PULLMAN - As Klay Thompson goes, so goes the Washington State basketball team. And for the longest time Monday evening, Thompson and the Cougars were going absolutely nowhere.
Thompson missed his first six shots and struggled with his vaunted jumper most of the night, but the sophomore guard drained a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left to help the Cougars hold off scrappy Eastern Washington, 67-61, Monday at Friel Court.
“That was a big-time shot,” said Eastern’s Jeffrey Forbes, a freshman guard out of Federal Way High School. “He’s quite a player.”
The Eagles (0-2), who led most of the first half, made repeated charges at the Cougars (2-0) after an 11-0 WSU run pushed the Cougars ahead 50-35 midway through the second half.
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A layup by former Bethel High star Brandon Moore cut Eastern’s deficit to 62-61 with 1:04 to go. Thompson then nailed his 3 from the left side, and WSU freshman point guard Reggie Moore added two free throws after Brandon Moore traveled down low with 17.3 seconds remaining.
“I thought we could have played much better,” said Thompson, who scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. “We’re going to improve.”
“The first six or eight minutes, they kind of took it to us, and they should have,” first-year Washington State coach Ken Bone said. “We did not bring the energy we needed to compete with them. We’re not good enough to get away with that.”
Actually, the Cougars did get away with it. Thompson, the only proven scorer on a team with just one upperclassman, sank only six of 16 shots from the field but set career highs for free throws made (nine) and attempted (14) for the second straight game.
The 6-foot-6 forward is working inside far more than he did a year ago, when he averaged 12.5 points as a 3-point specialist. After going 28 for 31 at the line in 33 games last season, Thompson is 17 for 23 in the first two games this year.
“As a basketball player, you want to be as versatile as you can, because that makes you a better player,” Thompson said. “I’m just trying to improve on every aspect of the game.”
Forbes, who admits he’s an inch or two shorter than his listed 5-10, guarded Thompson much of the way.
“The coaches wanted me to use my quickness to keep him from the ball and stay on his hip,” said Forbes, who scored seven points.
Reserve forward Mark Dunn shot 7-of-9, including 3-of-4 on 3-pointers, to lead Eastern with 17 points. Brandon Moore had 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
DeAngelo Casto (16 points) and Reggie Moore (15) came up big for WSU, and Marcus Moore helped limit dangerous Eastern guard Benny Valentine to 1-of-7 shooting and five points.
Abe Lodwick and Nikola Koprivica contributed with hard work at both ends of the floor for the Cougars.
The Cougars, 36-0 in November at Friel Court (Beasley Coliseum) since the facility opened in 1973, remain at home to face Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Mastadons are 0-1 heading into tonight’s game against Madonna – the school, not the singer.
WSU’s only other Pullman appearance prior to its Dec. 31 Pacific-10 Conference opener against Oregon comes Dec. 9 against Idaho. The Cougars have games in December in Spokane, Kennewick and Seattle.
The Eagles make their home debut tonight against Whitman.