5 takeaways from Ernie Kent's WSU debut

PULLMAN -- Ernie Kent graded his Cougars a C on their 14-point exhibition win over Division II Azusa Pacific on Friday, but from this viewpoint there were five interesting – and positive – takeaways, including an expanded shot chart.

Josh Hawkinson (pictured above) entered the WSU men’s basketball program a year ago as a big, but soft post player with some touch. He is now trimmer and stronger and looking like a very athletic forward who can be used in multiple ways in Ernie Kent’s system. Hawkinson did everything for the Cougars on Friday. He guarded the post, and helped guard the perimeter. He was able to create his own shots in the paint and finish, and he showed off a consistent jump shot that included hitting two three pointers. “That’s been something I’ve been working on a little more in the summer (my three point shot),” Hawkinson said after the game. “It wasn’t really ... part of my game last year, but it’s been something I’ve been striving to work on and continue to get better at.” Last season Hawkinson averaged 6.4 minutes of PT and 1.2 points per game. After his 24 points and 18 rebounds Friday a starting role may be in the offing.

Four Cougar players scored in double figures Friday. Besides Hawkinson, senior DaVonte Lacy had 22, fifth-year senior Dexter Kernich-Drew 15 and sophomore Que Johnson scored a quiet 10. Last season, the team relied heavily on one player, Lacy, to shoulder the scoring load. He did in fact take the most shots Friday, with 15, but Hawkinson and K-D combined for 20 while Johnson, Ike Iroegbu and Jordan Railey put up a collective 14, Kent’s system can provide more opportunities for multiple players. “I think it’s an awesome system because pretty much on any given night anyone can go off for a certain set of amount of points,” Hawkinson said. The Cougars had 40 points from the bench on Friday, but 24 of those points came from Hawkinson.

The stat sheet will show the Cougars turned the ball over 12 times, which isn’t great. However, the team had eight unforced turnovers which suggests there’s a learning curve taking place and can be fixed. “Those are things you can clean up, which gives you eight more shots -- and shooting 50-something percent from the field you see where you can get about ten more points in that and now all of sudden you’re up over 100 -- that’s the beauty of this system,” Kent said. “You can score in it if you defend and get stops.”

Though the Cougars shot the ball 20 times from the three-point line and hit 9 of them, they didn’t rely on the trey like that have in recent years. The Cougars attacked the paint in different areas. “The thing you got to understand when you talk about a post-up game, you got to look at points in the paint and Josh scored them in the paint, we got transition points in the paint, DaVonte scored in the paint, we got lay-ups by the guards in the paint,” Kent said. “When you look at overall in the paint, we probably scored really good in the paint it just wasn’t by a post-up game though.” The Cougars ended scoring 34 points in the paint on Friday.

While most of the talk all offseason was of the news faces Trevor Dunbar, Aaron Cheatum and Jackie Davis, it was the other new face, Ny Redding, who turned heads Friday. Redding played exceptional in his debut, tallying a team-high eight assists and scoring three points in 16 minutes of playing time. He also committed three turnovers but generally looked comfortable running Kent’s system. Redding played like a traditional point guard and focused on setting up teammate. “I thought Ny Redding was the best of the (new Cougar) group, I thought he did a really good job handling the point-guard position,” Kent said. “I thought Trevor Dunbar made some nice plays, missed a couple lay ups, I thought he changed the dimension of the game with his quickness, and then I thought Aaron Cheatum allowed us to play small ball because he was quick enough even with that big body to defend some guards on the perimeter and everything.”

The Cougars begin the regular season on the road Friday at 7 p.m. at UTEP (no TV).

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