SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—Even by the standards established at No. 9 Washington State in recent years by coaches Dick and Tony Bennett, Saturday’s win was something else.
The Cougars beat overmatched Mississippi Valley State 71-26, the fewest points they have given up in a game since the Truman administration.
Washington State (5-0) dominated every aspect of the game, which was not in doubt after the opening minutes.
It was perhaps the ultimate vindication of the defense-oriented rebuilding job initiated by Dick Bennett five years ago and continued after Tony took over for his father before last season.
Tony cautioned against making too much of the demolition of a physically outclassed opponent.
“Ask me that when we play a high-level Pac-10 team,” Bennett said, when asked if this was the best defensive showing he had seen at WSU.
Mississippi Valley State (0-6) went to the NIT last year, but is having trouble scoring this season. They were considerably shorter than the Cougars, with 6-foot-5 star Carl Lucas one of their tallest players.
Still, the numbers were eye-popping: The Delta Devils shot just 27.9 percent from the floor, including 0-of-15 from 3-point range. They made just 2-of-9 free throws. They were outrebounded 38-23. They were outscored 28-12 in the paint. They scored just 9 points in the second half against WSU’s reserves.
Lucas scored 18 of his team’s 26 points. No one else had more than 4 points. Lucas added 10 rebounds to lead all players in both categories.
It was Washington State’s best defensive showing since holding Idaho to 23 points in 1948, and the lowest points they have allowed since the shot clock was introduced. But the Cougars have been living off their defense for several years now. They held Idaho to 36 points in 2004 and Stanford to 39 points in 2005. This season four of their five opponents have scored less than 56 points, and they are annually among the nation’s best defensive teams.
After seizing control of the game early, the Cougars treated it as a practice session, center Aron Baynes said.
“A few of us could have shot when we wanted,” Baynes said. “But we were looking for quality shots.”
As a result, the Cougars dished out 20 assists, and little used players like Caleb Forrest, who scored 13 points, and Stephen Sauls, who scored 12, got a lot of minutes. No starter played more than 22 minutes.
Bennett challenged his reserves to keep the defensive pressure on MVSU, with the result that the Delta Devils shot just 19 percent in the second half.
“We were fortunate enough to get our second team some minutes,” Baynes said. `They push us every day at practice.”
Mississippi Valley coach James Green said the Cougars’ height and strength were too much for his team.
“I’ll tell you what impressed me, they continued to play in a game like that,” Green said of the Cougars.
While it can be hard for the losing team to stay focused on the game, “it’s hard to be on the other side and keep playing,” Green said.
Forrest scored a career-high 13 points and Kyle Weaver also scored 13 as the Cougars won their second contest in the Cougar Hispanic College Fund Challenge. They face Air Force in the final game tomorrow.
Washington State made only 3-of-15 3-pointers, prompting Bennett to say the rims in the Spokane Arena may need repainting. But they made 24-of-30 free throws.
The Cougars jumped to a 17-6 lead behind six points by Robbie Cowgill.
After the Delta Devils closed to 19-13, Derrick Low scored the first five points in an 11-0 WSU run. Mississippi Valley was held scoreless for more than five minutes to fall behind 30-13.
Washington State led 34-17 at halftime.
The Cougars opened the second half with an 13-0 run to take a 47-17 lead. The Delta Devils were scoreless until nearly seven minutes were gone in the second, missing their first six shots.
Washington State, enjoying the highest ranking in team history, is now 12-0 in November under Bennett, who is in his second season.