PULLMAN — Recent installments of the Apple Cup’s men’s basketball series have not been short on drama, but the past three meetings have all gone to Washington State. The Cougars, playing their hated in-state foes with extra fire each time, emerged with all the thrills and bragging rights that come with beating a bitter rival.
On Monday at Beasley Coliseum, Washington took a big step toward getting even with second-year coach Kyle Smith’s Wazzu team, which hadn’t lost to U-Dub and hardly shied from letting the Huskies hear about it.
UW guard Marcus Tsohonis drove inside and flipped in a go-ahead floater with 2.4 seconds left to play and the Huskies held off the Cougs, winning 65-63.
It was an offensive struggle for both squads, but UW’s Jamal Bey set up an exciting finish when he went 1-for-2 from the foul line with 15 seconds remaining. WSU guard Noah Williams took the inbounds pass, raced coast-to-coast and bullied his way into the lane for a tying layup at the 10-second mark.
With no timeouts available, Tsohonis went the other way, slipping into the paint and making a tear-drop shot over Williams from just inside the foul line. Williams’ half-court heave at the buzzer went over the backboard.
“He’s a human heat-check,” Smith said of Tsohonis, who poured in 29 points on 13-for-20 shooting while standout guard Quade Green, Washington’s leading scorer, sat out with an illness. “He’s hard to get physical with and he can really just score. Without Quade, they needed someone to step up, and he did.
“Noah in a game-winning situation, I’d take him to make that play. Tsohonis had to do it against our best competitors.”
The Cougars (12-10, 5-10 Pac-12) were also without their leader in senior point guard Isaac Bonton, a 19 points-per-game scorer who is rehabbing an ankle injury sustained Saturday in a loss to USC. Bonton’s shot-making and ball-handling skills were sorely missed, as WSU turned the ball over 19 times — 13 in the first half, which the Cougs ended trailing 36-26 — and toiled through several drawn-out periods of offensive stagnation.
“We weren’t getting very good possessions,” Smith said of a sloppy first half. “We weren’t getting the ball inside. ... We took some bad shots that stretch, turned it over and had some unforced turnovers. Just never really settled in.”
Yet Smith would say the Cougars “missed Isaac defensively more than anything else.” Bonton likely would have been assigned to Tsohonis for much of the contest.
“He’s consistently been one of our best defenders the whole year. He doesn’t bring just scoring,” Cougar wing Aljaz Kunc added of Bonton, whose status going forward is uncertain. “He takes on hard matchups, and we definitely missed him.”
With UW (4-16, 3-12) starting 1-for-6 and WSU 0-for-6, it was 2-0 more than four minutes into the game. The Cougars rallied, scoring eight straight, to take a 21-20 lead but Washington put together a 13-0 run leading to a sizable advantage as Tsohonis scored 16.
The edge was 14 after back-to-back Tsohonis baskets early in the second half before the Cougars sprinted out on a 17-1 run to get their second lead. Kunc, who shot 5-for-5 with two 3-pointers and totaled a team-best 14 points — 11 in the second half — knocked down a difficult jumper that made it 45-43 for Wazzu with 8:54 to go.
“That was a pretty good rally, but then there were some shots you’ve got to make to win,” Smith said.
Freshman post Efe Abogidi was impressive during that stretch as well, lifting the Cougs with a pair of blocks, a steal and a forceful dunk. He finished with nine points and eight rebounds. Fellow freshman big man Dishon Jackson tallied 11 of his 13 points in the first period.
Williams scored 12 points to go with his seven assists and seven boards.
WSU shot 40.8 percent from the floor, and 6-for-21 (28.6 percent) from distance. The Cougs were solid at the charity stripe (17-for-18), and outrebounded UW 41-27. The Cougars only managed nine second-chance points, however.
Erik Stevenson had 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Huskies, who ended a five-game losing streak that started with a 77-62 loss to WSU on Jan. 31.
The Cougs will stay at home to face Cal at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.
WASHINGTON (4-16, 3-12)
Roberts 1-2 4-6 6, Wright 1-10 0-0 2, Bey 2-5 1-2 7, Stevenson 7-16 3-4 18, Tsohonis 13-20 0-0 29, Bajema 1-5 0-0 3, Pryor 0-2 0-2 0, Sorn 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-60 8-14 65.
WASHINGTON ST. (12-10, 5-10)
Rodman 1-5 0-0 2, Abogidi 4-9 1-1 9, Jackson 3-6 5-5 11, Rapp 1-6 2-2 5, Williams 3-10 7-8 14, Kunc 5-5 2-2 14, Jakimovski 2-4 0-0 6, Bamba 0-1 0-0 0, Fitzgerald-Warren 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 20-49 17-18 63.
Halftime: UW 36-26. 3-point goals: UW 7-20 (Tsohonis 3-3, Bey 2-3, Bajema 1-3, Stevenson 1-6, Pryor 0-1, Wright 0-4), WSU 6-21 (Kunc 2-2, Jakimovski 2-4, Rapp 1-4, Williams 1-6, Rodman 0-1, Abogidi 0-2, Fitzgerald-Warren 0-2). Fouled out: Wright, Rapp. Rebounds: UW 23 (Stevenson 7), WSU 36 (Abogidi 8). Assists: UW 15 (Stevenson 7), WSU 16 (Williams 7). Total fouls: UW 16, WSU 18.