PULLMAN - Leave it to the Washington State Cougars, beset by legal problems of late, to pull an inside job to earn an expenses-paid trip to New York City.
The Cougars dominated inside play and edged Northwestern, 69-66, in an overtime thriller Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament.
"We did a nice job battling a tough Northwestern team tonight," Washington State coach Ken Bone said. "We all showed a lot of character, especially down the stretch in the overtime period."
Washington State (22-12) plays Wichita State (27-8) in the NIT semifinals Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York. Game time on ESPN2 is 4 p.m. (PDT)
The Cougars outscored Northwestern 34-20 in the paint. A major contributor was starting post DeAngelo Casto, whose "indefinite suspension" of Tuesday was rescinded a few hours before game time.
"I was really excited to play," said Casto, who had 11 points, eight rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. Casto was the third WSU player cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession this season.
WSU was credited with all 16 points scored in the paint in the first 11-plus minutes. Casto had six of those points, plus two flashy passes down low that Brock Motum converted into layups.
"It was great to have DeAngelo back," WSU star Klay Thompson said. "He's a big part of this team."
The Cougars clearly outplayed the less athletic Wildcats most of the first half in front of a Friel Court crowd of 5,905.
However, Northwestern cut the deficit to seven at halftime, then forged several small leads and ties before WSU regained the lead for the final six minutes of the second half until Casto was called for goaltending to tie the score at 64-64 with 4.8 seconds left.
Abe Lodwick could have won the game for WSU in regulation, but he missed both free throws with two-tenths of a second remaining.
Thompson, who was held to five points in the first half, wound up with team highs of 17 pints, nine rebounds and four assists. He played 43 of 45 minutes and delivered key baskets, passes and defensive plays after halftime.
After the game, Thompson waved a finger in the air as fans chanted "One more year! One more year!" The junior guard, an NBA prospect, has talked about turning pro this year.
"I was saying, 'One more game at a time,' " Thompson said. "I'll wait to make that decision at the end of the season."
Thompson scored the first two points of overtime, then gave WSU the lead for good with two free throws at 1:10. Reggie Moore hit one of two free throws with 19.1 points seconds left, and Northwestern's Alex Marcotullio missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Michael Thompson led Northwestern (20-14) with 20 points. Marcotullio added 16, and Drew Crawford had 12.
Team scoring leader John Shurna was held to eight points on 3-for-13 shooting, including 2-for-10 on 3-pointers.
"I felt like we battled," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "The game went back and forth, back and forth. At the end we had a few good looks at a 3, we just didn't make it happen."
Five Cougars scored in double figures. Brock Motum scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, and Faisal Aden and Moore each added 11.
"I thought we did a nice job defensively defending the 3-pointers and not getting backdoored," Bone said. "This is a very good shooting team and they have a tough offense to defend."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.