Ken Bone is a reasonable man. He understands that Pacific-12 Conference basketball teams play 18 league games, so starting 0-1 is no cause for panic.
Still, the Cougars played so poorly Thursday in a blowout loss to Oregon that Bone feared an 0-2 conference start at home – with the next three games on the road – might prove fatal.
“If we come out and we’re flat or we just don’t play well, then maybe we aren’t that good,” Bone said.
The Cougars eased Bone’s concerns by downing Oregon State, 81-76, Saturday afternoon at the Spokane Arena.
WSU led almost all the way, but needed to hit clutch free throws after the Beavers cut the deficit to three points on three occasions in the final 3 minutes, 10 seconds.
“A gut check,” Brock Motum summed up, “and I thought we pulled through really well.”
Motum led the Cougars with 26 points and eight rebounds. The 6-foot-10 junior from Australia worked well near the basket and set career highs for 3-pointers made (three) and attempted (five). He tied his career highs of 10 field goals made and 15 attempts.
“He’s a competitor,” Bone said. “He understands what was at stake.”
Reggie Moore also played a key role in the win. The junior point guard out of Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School handled Oregon State’s tough pressure defense adroitly, making just one turnover in 35 minutes.
“He had great composure,” Bone said.
Moore scored eight points and handed out a season-high nine assists. Freshman guard DaVonte Lacy, coming off a season-high, 19-point performance against Oregon, scored 18 points for the Cougars (9-5 overall, 1-1 Pacific-12 Conference).
“He’s going to be a good one,” Bone said.
Lacy, a former Curtis High School standout, did have four turnovers. Motum had five of WSU’s 16 turnovers.
Asked what he learned from the game, Lacy smiled and said, “I learned that I wasn’t as good a ballhandler as I thought I was.”
Oregon State guards Jared Cunningham and Ahmad Starks both recorded four steals. Cunningham led the Beavers (10-4, 0-2) with 21 points, and Starks scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half.
Oregon State trailed only 77-74 after Starks – who admits to being an inch or two shy of his listed 5-foot-9 – hit his fifth 3-pointer with 51 seconds to go.
“We have the ability to fight back,” Starks said. “We showed some toughness, but we need to start earlier.”
Oregon State began the day ranked first in the Pac-12 and eighth in NCAA Division I in scoring, averaging 83.2 points per game. The Beavers shot 46 percent from the field, compared to 54 percent for the Cougars, who made half of their dozen 3-point shots.
The Cougars next visit Utah (3-10, 0-1) for a game a 6 p.m. Thursday. It will not be televised. The rebuilding Utes lost 73-33 to Colorado on Saturday.