WSU rolls to win despite second-half woes

Midway through the first half of the Cougars' first-round game of the NIT against Long Beach State, Marcus Capers attempted a jumper – and the ball got stuck on the rim.

It was indicative of Washington State's performance on Wednesday night as they knocked off the 49ers 85-74. Despite standout play by Faisal Aden and Klay Thompson, the Cougars played like a team that was stuck in a lesser tournament than they had desired; stuck in a near empty Beasley Coliseum; and just plain stuck.

Thompson and Reggie Moore both missed their first shots to give Long Beach State an early lead – and the problems didn't stop there. A turnover by DeAngelo Casto and another by Thompson less than a minute later had the small crowd of 4,213 virtually silent.

It wasn't until there was 16 minutes, 29 seconds left that Thompson hit a 3-pointer, and Moore's jumper gave the Cougars a 5-2 lead on their next possession. Capers played out of a double-team effort for a dunk with just under 14 minutes left, adding some much needed spark to the Cougars' offense, which was piling up missed shots in rapid succession.

Long Beach State was as cold as winter on the Palouse from the field, which should have given the Cougars at least a 10-point advantage, but both teams, known for their up-tempo play, ran into execution problems.

"First-half defense was very, very good," Washington State coach Ken Bone said in a postgame radio interview. "They did get some open looks; they just didn't put the ball in the basket. We were very good in the first 20."

WSU turned over the ball with about 13 minutes left, but got it back mere seconds later as Casto took it right past an oblivious 49ers defense and down the court for another dunk to put the Cougars up 13-6. He finished the night with 14 points and eight rebounds.

On the Cougars' next possession, Aden had a block, but was unable to convert on a layup. Long Beach State got the ball back – and missed a glorious opportunity to close the gap. It was indicative of the 49ers' first half as they shot just 22.6 percent from the field.

Brock Motum's slam dunk widened WSU's lead to 15-6, and Thompson added a jumper shortly thereafter as the Cougars' offense started to wake up. By the time Aden hit his second 3-pointer of the night en route to 19 points, things were going the way of crimson and gray, and the Cougars were showing confidence on the court. It was the fourth consecutive game Aden has scored in double figures.

Also benefitting WSU was that nothing seemed to be going right for Long Beach State – an uncontested 3-pointer for Larry Anderson fell short, and T.J. Robinson's dunk with 3 seconds left resulted in a personal foul – and gave WSU the chance for Thompson to shoot a pair of free throws to take a 36-18 lead into halftime. It was the fewest points the 49ers have scored in the first half this season.

"It went back and forth," Bone said. "It wasn't a real pretty game in a sense, early on, but our guys hung together and just chipped and chipped away."

BUT, AS BONE SAID, the second half was "night and day" from the opening period as the 49ers scored 56 points on the Cougars.

Their renewed intensity showed as Greg Plater and Lin Chang made back-to-back 3-pointers to kick off a 24-9 run that got Long Beach State within five points with 13 minutes left.

Bone didn't mince words, calling the situation "not good."

"If you can hold them to 18 in the first half, you expect to hold them to 20, 25, maybe 35 if they get going ... but 56? That's really unacceptable."

Thompson was fouled twice while in the act of shooting 3-pointers. He converted all six en route to a team-high 25 points, along with seven rebounds, four assists and a steal. His point production ranks second in WSU history for single-game NIT scoring.

Long Beach State hung close with WSU for most of the half, but the Cougars pulled away to score seven points – five of them by Aden – in 46 seconds with six minutes left to put them up 71-55.

Casper Ware, who scored a game-high 27 points, hit three 3s in the final five minutes, but the Cougars got the ball back and used the clock to their advantage. Long Beach State never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.

"Anytime you win, it feels good," Aden said in a postgame radio interview. "Defensively, we led them strong, with 18 points in the first half. Unfortunately, they made a huge run (later), but we held it together and battled it out.

"We did a good job of staying together and not breaking."

Bone said that while he knew Long Beach State was one of the best shooting teams in the country, he was more worried about the diminished student section in the coliseum since WSU is on spring break.

"The people who were here were loud and energetic and did a good job of supporting us, (but) we are spoiled with our students," he said. "We know that there is no place like home, and no place like Beasley when the students come in and get after it."

When the Cougars face Oklahoma State at 8:45 p.m. (TV: ESPN2) Monday, Bone said that not only does his team need to show up for all 40 minutes, but the stands must be packed with WSU students, too.

"I don't think they need to worry about homework Monday night," he said. "They need to be here."

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