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December 22, 2012

WSU hangs on in Cougar Hardwood Classic

SEATTLE - In a game that turned out to be a lot closer than many would have expected, Washington State outlasted a feisty Buffalo team in a 65-54 victory in the Cougar Hardwood Classic at KeyArena in Seattle. Since it's inception eight years ago, the Cougars (8-4) have gone 8-0 in the annual Seattle area classic.

The Cougars started out slow; committing turnovers on their first two possessions allowing the Bulls (4-8) to jump out to an early 7-0 on easy baskets underneath. WSU started the game out on fire from behind the arc and erased the early deficit with a 23-5 run with 11:50 left in the half.

Sticking with a zone defense throughout the majority of the first half, the Cougars continually left the Bulls with wide-open shots from the perimeter and Buffalo took full advantage of their opportunities. Both teams hit 7-of-11 three's in the first half.

Tony Watson, a reserve guard getting minutes in place of injured starting point guard Jarod Oldham, was among a number of players that couldn't be stopped from deep. The senior keyed a late scoring run in the first half with back-to-back triples, giving the Bulls a 37-35 lead heading into the locker room.

Watson led the Bulls in the scoring column, finishing the game with 18 points and four assists in an efficient 25 minutes of work.
The story in this game, however, was the battle in the trenches between Pac-12 and Washington State leading scorer Brock Motum and Buffalo's leading scorer, Javon McCrea.

McCrea had a game to forget. The Bulls' big man was averaging 16.8 points a contest heading in, but on Friday night he was held to just two points on 1-of-6 shooting in just 16 minutes. The Cougars' zone did a great job of not allowing him to find anything open inside and, after switching to a smothering man-to-man defense in the second half, he was completely eliminated from the game.

Motum struggled to get anything going early, hitting just 3-of-8 shots in the opening half to the tune of seven points and going scoreless for nearly 25 minutes until the midway mark of the second half. Buffalo was visibly frustrating the Cougars' leading scorer, sending two defenders his way every time he touched the ball.

With 8:16 left in the game, Buffalo held a 47-45 lead in a tightly played second half. Motum, who finished with 15 points despite shooting just 5-of-16 from the floor, finally got things going with a triple from the wing, putting the Cougars on top 48-47.

Buffalo would take a brief one point lead with just over seven minutes to go before going cold from the floor, hitting just one of their final eight shots, opening the door for the Cougars to take control of the game.

And that they did.

A Dexter Kernich-Drew three - the Cougars' 10th and final three-point make of the game -- gave WSU a 56-50 lead. The breathing room allowed them to extend their defense, putting more pressure on a frustrated Bulls offense resulting in turnovers. The Bulls finished the game committing 13 turnovers despite handing it over just five times in the first half.

DaVonte Lacy was excellent in his first game back in the starting lineup. The sophomore guard knocked down 5-of-7 shots, all from behind the arc, including four in the first half. Lacy cooled down as the game wore on, scoring just five points in the second half, but finished the game leading all scorers with 19 points and was one of the few bright spots from the charity stripe.

Lacy knocked down all four of his free throws but as a team the Cougars knocked down just 13-of-25 (54.2%) from the line. WSU made 21-of-48 (43.8%) from the field while Buffalo finished shooting 37.7% after hitting over 55% of their shots in the first half.

The Cougars will have another week off before taking on Idaho State in Kennewick next Saturday, December 29 in their final non-conference contest before the start of Pac-12 play against Washington in Pullman.

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