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Sports >  WSU basketball

Washington State wins rebounding battle by 29 boards, races past visiting Northern Kentucky

Dec. 7, 2022 Updated Thu., Dec. 8, 2022 at 11:01 a.m.

PULLMAN – After dropping back-to-back games to Pac-12 foes, Washington State rebounded with a one-sided win over a low-major opponent.

The Cougars overpowered visiting Northern Kentucky, dominating on the glass and racing out to a big lead in the first half of a 68-47 nonconference victory Wednesday at Beasley Coliseum.

“It feels good to get back on the winning side of things,” WSU guard TJ Bamba said. “It’s a confidence-builder.”

Coming off a road loss to Oregon and a letdown in overtime at home against Utah, the Cougars were searching for a pick-me-up ahead of a challenge Saturday in Las Vegas against unbeaten UNLV .

WSU (4-4) made quick work of the Norse (5-5).

The Cougars outmatched their opponents underneath the basket, outrebounding the Norse 41-12 – the fewest rebounds a WSU team has yielded in a game since Princeton managed seven in a 72-49 Cougars win in 1992.

“Honestly, I was a little shocked,” WSU head coach Kyle Smith said of the rebounding margin. “It was an awesome effort on the glass.”

The Cougars controlled the paint and held NKU without a field goal for an 8-minute stretch in the first half. WSU started to pull away midway through the first half, opening up a double-digit lead at the 8:09 mark after an eight-point spree from guard Justin Powell.

Bamba followed with back-to-back finishes in transition, including a soaring one-handed jam. The Cougars built a 16-point advantage by halftime and led by as many as 28 points after a 14-0 run that spanned nearly 7 minutes in the middle of the second half.

Bamba sliced through NKU’s defense for smooth buckets on penetration plays and topped all players with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field.

“I wasn’t trying to force the issue,” Bamba said. “Sometimes, in the last two games, I was trying to force the issue.”

The Cougars’ leading scorer this season at 16.3 points per game, Bamba shot a combined 11 of 31 for 28 points in WSU’s two most recent games.

“I think he felt responsible (for the Utah game) and he was like, ‘I’m going to come out here and play really well tonight,’ ” Smith said of Bamba. “And he did. It was great, and that’s the kind of person he is.”

WSU post Mouhamed Gueye, at 6-foot-11, made use of a considerable height advantage against NKU’s 6-8 forwards, tacking on 14 points (5-of-10 shooting) and 10 boards. Forward DJ Rodman, known for his aggressive style of play, hustled for five of the Cougars’ 15 offensive rebounds.

NKU forward Chris Brandon came into the contest averaging 11.7 rebounds per game – fifth in the nation – but came up with only one . The Norse had just one offensive rebound.

“(Coaches) always tell us to crash (the glass), and I think this was our best ‘crash’ game,” said Rodman, who added seven points. “They were trying to turn us over because they knew they couldn’t get a rebound over us,” Rodman said. “We had more offensive rebounds than they had (rebounds) overall. That’s a great sign for us.”

Powell, a Kentucky native, had a bounce-back game, contributing 11 points and four assists. He hit 3 of 4 attempts from 3-point range after totaling 20 points on 8-of-26 shooting from the floor (2 of 16 on 3-pointers) in WSU’s past two games.

True freshman guard Kymany Houinsou added six points, six rebounds and four assists.

“The more comfortable he gets, the better,” Smith said of the France native. “The athleticism is starting to come out when he has a little more comfort in what he’s doing.”

The Cougars shot 52% from the field and went 8 of 23 on 3-pointers – 5 of 9 in the first half. WSU shot a combined 7 of 44 from beyond the arc during losses to Oregon and Utah.

Trevon Faulkner scored 11 points and Marques Warrick added 10 to lead the Norse, who shot 43% from the field and 3 of 9 from distance. Warrick entered averaging 21.6 points per game.

“We just put good pressure on the ball,” Smith said. “Our team was really locked in and focused, and we really defended well.”

WSU played without forward Andrej Jakimovski and guard Jabe Mullins. Jakimovski has missed every game this season due to a foot injury. Smith is hoping the junior returns to the lineup by the end of the month. Mullins will be out for another “seven to 10 days,” Smith said. Freshman post Adrame Diongue suited up, but did not play due to the lingering effects of an illness.

“We’re a team that is going to get better as we get healthier and as these young guys (improve),” Smith said.

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