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Cougars win inside-outside battle vs. Beavs, finish on 17-3 run; defense is our destiny says Ernie Kent

BOTH THE COUGARS and the Beavs enjoyed success in the paint Wednesday night in Spokane, but the Cougs enjoyed it a little bit more. In a tight game much of the way, Cougar bigs Josh Hawkinson and Conor Clifford combined for 33 points and Oregon State heated up from downtown in the second half. But Washington State blew OSU's doors off down the stretch to notch a 75-62 victory -- and move to 2-0 in Pac-12 play for the first time in nearly a decade.

In a seesaw second half, Washington State suddenly went nuclear with seven minutes left. The Cougs reeled off 12 straight points to take a 70-59 lead with 2:01 remaining.  The dagger came off a Hawkinson steal and breakaway high-flying Ike Iroegbu dunk, giving WSU an 8-point lead that took all the wind out of the Beavers' sails.

Indeed, WSU held OSU scoreless for five-plus minutes down the stretch. A meaningless Beav layup with seconds left in the game was the only OSU bucket over the final seven minutes. 

Hawkinson was the star of the night with 20 points on 7 of 11 shooting and 11 rebounds. But there were four other Cougars in double figures and every one of them was key in a game OSU led 59-58 with 7:03 on the clock.

Iroegbu scored 15 points including two thunderous jams (one is pictured above). The senior guard also dished 4 assists to 2 turnovers. True freshman point Malachi Flynn heated up again down the stretch, scoring 8 of his 13 points over the final five minutes. Clifford poured in 13 points in just 17 minutes. And Robert Franks came off the bench to score 10 and provide energy on both ends, pulling down 7 boards.  And it was defense that was on the mind of Ernie Kent after the game.

“We know defense is our destiny,” Kent told Matt Chazanow of the Cougar Radio Network when asked about the Cougars’ 17-3 run to close out OSU. “Do a good job, play it, believe in it … we know we can score, but there are going to be nights where teams take that away at times … we must play defense.”

Asked about the progress of the team, which looks night-and-day better than both last season and earlier in this season's non-conference slate, Kent said “it just takes time to get the right group” and build continuity, on and the off court, and install the system. He credited seniors Iroegbu and Hawkinson for outstanding leadership and a work ethic that is changing the face of Washington State basketball.  “Those guys set the tone.”

MIDWAY THROUGH THE first half, fans in Spokane had to double check if they were at the right game. Wazzu and OSU came into game 9th and 12th in the Pac-12 in scoring, respectively, but both teams started out on fire shooting 60-plus percent over the first 10 minutes. 

Both the Cougs and Beavs cooled off before halftime but were still right around 50 percent at the break. That was especially significant for Wazzu -- the Beavers came into the game holding opponents to 39 percent from the floor.  WSU finished the game shooting 53.8 percent, while OSU hit 47.1 percent of its shots.

Hawkinson went out with two fouls 10 minutes into the game, and Clifford picked up his second foul moments later.  But Franks and others picked up the slack, powering a 13-3 Cougar run. And Kent put Hawkinson and Clifford back out there before halftime despite the fouls. The Cougar bigs rewarded Kent's confidence, finishing with 12- and 8-first half points and with neither picking up a third foul.

OSU’s Kendal Manuel drilled six 3-pointers in the game while Beaver forward Drew Eubanks went off for 14 first half points including five dunks.  But WSU slowed Eubanks' roll dramatically in the second half, he scored only four points after halftime.

What made the Cougs' scoring edge in the first half even more surprising --  Flynn did not even attempt a shot until 2:22 remained before the break. His first bucket gave WSU a 38-28 lead before OSU closed to 38-33 at the half.

Flynn and JaQuori McLaughlin, a Washington native who decommitted from UW to sign with OSU, have been close friends since childhood (Flynn is from Tacoma, McLaughlin from nearby Gig Harbor).  It looked as if McLaughlin might get the better of their battle until Flynn heated up down the stretch (see box score below).  More importantly, WSU won the battle that mattered most.

UP NEXT: Oregon at WSU on Saturday, 4 pm, Pac-12 Networks.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Guard Charles Callison had only two points but dished a team-high six assists.
  • WSU opened conference play 2-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 season. WSU also snapped a six-game losing streak to Oregon State.


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