With a little more than a minute left before halftime on Monday, Cedric Coward sank one free throw and then the other to draw Eastern Washington back within 17 points of Washington State.
Thirty seconds later, Casey Jones made two more free throws to get the deficit to 15.
It was the sort of slow comeback the Eagles had mounted a year ago against the Cougars, one that ultimately ended in a victory.
But in the rematch this season, played in front of 5,224 fans at the Spokane Arena, the Cougars were sure to squelch any fire the Eagles had left in them.
Washington State rode hot shooting early, withstood a push from the Eagles and hardly ever lost its roll offensively in an 82-56 victory over Eastern Washington.
“I think we had waves in the game where we were in rhythm,” Eagles sophomore Ethan Price said. “We just weren’t consistent enough with it.”
The Eagles (1-4 overall) finished the game 19 of 61 from the field (31.1%) but were dismal in the first half, when they made just 6 of 29 shots overall and 2 of 15 3-pointers.
Eagles coach David Riley said they weren’t bad shots – he’d seen plenty of those in losses earlier this season in Hawaii – but neither were the Eagles able to play well enough defensively to endure the shooting drought.
“Really good teams can weather a storm when they’re not making shots,” Riley said. “Really good teams, their defense is going to stay consistent, and then finally the dam’s going to break, and that did happen offensively for us,” Riley said. “But the issue was, we stopped playing defense.”
Washington State (2-2) was led by the shooting duo of Jabe Mullins and Justin Powell, who combined to score 38 points, all but two of which came from beyond the arc. As a team, the Cougars shot 15 of 30 from long range and 31 of 64 overall (48.4%).
They also committed six turnovers – half of their previous season-low of 12 – and allowed Eastern to score just four points off those turnovers.
With the game tied 7-7 early, Washington State went on a 27-10 run, and though Eastern did get back within 13 points early in the second half, 39-26, the Cougars answered that with a pair of 3s from TJ Bamba and Mullins to all but put away the game.
Bamba had 14 points on 6 of 13 shooting; Mouhamed Gueye added 17, making 7 of 11 attempts.
Eastern, for its part, got sophomore Steele Venters going, especially after halftime when he scored 15 of his team-high 20 points. Just once previously this year had Venters scored in double digits, but he found his shot from outside on Monday, making 5 of 7 3-pointers after leading the Big Sky in long-range shooting last season.
“We knew Venters was going to break out. I was hoping it wasn’t against us, but he got him going,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “(Shooters like him) are just, they’re very valuable. When Venters shot, I just looked the other way and I could tell by my bench’s reaction whether it went in or not.”
But aside from Venters, no one else had more than Price’s 11 points for the Eagles. That included senior Angelo Allegri, who was held scoreless for the first time in 39 career games with the Eagles. He was 0 for 8 overall and 0 for 6 from 3-point range.
Still, Riley said he likes that his team has responded well this season to setbacks, improving its rebounding, then its turnovers, of which it had a season-low nine against the Cougars. Next, he said, the team has to get its shooting on track.
“We have success because we learn something from every single game, and we take steps throughout the season,” Riley said. “Every single year, we’re playing our best ball by February and March, and that’s the goal. It’s not about how good you are on Nov. 21.”
Shot clock snafu doesn’t bother Smith
Less than two minutes into the game, the shot clock on one end of the court went dead, leading to a brief delay. Ultimately, it was decided to turn off both shot clocks, and with none elsewhere in the Arena, the teams played without one.
Smith said he was unfazed by the outage, and told the refs “This is not my first rodeo.”
During his time coaching at Columbia from 2010 to 2016, the shot clock stopped working at least two times, he said, and there were other times at his stops in gyms across the West Coast Conference when there were similar outages.
“We actually had portables (at Columbia). We were very prepared,” Smith said.
There were no portables at the Arena, so when the clock reached 10, the public address announced it, and then at 5 he counted down the rest of the way. There were no shot-clock violations in the half, and at the break the clocks were repaired and functioned properly the entire second half.
Bella Murekatete matched a career-high scoring total to lead Washington State past Troy 87-72 at the Northshore Showcase in Laie, Hawaii.
Murekatete scored 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting and added 16 rebounds and five blocks in the win as the Cougars improved to 4-1 on the season.
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