WSU hoops: Iroegbu sparks Cougs, Wazzu avoids calamity with 81-76 win over Div. II Central Washington in Kennewick

WASHINGTON STATE DUG itself a hole against Division II Central Washington in Kennewick on Tuesday night, and it took a long time to fill it. No way around it, the Cougs played flat and uninspired basketball in the first half. But then Ike Iroegbu stepped up. At the end, WSU had moved to 2-0 with an 81-76 win that offered plenty of both good and bad for Cougar hoops fans to ponder.

Iroegbu keyed the 13-0 second half run that enabled WSU turn a 53-48 deficit into a 61-53 advantage. Iroegbu scored 14 of his 15 points in the second half, and a dozen came in the final 17 minutes.

True freshman Malachi Flynn and Josh Hawkinson shared the team-high in points with 18 each. Viont'e Daniels also scored in double figures, with 10 points against Central (2-1).

For a while in the first half, it looked like Central could do the unthinkable and hang 100 on the Cougs. At halftime, Central had shot 47 percent from the field and held a 42-36 edge.  CWU led by as many as 10 points in the first half. WSU eventually (and mostly) took control in the second half but didn't close out Central until the clock had nearly hit zeros.

Things to clean up?  Washington State got demolished on the CWU offensive glass.  A cringe-worthy 18 of Central's 42 boards were offensive rebounds.  For the game, the Cougs did a better job crashing the boards but still lost the rebounding battle 42-35 to a smaller team.  It should be noted WSU went small after CWU proved it wasn't going away.  Big Conor Clifford scored eight points in 12 minutes, but that was all he played with Kent trying to blunt smaller CWU’s speed.

WSU allowed Central guard Dom Hunter to go for 26 points, though on 9 of 24 shooting. And the Cougs trailed for nearly 25 minutes in the game.

On the positive side, the Cougs shot it well in both halves, finishing at 50 percent for the game.  And they turned it over 11 times, an acceptable number according to Ernie Kent given the pace he wants the Cougs to play at (Kent said Monday 10-12 turnovers is the top of the range).  The Cougs hit 23-29 free throws (but it almost felt like every one of the misses came down the stretch). 

But the Cougs also scored 19 fast break points, something sure to please Kent.

“Any little bit of success is big success for us right now,” Kent told the Tri-City Herald after the game. “You’ll look back on this and people won’t care if it was Central or if it was Montana State, it’s the fact that you won those games. Now let’s look forward to bigger things.”

The Cougs next play Friday against No. 22 Creighton in the opening round of the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands (5:30 pm Pacific). There is no live TV, with a pay streaming option expected to be available.

• Iroegbu finished with 5 assists and moved into 12th in program history with 273 career dishes. 
• Hawkinson had his second double-double of the season and 42nd career double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. He is two double-doubles shy of Mark Hendrickson for No. 2 all-time at WSU.
• Flynn has scored in double figures in both games this season.
• Junior Derrien King had a career-high seven rebounds. 
• The Cougars improved to 24-3 against Central.

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