PULLMAN – In the era of new Washington State basketball coach Kyle Smith, Cougars fans will become connoisseurs of the steal, the blocked shot, the forced turnover and opponents’ empty offensive possessions.
Led by a relentless defense, WSU chewed up Seattle University for a decisive 85-54 nonconference men’s basketball victory Thursday at Beasley Coliseum.
“If you win by that many against a good team, I guess it means you played pretty well,” Smith said, noting the Red Hawks returned their top six players from a team that won 18 games last season. “Hopefully, we’ll find out if we can handle success.”
The Cougars travel to Santa Clara on Tuesday for their next game.
The 31-point win was the second-largest margin of victory for a WSU coach making his debut. Jack Friel’s 1928 team smothered Lewiston Normal College by 44 points.
From the tipoff in the season opener, WSU displayed the kind of game it wants to play this season.
“Take care of the ball, rebound and defend,” are the Cougars’ watchwords, according to leading scorer CJ Elleby. “We did very well in all three areas.”
The Cougars doubled the ball whenever Seattle’s offense slowed. They rotated quickly to oppose Seattle’s shooters and trapped the Red Hawks in the corners instead of giving up unchallenged baseline perimeter shots.
They contested everything from the arc in and held Seattle to 1 of 18 on 3-point shots. They lurked in the passing lanes and made eight steals. They outrebounded Seattle 46-39, forced two shot-clock violations and consistently pressured Red Hawk guards.
Ellerby provided the horsepower on offense with a career-high 27 points, hitting 12 of 18 from the floor. He added seven rebounds and a pair of steals before departing for the bench for good with 4 minutes to go and WSU leading 74-46.
“He just thinks the thing is going in. That’s 95 percent of the battle,” Smith said of Elleby’s shooting.
Seattle was consistently thwarted in its effort to generate midrange and inside shots. The Cougars raced out to a 12-point lead before the game was barely 3 minutes old and continued to build their advantage. WSU led 43-21 at the half.
“I didn’t see that rotten egg coming. Just really disappointed,” said Seattle coach Jim Hayford. “We laid down and 10 points got to 20 points and the rest of the game we just kind of went through the motions.”
Hayford coached at Eastern Washington and Whitworth prior to taking the Seattle job.
WSU’s Isaac Bonton added 12 points and seven rebounds. Twelve players scored for WSU.
Terrell Brown led Seattle with 24 points and 10 rebounds. The other Seattle scorer in double figures was Trey’von Hopkins with 10.
“Our guys just played really well. They did a great job wire-to-wire. I feel really good about that,” Smith said.
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