Montana State lagged behind much of the game, struggling equally against the Cougar defense and its own ability to hit shots, some open and some contested. MSU shot a desultory 22-75 from the field (29 percent) on the night. And WSU found themselves ahead in almost all of the stat lines (except turnovers, Wazzu gave it away 17 time to MSU's eight).
So how was the score that close at the end?
MSU bombed away from 3-point land, attempting 39 treys to Wazzu’s 14. And the Bobcats hit 31 percent of them, better than their overall shooting percentage from the field. In the final moments, Montana State had closed to three points. The runnin’ Cougs, however, held on.
"We've cranked up the speed, so I knew we were going to have some turnovers. Seventeen turnovers is not bad, but it's when you have the turnovers that's bad,” said Kent, who added that between the turnovers and 10 missed free throws, the Cougs kept Montana State in the game.
Derrien King lead the first half charge, piling up 14 points as the Cougs shot 10 of 23 from the field. King finished with 22 points while true freshmen point guard Malachi Flynn saw a full day’s work, playing 34 minutes and scoring 10 points. The other Coug in double figures was Josh Hawkinson, who secured another double-double with 16 points and 13 boards, but he didn’t score his 10th point until late in this one.
On defense, the Cougs employed frequent switches, with Kent saying afterwards he had the Cougs playing man-to-man on MSU makes, and a zone on the misses.
"We completely kept them off balance until a great player like (Tyler) Hall just took the ball came down the floor and shot it over the top of you," Kent said.
Whether the Cougs kept MSU completely off balance was in the eye of the (few) beholders. The official WSU box score left the field blank next to "Attendance." But what isn’t in question: Hall had 32 points on 10 of 22 shooting, hitting 7 of 15 from beyond the arc.
At no point did WSU have the game put away. The Cougs raced out to an 11-0 lead but MSU cut it to 21-19. Even when the Cougs forged a 19-point lead in the second half it wasn’t long before it was back to single-digits. Indeed, in the second half, Montana State lingered and the Cougs sputtered.
"They were making some tough shots but I was just trying to tell the team to stay poised, Coach Kent talks about that a lot," Flynn said.
Still, WSU has much to prove going forward. Kent’s third Cougars team will eventually face Pac-12 teams that will punish a 17-8 turnover deficit.
At face value, though, the win is a positive start. After all, it had been 313 days between wins for the Cougs on the hardcourt. Given that long a drought, any kind of win would be welcomed with open arms and wide smiles.
NEXT UP: WSU vs. Central Washington in Kennewick on Tuesday (7:30 pm, Pac-12 Network).
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