 16 points, and guard Noah Williams added 11 points .
Big men Efe Abogidi, Dishon Jackson and Mouhamed Gueye totaled a combined six points.
Boise State forward Abu Kigab fashioned openings with pump fakes underneath, piling up a game-best 19 points.
BSU forward Naje Smith, a graduate of Spokane’s Lewis and Clark High, contributed six points and four rebounds.
He scored on a nifty putback during a key BSU surge midway through the second half.
The teams traded the lead down the stretch, before Degenhart’s big 3-pointer.
WSU guard Michael Flowers drilled a pair of 3s and Williams hit another to knot the score at 42 with 3:34 to play, but Degenhart answered with a tough turnaround hook over Gueye and soon after hit his 3.
Cougars forward DJ Rodman fouled out with 1:10 left and his team trailing by two.
He was tagged with an intentional call after he grabbed a slashing Kigab. BSU netted four free throws and maintained a two-possession buffer from there.
WSU has lost five games by a combined 19 points. The six-point margin of defeat was the Cougars’ largest of the year.
“We’ve been poor in close games,” Smith said. “We’re either going to break through and get tougher and win some of these games, or we’re going to fold.
“The toughest team usually has the best chance to win. I don’t think we were not tough, but they were tougher. Hopefully, we’ll learn and grow and get better.”
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