Strong first half plays in WSU men’s basketball’s favor

Ernie Kent has spent a year and a half implementing his up-tempo system as the Washington State men’s basketball head coach, which the Cougars executed with perfection in the first half of Saturday night’s contest against Texas Southern.

WSU outscored the Tigers (1-5) 47-26 in the first half, and finished with a final score of 77-65. The Cougars (4-0) shot 60 percent from the floor in the half.

“For those wanting to know what is this style of play and what this system looks like, the first half was the best basketball we have played since I’ve been coaching here at Washington State,” Kent said. “I thought we were awesome; the way we ran, the rhythm of the game, the tempo of the game was outstanding. We shared the ball, we shot it, we really played some outstanding basketball.”

Texas Southern tried matching the Cougars’ tempo in the first half as well, which played right into WSU’s hand. However, in the second half, the Tigers decided to slow down the pace of the game, throwing WSU out of its rhythm.

“Mentally, the second half I didn’t think we were sharp or as focused. I feel like we got greedy a little bit, took some bad shots,” Kent said. “Little selfishness on the floor, so that was a team they can certainly look at a film of and see the difference between a team that’s in rhythm and plays with the right philosophy offensively and defensively versus a team that got itself out of rhythm where they do not play with the right philosophy offensively and defensively.”

Down 21 points at the half, the Tigers rallied to cut the deficit to nine, but never got any closer thanks to WSU junior guard Ike Iroegbu knocking down a few key jumpers in the half.

“I think they were just doing a good job of driving the ball and just throwing their bodies into us and getting to the foul line,” Iroegbu said. “I just knew if I had an open shot just to knock it down and we’ll be fine.”

The former Oak Hill Academy guard finished second on the team in scoring with 19 points. He also had four assists.

WSU junior forward Josh Hawkinson led the team in scoring with 20. The Shoreline native started the game from the bench and ended up playing 23 minutes. Hawkinson did not play in last week’s 74-54 win against Cal State-L.A. due to injury.

“It was kind of hard watching teammates because of my first game not really playing being here,” Hawkinson said. “But I feel like it allowed me to see the game more and I got to be more vocal and help people out on the game, and coming today just getting my rhythm back.”

The Cougars will host the No. 10 Gonzaga Bulldogs (4-1) at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Beasley Coliseum. FOX Sports 1 will broadcast the game.

“They’ve got some big guys that are pretty skilled and pretty physical as well,” WSU senior forward Junior Longrus said of the Bulldogs. “It’s something that we’ve got to prepare for and get ready for. I think we definitely have a versatile group of bigs that we can throw out there and help us out. We’ve got big guys, we’ve got skill guys, we‘ve got athletic guys, so I’m very excited to see that matchup.”