In the first of four games in the upcoming week, Washington State men’s basketball (6-3) opened up the Las Vegas Classic Monday with a hosting of Rider University (4-4).
1.) Domination in the first half on transition.
Behind a unique starting five in Jervae Robinson, CJ Elleby, Robert Franks, Marvin Cannon, and Carters Skaggs, not many knew what to expect early of the Cougs – or Rider for that matter – upon the opening tip.
WSU soon found themselves behind 15-22 just minutes into the first half. A lapse in teamwork seemed to result in a weight carried only by that of forward Robert Franks who went on to post another incredible outing of 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assist.
But just like that, WSU kicked it into fifth gear humming along to a preposterous 23-2 run courtesy of a team effort on both sides of the ball. This was largely due in part to a 11-2 point advantage in transition throughout the 6-minute onslaught. Franks, Skaggs, and Cannon carded 5 points apiece supplemented by Jeff Pollard and Elleby each tacking on 4 of their own.
Defensively, the Coug’s 1-3-1 zone clogged passing lanes – as intended by design – forcing the Broncos to settle for poor shot selection on short time in unfavorable space. Turnovers and a shot clock violation proceeded to harass Rider for the latter part of the first allowing WSU to lead at half, 45-35.
Washington State ended the night with a 34-13 advantage in fast-break points marking 34 percent of their total offensive production.
2.) 15 assists as a team
The Cougs walked off Friel Court tonight a better team than when they stepped on it.
Wazzu was clearly the more talented team on the floor from measurables to raw ability. And while they could have physically worked Rider en route to victory, they didn’t. The Cougs settled down, played their game, and executed Kent’s game plan as a unit.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging signs to see for a struggling program is any indication of an ability to play the game on their own accord. Dictating pace and possesion is huge, and WSU was able to do that for what felt like the majority of the night.
3.) The ability to close in the absence of Viont’e Daniels
Can the banged-up Cougs win a close one? Monday night’s gut check says yes as the contest was closer than the final score suggested.
At one point in the night, WSU led by 19. But behind a 14-5 run, the Broncos were back in it threatening the comfortable 10 point cushion. And while the lead was cut down to single digits, it was never eclipsed at any point. WSU held on and forcibly closed this one out.
Make no mistake, Washington State was the better team and was supposed to win, but how they won is what mattered. It hasn’t been given much media attention, but the absence of senior guard Viont’e Daniels (concussion) was nothing to sneeze at.
Daniels, a usual starter at guard whose built a reputation as a clutch deep threat, shoots 40 percent from three and records over 30 minutes per game. Thankfully, forward Marvin Cannon filled in the gaps and proceeded to catch fire as if on command.
Averaging only 2.8 points on 8 minute per game heading into Monday, the Virginia native was awarded 32 heavy minutes in which he promptly lit up the Broncos for 23 points on 80 percent shooting.
Even more impressive was Cannon’s performance at the stripe. Come crunch time, the sophomore made 15/16 attempts effectively suffocating any hopes of a late Bronco surge. Free throws win big games and it’s beyond encouraging to see underclassmen excel where it matters.
We’ll have more on him later this week.
Washington State’s next matchup takes pace Wednesday at Beasley Coliseum in a hosting of Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville (2-6). SIU-Edwardsville lost their opening round of the tournament 79-66 at Drake.
Live coverage of the 7:30 p.m. tip can be found on the Pac-12 Networks.