The Australian native got the starting nod tonight for the Cougars (11-13, 5-7) against the Sun Devils (12-12, 4-7), hitting 9 of 12 shots, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“Proud of him, he deserves it,” guard DaVonte Lacy said. “He’s been playing really well in practice and that’s the whole problem we had was we just tried to get him to play (in the game) how he’s been playing in practice. I think he did today - you’ve seen the confidence and you’ve seen how good he is.”
Kent said afterward that he told Kernich-Drew and senior center Jordan Railey he wished he could coach the two players beyond this season.
“They both have really good games. They’re just kind of (have) under-developed games for whatever reason,” Kent said. “I’m happy that both of them are starting to have some success this season. In particularly if I don’t expect Dex to have 27 points every night, but just to play with that kind of energy and confidence. I’m extremely happy for him.”
Railey hit 3 of 4 from the field and scored six points.
After trailing Arizona State 34-29 at halftime, the Cougars made adjustments and limited the Sun Devils to 41 percent shooting in the second half. A bigger turnaround was rebounding; WSU outboarded Arizona State 18-17 in the second half after getting clobbered 25-10 by the Sun Devils during the first half.
“The adjustment was to just give them the instructions at a higher octane level. I would say in the locker room and make sure they heard it clearly this time about finishing the play and it was just blocking out,” Kent said. “We just talked about here’s what we’re giving up and here’s why because it was just mentally closing out and doing your job.”
Kent said the Cougars did a better job in the second half with turnovers and taking ill-advised shots in transition.
With 1:14 remaining, the Cougars had a two-point lead and the ball. With the shot clock winding down, Kernich-Drew hit a 3-pointer to all but seal the win.
“Three seconds on the clock and Ike (Iroegbu) kicked the ball to me and I was like ‘I might as well get the shot off’ and luckily it went in,” Kernich-Drew said.
The Cougars play No. 7 Arizona at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The game is on Fox Sports 1.
Kent says if his team doesn’t play better defense than it did Friday, the Wildcats will win by 30 points.
“There’s a beast coming in here,” Kent said. “We know the challenge ahead of us - it is a humongous challenge. Everybody is going to have to be, I don’t want to say perfect, but 8 of 10 times down the floor defensively you better be on your job and not have slippage. And 8 out of 10 times offensively you better be on your job and not have slippage because they will make you pay in a big way. f thIey open up the gap on us it’s going to be hard for us to hunt them down.”