Shorthanded Cougs end season with NIT loss

EWU routed a Gueye-less Cougs team on Tuesday



WSU forward Andrej Jakimovski drives to the hoop during an NCAA basketball game against Oregon State, Feb. 16, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

HAYDEN STINCHFIELD, Evergreen sports co-editor

WSU men’s basketball (17-17, 11-9 Pac-12) lost in the first round of the NIT Tournament to Eastern Washington (23-10, 16-2 Big Sky) by a score of 81-74.

This game started to become a question mark when it was revealed that Mouhamed Gueye was out with a hamstring injury. The Cougar offense has been running almost entirely through Gueye for most of the season, and without him, there was going to be a struggle.

Through the first half, things were actually going alright offensively. The Cougs were shooting 78% from three, but only 33% from the field. Without Gueye the Cougs could not score in the paint at all and the Eagles took advantage of this, scoring 10 more points in the paint than WSU did through the first half. Those extra points gave EWU a 43-34 lead at halftime.

The Eagles had a nine-rebound advantage over the Cougs, also a product of the lack of Gueye.

With Gueye not on the floor, DJ Rodman was the only Coug in double figures with a game-high 13 points. Steele Venters led the Eagles with 12, shooting 50% from both the field and 3-point range.

The second half actually saw a comeback by the Cougs, as nine made threes and an 11% jump in field goal percentage put the Cougs up as many as 9 points with 11 minutes left in the game.

Unfortunately, as in the Oregon game before it, the Cougs seemed to have used all their energy on the comeback with too much time left in the game to be able to hold the lead.

Within just three minutes, the Eagles had taken the lead again. It was back and forth for the remainder of the game, with a tie at the 1:09 mark. Tough defense by both sides held that tie until 16 seconds left when Venters gave the Eagles the final lead of the game on a tough three. While a few more points were added in garbage time to make it look like a blowout, the Cougs really were in this one until the close.

Rodman finished the game with 23 points and eight rebounds, one of his best games of the season. Jabe Mullins and TJ Bamba had 15 each, while Andrej Jakimovski managed 11 in the tough role of the small-ball center.

Eastern Washington’s leading scorer Venters’ game-winning three put him at 27 points in the game, finishing the game with 50% shooting from the field and 44% from three. The Cougs had no answer for the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year.

Losing two in a row is a hard way to end a season, but it is important to remember how much hard work the team did to even get to this point. So many injuries and bad losses early in the season made it so that a .500 record looked nearly impossible just a few months ago, and any postseason appearance at all felt unlikely.

The Cougs proceeded to win seven straight games and claw back into a postseason berth and a winning season. The future is bright for this team.