They opened up a big lead with imposing post play, then shut the door with a stunning play from one of their posts.
Efe Abogidi, the Washington State Cougars’ high-flying sophomore forward, launched from a few feet outside the restricted area with just under three minutes remaining in a four-point game. The 6-foot-10 Nigeria native put his defender on a poster, throwing down a dazzling one-handed jam that extinguished SMU’s momentum.
WSU guard Michael Flowers followed with a 3 from way downtown, and the Cougs cruised from there, knocking off the top-seeded Mustangs 75-63 in a second-round NIT game Sunday afternoon at Moody Coliseum in Dallas.
“ESPN, No. 1,” Flowers said of Abogidi’s highlight-reel slam.
Coach Kyle Smith agreed.
“I think we’ve got a chance,” he said. “It was a big play. We were up four and kind of reeling.”
Abogidi caught a transition pass at the right wing and had a clear lane to the basket. One undersized Mustang was late to arrive underneath. Abogidi rumbled inside, extended the ball high in his right hand and soared above him, drawing a blocking foul and sending Coug social media into a frenzy. Even SMU’s home crowd in Dallas couldn’t help but applaud.
“It was just wide open,” Abogidi said. “I had to take advantage of it.”
Sure enough, the spectacular dunk checked in at No. 1 on Sunday’s edition of SportsCenter Top 10.
WSU (21-14), competing in its first national postseason tourney in a decade, handed SMU its first loss at home this season – the Mustangs were 17-0 in Dallas entering the game. The Cougs will travel to Provo, Utah, for a quarterfinal matchup with BYU on Tuesday or Wednesday. A date and time are to be determined.
A 19-point Cougar lead early in the second half shrank gradually as star SMU guard Kendric Davis caught fire and WSU slumped offensively. The Mustangs (24-9) used an 11-0 run early in the second to climb back within single digits, but the Cougs made enough responses throughout the final 10 minutes to hold their foes at arm’s length and complete the wire-to-wire win.
“Great win for our program, probably our biggest win, period,” Smith said. “To beat a team on their home floor, where they’d won 19 in a row. … We knew they’d have a big punch at us in the second half and we were able to persevere – something we hadn’t been able to do early in the year.”
The Mustangs tend to field smaller, quicker lineups. Their tallest starter stands 6-5. WSU capitalized, building a 39-20 lead at the break behind a dominant effort underneath.
“Our big boys were big,” Smith said on his postgame radio show.
The Cougs went into the locker room with a 12-1 edge on the offensive glass and plus-17 on the boards overall. For the game, WSU outrebounded SMU 46-32 and 18-7 offensively, recording 17 second-chance points. When they slashed inside, SMU’s guards struggled to find open windows.
“I was worried that in the first media timeout we’d be down 11-2, because they’re so quick, but it was the opposite,” Smith said. “We got on the glass, missed a bunch of layups, but we were definitely imposing. Our big guys were doing a good job and our guards were handling the ball. We were pretty good defensively … around the rim, it was hard for them to finish.”
Abogidi registered 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Flowers finished with a team-high 22 points on 6 of 13 from the field, including a number of clutch shots to keep WSU in front during SMU’s second-half surge.
“I work on my shot a lot, believe in my abilities and my teammates trust in me to put the ball in my hands,” said Flowers, a senior who is three 3-pointers shy of breaking the single-season record of 98 that Klay Thompson set in 2012.
Guards TJ Bamba and Tyrell Roberts tacked on 13 and nine points, respectively. Bamba has produced double-figure scoring totals in six of his last seven games.
Center Dishon Jackson added eight points and nine boards, and freshman post Mouhamed Gueye collected four offensive rebounds in only 13 minutes of playing time.
WSU was without Jackson for an extended stretch in the second half after he took a shot to the head in a scramble for a loose ball. The 6-10 sophomore had been a force early on. Gueye, presumably still recovering from a recent ankle injury, played sparingly after the break. WSU settled for 3s for much of the second half and went 2 of 14 from deep, but a 23-of-26 mark from the foul line effectively offset its 3-point troubles. All nine Cougs who played scored as WSU shot 35.4%.
Davis, the American Athletic Conference’s player of the year, poured in 30 points on 50% shooting. Michael Weathers contributed 16 points for SMU while the rest of the Mustangs combined for 17 points on 5 of 25.
“We were able to fight and claw our way back,” Davis said. “It was one of those days. They made big shots down the stretch. They just kept us away and you gotta tip your hat to them. Nobody had beat us in this building and they did.”
NOTABLE: Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura sat courtside. They greeted the Cougars before the game.
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