Will DiIorio will probably never fill up a stats sheet, but the hard-working junior -- who went on scholarship last season -- demonstrated Friday night why his hard work and scrappy play is valued greatly by the Cougars.
DiIorio drew three fouls in the final 5 minutes, 18 seconds, when the outcome was still undecided. He hit a couple of the resulting free throws and contributed to WSU's lock-down defense in the second half of a 65-54 victory over Buffalo at KeyArena.
"I just love how Will plays as hard as he can," WSU coach Ken Bone said. "He might not come up with the rebound, but he'll tip it. He'll pick up a charge. He'll come up with a loose ball. He'll make a good cut and catch and score, or pass it.
"He just makes a lot of hustle plays."
Bone said his reasoning was simple for starting DiIorio in place of Royce Woolridge in the second half.
"Energy," Bone said. "Simply energy. Try to get our energy level up."
DiIorio had missed two games since twisting an ankle Dec. 5 against Gonzaga. Asked if was ready to start in the second half, the soft-spoken DiIorio simply replied, "Always." He wound up playing a season-high 19 minutes – 12 in the second half – and scored six points.
"Bring energy – that's my main thing," said DiIorio, a Bainbridge High School graduate who had plenty of friends and family in the stands. "Go out and compete. Dive for loose balls."
"Will's great for us," backcourt partner DaVonte Lacy said. "He's one of those guys, like Mike Hart of Gonzaga – he just brings energy.
"We need those guys to win championships. He does the dirty plays (work).
"It's not going to show up (on the stats sheet) that he boxed out three times and prevented their team from getting three offensive rebounds. But we (players) see it, and the coach sees it."
LACY HOT: Unlike DiIorio, Lacy's fine play was easy to decipher from the stats sheet.
The sophomore from Tacoma, who loved watching sweet-shooting Ray Allen play for the Seattle SuperSonics at KeyArena, turned in a pretty fair impersonation of Allen by tying his career high of five 3-pointers (on seven attempts). He led all players with 19 points.
"It's all off my teammates," Lacy said, "because they see how I'm going. They see my shots are going (down). They find me, they set screens for me."
AUSSIES HELP: Lacy regained his starting job after coming off the bench in his first two games since missing four games with a sprained knee.
Dexter Kernich-Drew, 0 for 9 from beyond the arc in the previous three games, resumed his usual bench role and hit 2 of 5 treys. He finished with 10 points.
Fellow Australian Brock Motum had a rare off-night shooting (6 for 15 from the field and 1 for 4 on free throws), but he still finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
"We were walking back to the locker room after the game," Bone said, referring to Motum. "He goes, ‘Coach, that was ugly.'
"That's just the way certain games are, and I thought he was one of the ugly guys. He was one of the guys that played ugly, but he was scrapping."
Indeed, Motum scored back-to-back baskets on offensive rebounds to wipe out Buffalo's final lead at 49-48.
"I thought Buffalo did a great job of guarding him," Bone said.
CONTRASTING HALVES: Bone said the first half was anything but ugly, and he did not mean that in a kind way.
"The first half, I thought, was kind of pretty for both teams," Bone said sarcastically. "A lot of nice shots."
Translation: The defense was atrocious at both ends of the court. Players routinely hit wide-open jumpers. Both teams sank 7 of 11 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
That all changed in the second half. Buffalo's shooting percentages dropped from 56 percent from the field (64 percent on 3-pointers) in the first half to 21 percent from the field (20 percent on 3's) in the second half.
"We weren't playing hard enough (in the first half)," Bone said. "For us to be good, we have to play hard."
The Cougars improved to 8-0 in the Cougar Hardwood Classic, WSU's annual Seattle "home" game. The crowd numbered 7,269, which is probably two or three times as much as the Cougars would have drawn for the game in Pullman during the holiday break.
BALANCED EFFORT: Friday marked only the second time Motum failed to lead the Cougars (8-4) in scoring this season. Kernich-Drew edged Motum 16-15 against Texas A&M on Nov. 20. Woolridge and Motum shared team honors with 14 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 24. Still, Motum's 15 was enough to moved him past Kyle Weaver and Terry Ball into 17th on WSU's career scoring list. Motum now has 1,172 points.
Woolridge, by the way, played with far more defensive intensity in the second half Friday. He also had a career-high seven assists.
Another helpful Cougar was forward D.J. Shelton. He finished one off his career high with 11 rebounds and helped limit Buffalo star Javon McCrea (who had foul problems) to just two points in 18 minutes.
Bone made note of Shelton's rebounding and also gave props to freshman forward Junior Longrus for his hard play after not leaving the bench in the first half. WSU trailed 37-35 at the half, but Longrus pushed the Cougars ahead 40-37 soon after he entered the game by throwing down a thunderous slam dunk that delighted the crowd.
"He's just a responsible guy that you can trust," Bone said. "You know you're going to get the best effort out of him every time you put him in."
ONE LEFT: The Cougars, who have won three in a row and six of seven, get a few days off before returning to Pullman to prepare for next Saturday's "home" game with Idaho State in Kennewick (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The Cougars then open Pac-12 play at home Saturday, Jan. 5 against Washington (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).