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Washington State MBB falls to Mississippi State, 76-64, in season tip-off event in Connecticut

Washington State forward Andrej Jakimovski, with ball, drives toward the hoop during the first half of a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal game against Oregon on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.  (Al Powers)

PULLMAN – Across the two hours it took Washington State to drop its first game of the season, a 76-64 setback to Mississippi State Saturday evening in Uncasville, Connecticut, WSU head coach Kyle Smith may have learned something.

He may have begun to understand that guard Myles Rice, a redshirt freshman finally getting to see the floor, will make a huge impact this season. He led the team with 21 points. He was the Cougars’ go-to creator, a scorer who can get to the rim as easily as he can drain long shots (2 for 6 on 3-pointers).

Smith may have also learned this: His Washington State (2-1) team will need to improve in the rebounding department, where it lost the battle 39-30, and in the turnover column, where it lost 12. Rice may have paced the Cougs in scoring, but he also coughed up six turnovers without recording an assist.

With the loss, Washington State will play Rhode Island on Sunday on the final day of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

The scoreboard may suggest a wide margin of victory for Mississippi State (4-0), but the Bulldogs held the Cougars at arm’s length for most of the second half. On his way to 15 points, WSU guard Joseph Yesufu scored 10 in the second half, helping his team stay within striking distance. Forward Isaac Jones did the same, en route to 10 points, and at one point hitting two free throws to trim Mississippi State’s lead to 51-47.

That’s as close as the Cougars got in the second half. They spent the half facing a deficit that hovered around seven, threatening to come all the way back but never actually doing so.

For that, WSU can thank a disadvantage around the basket, where the Bulldogs scored 36 points in the paint, using their size to turn nine offensive rebounds into 5 second-chance points – and more importantly, 21 free throws.