Men’s basketball returns home with a championship

Three victories in four days helped Cougars win tournament, keep winning streak to start season alive


RYAN PUGH | Daily Evergreen File

Redshirt freshman guard Milan Acquaah looks for a pass to unguarded teammates during a game versus Seattle University on Nov. 15.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

WSU men’s basketball was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 preseason media poll; now the Cougs are the champions of the Wooden Legacy tournament after a 93-86 victory over San Diego State University on Sunday in California.

The Cougars continued their unbeaten streak through the first six games of the season with the help of sophomore guard Malachi Flynn, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. WSU is one of 30 Division I basketball teams that have yet to lose a game this season.

Flynn, who averaged nearly 20 points per game in the tournament, tallied 24 points in the championship game against SDSU (5-2). Eighteen of his 24 points came from beyond the three-point line. He made six of the 11 three-pointers he attempted.

He said the team is excited about winning the tournament, but isn’t satisfied.

“I think it’s a huge statement, but we’re definitely not done yet,” Flynn said. “We definitely can’t get happy about it. It’s only six games into the season.”

Flynn’s best performance of the tournament came in an 84-79 upset win over the formerly ranked No. 21 Saint Mary’s College. He posted a season-high 26 points while shooting 64 percent from the field.

Joining Flynn on the all-tournament team was WSU junior forward Robert Franks, who stepped up this season after former WSU forwards Josh Hawkinson and Connor Clifford graduated and left the team in the offseason.

Franks scored a layup with 18 seconds remaining, lifting the Cougars to the victory over the Gaels in the team’s second game of the tournament. His average of 18.7 points per game in the tournament was second best among WSU players.

The Cougars have had success from behind the three-point arc this season, averaging 13 a game. Last season, WSU hit 13 three-pointers just once in a game against the University of Colorado.

In the first game of the tournament against Saint Joseph’s University, Flynn hit a three-pointer with six seconds left to seal the 75-71 win. The Cougs found themselves down by 14 at the half, after SJU scored 24 unanswered points over a nine-minute span in the first 20 minutes of the game.

In the second half, WSU put up 51 points, 30 of which came from three-pointers. They outscored the Hawks by 18 points in the second half.

Nine of the previous ten champions of the Wooden Legacy have gone on to qualify for the NCAA tournament. WSU Head Coach Ernie Kent said his players performed well throughout the tourney, and this championship victory means a lot to the team.

“It’s our basketball program’s first championship in I think eight years … this is my fourth year here so this is a long time coming,” Kent said. “This is a really good group of guys. Not just as players, but a great group of guys off the court as well, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

WSU returns home for a game against University of California, Davis, at 12 p.m. Saturday in Beasley Coliseum.