Men’s basketball moves to 1-0 in Pac-12 play

Cougs overcome low-scoring first half, win 51-29

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COLE QUINN

WSU guard TJ Bamba (5) shakes an athletic trainer’s hand after defeating the University of Idaho 109-61, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Moscow, Idaho.

TOM ABBOTT, Evergreen reporter

The Cougs (6-1) won their first Pac-12 game of the season against Arizona State (2-6) on Wednesday, 51-29.

The win is WSU’s lowest scoring win since winning 49-46 on Jan. 12, 2014, against Utah.

Both teams struggled greatly in the first half of the game, ending with the Cougs up 18-10 after 20 minutes of play.

“We sustained them by just hanging in there and guarding them right back,” WSU head coach Kyle Smith said. “We thought going into this year we would be really good defensively and we haven’t been for whatever reason.”

The Cougars went on an 11-minute scoring drought in the middle of the first half. Thankfully for WSU fans, Efe Abogidi snapped the bucketless streak with a two-point shot. Abogidi’s bucket seemed to spark something in Noah Williams because he became the main offensive threat to finish out the low scoring half. 

Williams finished the first half with six of WSU’s 18 points. Although this was not a lot, Williams was responsible for a third of WSU’s offense. 

In the first half, WSU shot 7-29 from the court and 2-7 from the free throw line. Arizona State fared a little bit worse, shooting 4-24 from the court and 0-6 from the free throw line. 

Whether it was a speech from Smith or just a mental reset, the Cougs came out in the second half back in typical form. 

The forwards for WSU were the main reason for WSU’s second half success, out-matching their Sun Devil forward counterparts. Abogidi and Mouhamed Gueye helped the Cougs rack up 53 rebounds in the win. Fellow big man Dishon Jackson recorded a double-double in the victory, responsible for 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“Coach Shaw made an emphasis on making sure that we stop giving up so many inside buckets,” Jackson said. “He dug into me, Mo and Efe and told us that if we want to be a good team, the paint needs to be a place where guards cannot thrive. We put an emphasis on that today and you saw the results.”

After a very rough showing against Eastern Washington, Gueye became a dependable forward again versus the Sun Devils. Gueye finished the matchup with five points and 10 rebounds.

Because WSU forwards rebounded well, Williams was able to get the ball down court in transition. Overall, Williams led the Cougar offense with 14 points in their first Pac-12 game of the year.

When Williams did not have the ball in his hands, he was helping the Cougs in other ways. Williams sacrificed his body on the court to beat Arizona State, at one point forcing a charge as Arizona State crossed half-court in transition. Williams’ aggressive play style led to his fourth personal foul with about five minutes left in the second half. 

“It’s nice to have Noah back,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of areas that he helps us defensively and offensively.”

Due to the threat of Williams fouling out, other Cougs stepped up to finish out the game. One of the Cougs who stepped up was Gueye. He put up all five of his points in the second half.

The Sun Devils struggled to find success of their own in the second half, at one point losing by 23 points with about eight minutes to play. 

Arizona State’s deficit maintained around 20 points until the end of the game with the Sun Devils losing 51-29. 

Overall, Arizona State shot 12-57 from the court and went 2-8 from the free throw line. The Sun Devils’ limited offense was led by stand-out guard DJ Horne. Horne put up 12 points in the Sun Devils’ loss and made two three-point shots.

WSU shot a little better than Arizona State, going 18-59 from the court and 8-14 from the free throw line. 

Next up for WSU is a trip back to Pullman to host No. 20 USC. The Cougs versus Trojans matchup will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday in Beasley Coliseum. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network for fans at home.