Cougs dish out assists in blowout opener against Texas State

New talent shines as Wazzu finds long-absent playmaking



WSU guard Justin Powell dribbles the ball during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Texas State, Nov. 7.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen reporter

The WSU men’s basketball team had their first game of the season on Monday and they came out with a 1-0 record. The Cougs beat Texas State 83-61.

While it looks like a blowout, this game was by no means certain in the first half. The game opened with the Bobcats winning the tip, but WSU quickly got a block and then an and-one on back-to-back plays. At that moment, it seemed as though Wazzu would be clicking on both ends, but things got much rougher before they got better.

After jumping to an early lead, the Cougs got cold and TXST managed to pull ahead. They only ended up leading the game for around five minutes total, but in those minutes the Cougar offense looked rough enough that people were starting to worry.

Fortunately, DJ Rodman answered the call, scoring 13 points in the first half and hitting multiple momentum-altering three-pointers that helped to swing the game in Wazzu’s direction. Going into halftime with a 38-31 lead, it felt as though it might end up being a close game.

Coming out of halftime, it was obvious that the Cougs had no interest in keeping it close. Both Justin Powell and Mouhamed Gueye finished with double-doubles after strong second-half performances and they got them in very different ways.

As the point guard, Powell led the offense to a hot streak that lasted much of the half and by about midway through he had notched more assists than any Coug did last season with eight. These were not just dump-offs either, he was sending the ball with magical touch straight where it needed to be to score points. Powell’s veteran savvy was on display and he got the Cougs moving fast in the right direction.

Powell finished the game with 14 points and a career-high 12 assists, more dimes than any Coug has had since Reggie Moore posted 12 assists against Portland State on Dec. 19, 2009.

“We really upgraded there. That’s kind of our identity. … It’s nice, offensively, when the ball can move” head coach Kyle Smith said about Powell’s contribution. “There’s some fun plays. I think there’s a lot more coming.”

Powell felt the same way and enjoyed being back in the point guard role that he thrived in his freshman year at Auburn.

“It felt good, kinda going back to my old roots a little bit,” Powell said. “Having the ball in my hands, being able to distribute, being in a great offense, it just felt good out there.”

He could not have done it without the help of Gueye who finished the game with 18 points and a career-high 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double, opening the new season with exactly what was advertised.

Most of his points came off of nearly-open dunks, which he got through savvy positioning and the fact that he outsized literally every opponent by multiple inches.

It did not hurt to have Powell making beautiful passes right to him when he got open.

The two of them led the offense to an electric second half where they outscored the Bobcats 45-30 en route to the blowout victory.

On the coaching side of things, the Cougs ended up in a tight rotation with multiple starters playing 32 or more minutes. This came for a few reasons, not the least of which was injuries to both Andrej Jakimovski and Adrame Diongue.

Jakimovski will be out for a few more weeks, as he suffered a toe injury recently. Diongue actually did play briefly at the end of the game for his collegiate debut, but had no meaningful minutes. After the game, Smith revealed that he has an ankle injury.

Having those two back later in the season will certainly make this team better, as Jakimovski was considered a likely starter in the preseason and Diongue is one of the highest-ranked recruits in program history and the only real big center besides Gueye.

Keeping rotations tight may not have been Smith’s ideal plan, as injuries were part of the cause for the smaller group. However, the zone defense being played later in the game certainly was and unlike many previous stints in the zone, they looked great tonight.

The switchability that having so many big guys with good defensive skills grants you is a dream for an analytics-driven coach like Smith and it was clear tonight that he had the roster construction he wanted. No more small guards getting beat or passed over, just a bunch of big guys making big plays.

Next up for the Cougs is a drive to Boise State, where they’ll play the Broncos at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Fans can watch on the Mountain West Network and on the Stadium app.