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November 29, 2012

Motum nets 26, WSU outlasts Idaho 64-55

PULLMAN -- Washington State certainly didn't play their best basketball and shot it poorly from outside but they were good enough on Wednesday night to hold off a pesky Idaho team en route to a 64-55 win at Beasley Coliseum.

The Vandals, much like last year's game in Moscow, were down at halftime by a sizable margin but continued to fight. The Cougars had to rally on multiple occasions throughout the game to ensure the victory and down the stretch, they executed when they needed to in order to come out of the game with a win.

"I thought our guys had great composure down the stretch and I think it was a game that we needed," Washington State head coach Ken Bone said after the game. "I said before the game that I was hoping we would play really well but I also mentioned that I hoped it would be a close ballgame because we need to play in some close games and learn how to win these."

There were spurts when WSU played well but came out sluggish in the first few minutes of the opening half before really taking control of the game.

A Mike Ladd layup with 15:00 to go in the first half gave the Cougars (4-3) their first lead of the game at 8-6 and they would never trail again, leading by as many as 13 at one point.

Behind Brock Motum, who scored 12 of his season-high 26 points in the first half, the Cougars cruised into the break with a 34-25 lead.

Motum, as he's done so many times throughout his career, put the team on his shoulders and was, once again, the Cougars' go-to guy down the stretch. His unorthodox playing style and ability to find ways to score was on full display tonight.

"Brock is just a hard guy to guard and they did a good job of switching things up and putting some different people on him throughout the course of the game," Bone said of Motum's play. "At the end of the day he's a hard kid to defend because he can score a variety of ways."

It was easy to tell that the Cougars' outside shot wasn't going to fall on this night. WSU was just 3-of-15 (20%) from behind the arc, forcing the Cougars to shift their offensive attack inside the paint.

And they did just that.

WSU scored 44 of their 64 points in the blocks and after settling down their offense and working for open shots, the Cougars found lanes and attacked the rim with confidence.

Dexter Kernich-Drew continued his solid year, time and time again slashing to the rack for easy layups. Kernich-Drew finished with a career-high 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting while adding four rebounds and four assists - his third consecutive game in double figures.

"Dexter had a good game and hit some big shots," Bone said. "He also grabbed some rebounds, which I think it was a career high for him, and for him to get some assists I think he did a really good job."

Despite the Cougars' dominance on the inside, Idaho wouldn't go away quietly.

The Vandals (1-4) clawed their way back into the game in the second half, cutting the lead to 36-33 on an 8-2 run just two minutes into the second half. In a game of runs, the Cougars would counter with an 11-2 run of their own to take a 47-35 lead after two Motum free throws with 10:35 remaining.

Just when WSU looked to be pulling away, the Vandals fought back. The Cougars went cold from the field, scoring just four points over a five minute span and a 13-2 run by the Vandals, keyed by deep three's from Stephen Madison and Connor Hill, kept hope alive.

Idaho guard Mansa Habeeb nailed a three from the corner to cut the Cougars lead to just two at 51-53 with 3:47 remaining.

With the Cougars struggling to find any offensive rhythm and failing to convert time and time again, D.J. Shelton erupted. The junior forward, who tied a career-high with 14 points, answered Habeeb's three with his second trey of the game as the shot clock expired.

"He can shoot," Bone said. "I think he's 5-for-8 now on the year from the three point line and he won't shoot a lot of them, obviously, but he's a pretty good three-point shooter."

The rip of the net after the Shelton three ignited the Cougars big-man as he went on a mini 7-2 run of his own, sandwiched by two Kernich-Drew free throws.

On consecutive possessions with under two minutes to play, Shelton drove the lane with the poise of a point guard in a 6-10 body, connecting on two acrobatic scores in the lane to extend the lead to 63-55 with 1:03 left. And that was that.

"D.J. Shelton, what a great job on the offensive end he did in that last three or four minutes," Bone said about his junior forward.

Quite frankly, the Cougars won this game because they took care of the basketball.

Royce Woolridge, despite a disappointing 0-of-8 shooting night, was able to run the offense exceptionally adding three assists and committing just one of the Cougars' four turnovers for the game.

"It was outstanding," Bone said of his team's ability to take care of the ball. "When you play a game of 40-minutes in a close game and only commit four turnovers you're doing some good things. I was very pleased with the decisions we made on the offensive end."

Three Vandals scored in double figures led by Madison's 13 points. Hill added 10 points aided by 2-of-5 shooting from three and Vandal center Kyle Barone was a force inside in the second half, scoring 11 points and adding eight rebounds.

"I think Idaho did a great job of coming back and they would just not go away," Bone said of the Vandals performance. "They deserve a lot of credit for making it a close game but I like the way our guys handled the situation down the stretch."

The Cougars have four more games at home during their six-game home stand, beginning with Portland on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in a tune-up for a nationally televised game against No. 12 Gonzaga on December 5th.

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