PULLMAN, Washington – The Northwestern State men’s basketball team defended as well as it has all year Wednesday afternoon against Washington State.
While the Demons played solid defense, Washington State did as well and utilized a large advantage at the free throw line to slip past Northwestern State, 62-52, inside a fanless Beasley Coliseum.
“I think we had better ball movement in the second half,” head coach Mike McConathy said. “We got really solid play out of a host of guys. We had to mix it up on some. LT (LaTerrance Reed) did a good job. Dalin Williams was extremely active. We got so far down and battled back. I told them (at halftime), tonight you’ve scored 16 and last night you scored 17.”
For the second straight night, as they closed out a stretch of three games in as many days, the Demons (1-10) scuffled offensively in the first half and found themselves down, 27-16, at the break after shooting 18 percent (6 for 32) from the field.
Washington State (8-0) fared only slightly better offensively, hitting just 35.7 percent (10 for 28) from the field in the first half and then going 8-for-27 (29.6 percent) in the second half.
The Cougars were able to maintain their double-figure lead by caravanning to the free throw line. Washington State got to the line 35 times, 28 more than Northwestern State, and the Cougars converted. Washington State hit 23 its 35 tries, including a streak of 13 straight to open the second half.
That pronounced difference at the line helped the Cougars overcome a Demon defense that did not allow a field goal across the final 4:41 of the game. At that point, the Cougars had a 56-46 lead.
Washington State kept the Demons off balance as well, switching to a zone late in the second half.
“That was the turning point in the game,” McConathy said. “We were rolling, coming back and they went to the zone. They got really, really big. They sat their smaller guards. We didn’t have a guy who could operate and get a bucket in the paint. Their length really bothered us all night. LT had a great driving shot where he challenged the big guy, but we didn’t get enough of them.”
The Demons appeared to cut the lead to six with a little more than a minute to play when it was ruled Jovan Zelenbaba touched the ball in the cylinder. After a short review the call stood, keeping Washington State up nine.
For the second straight game, the Demons enjoyed a strong start to the second half as Trenton Massner and Jairus Roberson connected on 3-pointers.
Northwestern State hit 52 percent of its shots early in the second half before running out of gas.
Roberson knocked down four 3-pointers for the third straight game, finishing with a team-high 14 points. He was the lone Demon in double figure while Efe Abogidi paced Washington State with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Larry Owens just missed a double-double for Northwestern State, scoring nine points and grabbing a season-best 10 rebounds.
Behind twin 12-rebound performances from Abogidi and Andrej Jakimovski, the Cougars outrebounded NSU by 11, leading to a 21-8 advantage in second-chance points as the Demons dropped their final non-conference game of the season.
“Think about the improvement we made against high-quality teams,” McConathy said. “We got great growth out of Larry Owens. Dalin Williams’ play today, he was very active. I thought Jamaure Gregg battled. Slim (Roberson) and Trenton did some good things. Carvell gave us a lift. If we come out and play like we did in the second half of the last two games, we’ll be good.”
The Demons are off until Jan. 2 when they conclude a season-long, six-game road trip in their Southland Conference opener at Houston Baptist. Tipoff for that game is set for 7 p.m. inside Sharp Gymnasium.