Cougars exceed expectations

Fullerton, Calif., November 26, 2017 – Picked to finish in last place in the Pacific-12 Conference, Washington State made it clear that the Cougars don’t intend to be anyone’s doormat when league play rolls around.

Fashioning yet another comeback, Washington State erased a nine-point deficit in the final nine minutes to score a 93-86 victory over San Diego State Sunday to capture the Wooden Legacy tournament championship at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym.

“I think it’s a huge statement but we’re definitely not done yet,” said guard Malachi Flynn, who led the way with 24 points and six assists. “We can’t be happy about it, it’s only six games into the season and it’s a long season, 20-plus games ahead so we’ve still got a lot to prove.”

Flynn was named Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Robert Franks, San Diego State’s Devin Watson and Trey Kell plus Georgia’s Yante Maten.

Franks, who had to leave the game for a four-minute span after turning an ankle, added 22 points. Still hobbled, he made a left-hand jump hook, a 3-pointer and two free throws while hobbling around the court.

The Cougars (6-0) needed all of the effort against the Aztecs (5-2), who were rolling with Watson and Kell leading the way. Kell, though, also had to leave the game late before returning.

“We fought hard, we lost Trey at the end and that kind of sped us up a little bit and we started playing too fast,” Watson said. “It is disappointing. We knew we should have won that game but things happen.”

Watson had 23 points and six rebounds and Kell filled up the stat sheet with 19 points, five rebounds, three assists, four steals and a block. San Diego State had to play the majority of the game without forward Malik Pope, who injured his leg barely five minutes into the game. He returned briefly but did not play in the second half.

“Our team fought hard enough to win but 93 is a lot to give up,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. “We have to be better at the defensive end. I’m happy we scored 86 but we gave up 93. It hurt not having Malik, obviously, everybody knows that. It was tough without him in there, he’s our inside presence offensively. We missed Malik’s versatility at times, especially at the defensive end. He’s long and he’s hard to score over.”

Stopping Washington State from scoring will be a tough task for anyone. In the three tournament games, the Cougars shot 49.7 percent from the field, 43.9 percent on 3-pointers, and averaged 84 points.

They’re the fifth Pac-12 team to win the 11-year event, joining USC, UCLA, California and Washington. San Diego State, making its second final appearance, won the tournament in 2013. The Cougars opened this tournament by erasing a 20-point deficit in a win over Saint Joseph’s.

“I don’t give halftime speeches,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. We go in very calm and we make coaching adjustments and this teams listens, and they go out and they make adjustments and go play again.

“It wasn’t so much being down nine, we just needed to get our rhythm back. We knocked ourselves out of rhythm a couple times quick-shooting the ball and turning the ball over. Once we got back in rhythm, here came the points again.”

Despite having 11 players ailing with a stomach flu, Georgia survived an onslaught of layups to capture third place in the tournament with an 83-81 overtime victory over No. 21 Saint Mary’s.

Guard Tyree Crump came off the bench to score all of career-high 17 points in the second half for the Bulldogs (5-1), who shot 50.8 percent from the field in a game in which there were 25 lead changes.

“I wasn’t really feeling it in the first half and in the second half Coach (Mark) Fox looked at me and said ‘Are you ready?’ I said ‘Yes sir.’ And he gave me that look and he gave me a kiss in the huddle and said you better make this shot,” Crump said. “I finally made one and after that I saw a big basket and it went on from there.”

While the Gaels (5-2) scored layups or dunks 26 times out of their 37 baskets, Georgia clamped down on the perimeter shooters. Saint Mary’s made only 4 of 13 3-pointers but kept attacking the basket and finished with 26 layups. Center Jock Landale had 33 points and 12 rebounds and point guard Emmett Naar penetrated for 21 points and nine assists.

“We made a choice in preparation that we were going to try to take away the 3-point shot from their wing players and guard a great player (Landale) one-on-one in the post,” Fox said. “We knew we would give up a lot of interior baskets because he’s such a good player. Because they’re so good, you’ve got to pick your poison.”

Forward Yante Maten had 16 points and seven rebounds for Georgia. Guard Turtle Jackson had 15 points, guard Juwan Parker added 14 and forward Derek Ogbeide had 10 points and nine rebounds.

“There’s no way around it. We have miles to go defensively,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We have some practice time so we’ll work on it this week but we just have to get better defensively. It’s seven games in and we’re giving up 50 percent (field goal shooting) a game, that’ll be about the worst in the country.”

For the third consecutive game, Cal State Fullerton had a player hit his career high and Jackson Rowe picked his up with a record shooting performance in the Titans’ 70-61 win over Harvard to capture fifth place.

Rowe, a 6-7 sophomore forward, hit all 10 of his shots and all five of his 3-point tries to scored 25 points. His performance followed career bests from Kyle Allman (34 points) on Thursday and Kahlil Ahmad (23) on Friday. Rowe’s 10-for-10 night matched the Titans’ Tom Morgan, who also made all 10 tries on Jan. 31, 1980.

Allman added 16 for the Titans (3-3). Guard Bryce Aiken scored 16 to lead the Crimson, who were without two flu-stricken players for the second consecutive game.

Saint Joseph’s avoided an 0-3 trip to the West Coast by coming back from a 12-point deficit in the final 12 minutes to score a 74-69 win over Sacramento State.

The Hawks (3-3) were led by guard Shavar Newkirk, who had 22 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Forwards James Demery and Taylor Funk each scored 15 points, with Funk, a freshman, doing all of his scoring in the second half, with 13 of the points coming in the final 8:54. Saint Joseph’s took advantage of 17 Hornets turnovers to score 27 of their points.

Funk’s third 3-pointer of the second half gave the Hawks the lead for good at 69-66 with 1:54 left in the game.

Forward Justin Strings had 20 points to lead Sacramento State (1-6) of the Big Sky Conference. Forward Joshua Patton scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half.