TEMPE, Ariz. - The NCAA tournament hopes of the Washington State Cougars may have gone down in flames Saturday after the Cougars delivered an NIT performance in the first half.
In other words, No Intensity or Tenacity.
The Cougars played with much-improved energy in the second half and briefly led after erasing a 16-point deficit, but lowly Arizona State escaped with a 71-69 victory when Abe Lodwick’s 3-point attempt rattled off the basket at the final horn.
Last-place Arizona State snapped a nine-game losing streak – 11 straight in Pacific-10 Conference games – despite the absence of senior starters Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks because of injuries. ASU used three freshmen starters, two of them making their first start.
Klay Thompson, who came off the bench for just the second time in his three seasons at WSU (he was late for the team bus in both instances), scored 24 of his 28 points in the second half of the afternoon contest at Wells Fargo Arena.
Thompson, however, went nearly nine minutes without a point. But he nailed a floater with 22.8 seconds to go. Thompson followed with back-to-back air balls under heavy pressure from beyond the 3-point line, and he was well covered in the right corner in the final seconds when point guard Reggie Moore found Lodwick open on the right side.
“I’m thankful I got the opportunity,” said Lodwick, who scored a season-high 11 points and tied his career high for 3-pointers with three (in five attempts). “Reggie passed me the ball. I thought it was in.”
Lodwick, who averages 3.3 points per game, fell to the floor and pounded the court in despair after his miss. Arizona State’s Trent Lockett collapsed on the floor in relief next to Lodwick.
“With the way things have been going, when that shot was in the air, I didn’t have the best feeling,” said Lockett, who led ASU with 20 points in a fine performance. “When it hit the rim, a kind of weight was just lifted off my shoulders.”
The crowd of 5,153 seemed to smell an upset developing from the opening minutes. The small group of WSU supporters on hand certainly smelled something.
Washington State made a season-worst 12 turnovers in the first half and trailed by 12 points, the Cougars’ biggest halftime deficit of the season. “We didn’t come out ready to play,” Lodwick said.
Other Cougars and coach Ken Bone seconded Lodwick’s opinion, but Thompson disagreed.
“I thought we came out with energy,” said Thompson, who sank 11 of a career-high 28 field-goal attempts and made his only two free throws. “They just played good offense and made us get out of our zone.”
Thompson, 0-for-4 from 3-point range in the first half after sitting out the first 5:47, nailed 4 of 8 treys in the second half. The Cougars trailed 44-28 before Thompson got hot, and WSU led for the first time since the opening minutes when Lodwick buried a 3-pointer for a 57-56 lead with 7:30 remaining.
Arizona State’s Chanse Creekmur drilled 5 of 8 shots from beyond the arc for a season-high 18 points in his first start. WSU’s DeAngelo Casto, double-teamed down low, matched the 12 points of Moore and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
Both teams were shaky at the free-throw line down the stretch. WSU made just 12 of 22 free throws after halftime.
Faisel Aden, WSU’s second-leading scorer, sat out with a lingering knee injury. Will DiIorio, a freshman walk-on from Bainbridge High School, went scoreless in a season-high 20 minutes but drew praise for his defense and hard play. DiIorio missed a lay-in and two free throws late.
Arizona State improved to 10-16 overall and 2-12 in the Pac-10. Washington State (17-10, 7-8) has lost two straight and three of four.